From December 26th 2011 I holidayed in Cuba with my mum, brother and step-father for ten days. I was thrilled. Going abroad in the festive season seemed like a very fancy thing to do. I had longed to visit Cuba for years — my very exotic, romantasized vision of Cuba at least. Most of the visuals I had of the country at that time were from old photos of Che Guevara or from Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Most people don’t know there is a second Dirty Dancing film, I’m of the opinion it’s highly underrated.
I loved Havana immediately despite it differing from my preconceptions, though I find it easy to love anywhere warmer than London. I loved that Che’s face was in place of where I’d expect adverts to be. I loved how friendly and open the people were.
It was much poorer than I had envisaged. One person told me it was like living in a huge prison — imagine not being able to leave your own country, they said. I felt guilty for noticing how beautiful the run-down buildings and battered signs were and genuinely impressed at how long people had kept their cars running for. One taxi we took was at least fifty years old. There were a heart-breaking number of stray animals and I was easily distracted making four-legged friends, constantly catching-up with my family, camera swinging round my neck. Most of my holiday photos from that trip were of my under-fed comrades.
One thing I was most looking forward to was a Havanan New Years Eve. New Years parties have never been my thing; I left multiple parties as a teenager feigning illness — to be in pyjamas before midnight is a rule I still try to live by. But I’d never been on a different continent to see in a new year and I was sure this is where I’d been going wrong.
I wore a high-waisted, pale pink a-line skirt in order to slot seamlessly in to my 1950s Cuban dream. We went in search of a local bar on foot and, despite the streets being crowded and the bigger venues full, found a small place that sufficed. It was low-key but it served us rum and had live music, some room to dance, everything we wanted from the night.
Not long after midnight we were happy to stroll our tired feet back to the hotel, quietly merry, content. The air was foreign and humid, comforting in it’s contrast to home. As we reached the main strip that lead back to the hotel it was hard to miss water energetically spilling down from multiple apartment buildings overhead, bucket after bucket defenestrated in a wet rhythm.
Some other people on foot had also stopped completely, clearly looking to avoid getting drenched at all costs. Two gangs at each end of the strip began to form, planning their route through. A handful of others had begun to run after one another through the downpour, back and forth, urging the bucket bandits to catch them. After ten minutes of watching perplexed, laughing, there seemed to be no sign of it stopping and we decided the only thing we could do was go for it. I took off my shoes and took them in one hand, ready.
My brother and I chose the main street, the riskiest but also the one with the most glory were we to pass through the end dry. At some point my mum and step-father had opted for a backstreet and we didn’t see them again for another forty minutes where they arrived drenched outside our hotel (which was only a ten minute walk from where we had separated). They told us, dripping, that they’d been hit and at some point had noticed my step-father’s glasses were missing, evicted from the top of his ears by the water. They’d been forced to go back on themselves to search for them which was made somewhat more difficult by the impaired vision.
My brother and I…we almost made it. Multiple buckets dodged and with the end in sight, a last-minute chancer got us both in one go.
If we had left the bar even half an hour later, I’m sure we would have been entirely ignorant to this happening on the street right next to us. We would have certainly not spent our first few moments of 2012 soaked to the skin. But I was secretly a little pleased that we were forced to peel off the wet fabric from our bodies before bed that night. It’s one of very few New Years Eve experiences I’m grateful for.