Last Tango in Cuba

This is Part 5, the conclusion of a series about the time I spent in Cuba not long ago. To see all posts in chronological order, Click HERE.

The last place our group visits is Baracoa, a small town with old world charm, at the very eastern tip of the island. It’s where Columbus landed, and at Our Lady of the Assumption church, they have the cross he allegedly planted in the sand. Our guide, Liliana, tells us that the first land deed Castro signed over to a campesino was in Baracoa. “He started giving land back to the people at the same place where the Spanish colonizers started taking it.” baracoaOur hotel, the Castillo, feels like paradise, especially after some of the ones we’ve stayed at that had threadbare sheets, scratchy towels, lights that don’t work and only a trickle of water dripping from the shower. The Castillo sits on the highest hill in town, has a sparkling clean swimming pool, and rooms that look out on water in two directions—the Straits of Florida and the Atlantic.

I wander through the streets of pastel houses with decorative iron grillwork. Horses are pulling carriages, and people are eating pizza they buy for a few pesos from a window in someone’s home.cub man baraIt’s hotter and more humid than anywhere else we’ve been, and in no time, sweat pours down my face and chest. I climb back up the hill to our hotel to take one of the four showers I’ll have today. I didn’t bring any tank tops or shorts, since I’ve stopped wearing such garments, so I put on a black sports bra and tie a thin sarong from Hawaii around my chest as a dress. I’m showing as much skin now as Cuban women. Can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

There’s a lively artists’ colony in Baracoa, and I visit the studio of Roel Caboverde, who paints Cubans in a style that incorporates cubism and expressionism, exaggerating the hands and eyes.  His work is so much in demand internationally that he has little in his studio to buy, or I’d have brought a painting home with me.

Hurricane, by Roel Caboverde

Hurricane, by Roel Caboverde

My one disappointment on this trip has been that no one in our group wants to go out at night to hear music or dance. So I’ve taken to going alone. I show up at matinees around 5 p.m., take a seat and in minutes, someone, usually younger than my son, escorts me to the dance floor. Everyone dances—from those so old they can barely make subtle movements to six-year-old girls who know how to shake it.

salsa CubaI feel sultry, juicy, but wonder if I look like my mother did when she took up square dancing in her 60’s and flirted with her partners.

On our last day, we drive back to Holguin, where we’ll catch a charter flight to Miami. I know that as soon as the wheels touch down, emails will start flooding into my phone and I’m dreading it. I don’t want to be ensnared again, after being in a country where everybody’s unplugged.

I think back to the last matinee I attended in Baracoa.

cu man splitsA young man who was a head shorter than me was the first to ask me to dance. When the song ended, he said his friend wanted to meet me also. The friend had Rasta dreadlocks and was the best dancer yet. As he spun me around the floor, my sarong slipped down to my waist, leaving me in the sports bra with a bare midriff but no one seemed to pay any mind. I felt unfettered and alive. I’d arrived in Cuba feeling my currency had been spent, and was leaving with the knowledge that I still have untapped reserves.

As the music grew louder and faster and the matinee drew to a close, I confess: Reader, I led everyone on the floor in the limbo.



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24 thoughts on “Last Tango in Cuba

  1. lena

    Great writing. I enjoyed reading it. Good for you! Enjoying life! Thanks. I will dance around my back yard in honor of your writing.

  2. John Austin

    Sara, thanks for the lively narrative and beautiful pictures of Cuba 🙂 I was in Havanna in Oct. 1958, just before Castro came down from the hills and took over in January 1959.

    I was there playing basketball with my team from Mary Immaculate High School from Key West, FL.

    Your piece brought back a lot of memories – Good fortune in your future endeavors.

    1. John Austin

      Sara, I would like to repost this blog post on one of my blogs (either or with a link back to your blog and put your pictures of Cuba on my Facebook page.

  3. Tina Proctor

    Sara, I love that you not only connected with Cubans but also with the juicy wild crone that is you! Thank you for the writing about your journey.

  4. Eileen Polk

    Hi Sara,
    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your trip to Cuba. I look forward to going there someday too!

  5. Carol Muske-Dukes

    Sara – what a stunning description of “pre-opening of relations” Cuba – inspiring! Makes me want to hop on a plane now! And I loved your bold re-awakening to life and sensation – what a country! Hope you continue to fly that flag!

  6. JoAnn Richi

    You continue to amaze me. You really know how to LIVE.
    I am so glad you got to see, and describe to us the Cuba of today, that will be gone tomorrow.
    I am thrilled that the embargo is lifted, but what you saw and experienced will soon be gone, smothered under capitalism that will sweep away much of the current vibrancy of this tiny island surrounded by super powers. Thanks for the descriptions and for sharing what will soon be memories for all of us.
    Anyone who can should see and experience Cuba, now. And just like you, we should all go out at night and DANCE.

  7. Arlene Jenkins

    I have enjoyed reading about your Cuban Trip so much. So glad you got a chance to go there.

  8. Jack Sherman

    Good morning Sara, I have loved your blog on Cuba and your claiming your inner self! I am reading, again, a wonderful book by Sharon Batala, The Perfection of the Morning. She is describing her experience as an urban, educated person then living on a remote ranch in Southwestern Saskatchewan, the Seventies. Quoting her ” It was a world where things were what they seemed to be; where they were clear and simple and made a kind of sense so elemental that I didn’t have to learn them and I didn’t have to think with my mind. I thought instead with my bones and my muscles, and with some deeply human place in my gut”.
    How wonderful, kind of what you were experiencing in Cuba. A recommended read.

  9. Dawn Kimble

    Thank you, Sara, for giving me a sense of life in Cuba. I enjoyed reading your series on your visit there. I love the feeling of the community and inclusiveness. It seems to be a more participatory culture where everyone dances and sings. I feel a little sad that I’ve moved so far into the virtual world.

  10. Jude, Psychoterapist, Denver/Boulder

    Your skimpy sarong dress slips to your waist and we leave you limbo-ing the crowd in breasty shimmers. The there’s an ad for the December Project.
    Your Project could be called, Returning to Late July.
    I love how dedicated you are to your personal vitality.
    Yahoo Sara Davidson, trend setting and leading the curve toward its yet undiscovered future.

  11. Louise Caplan

    I loved “Last Tango in Cuba.” I felt the same in Buenos Aires to some extent. As older women, we are convinced that our sensual days are over… my mom stopped wearing sleeveless tops in her 60’s because she didn’t like how her arms looked, and I find myself doing the same thing. But spending time in a place like Cuba, you were able to get back in touch with your sexuality and your value as a woman. What a beautiful experience! And you described it so perfectly. You’ve inspired me to make Cuba one of my next destinations. Thanks very much.
    Louise Caplan

  12. Michael North

    Beautiful, simple, real — I can feel the place, the color, the sound. Thank you again, Sara, for your artfulness.

  13. Christopher Howard

    Hello Sara,

    It has been a while.

    Sounds like you had an interesting trip to Cuba.

    I have had a website on Cuba for the last 20 years and written a couple of books on the subject. Currently, I am taking advantage of the situation with the goal of do something there. Much like getting involved in East Germany after the Berlin Wall fell.


    Christopher Howard

  14. Kate

    I’m so inspired, Sara! I want to feel unfettered and alive in just a sarong and sports bra dancing with men that love to dance! YES!

  15. Jack Sherman

    Sara, the author aforementioned , is Sharon Butala, not Botala. Not good with fat fingers!

  16. susan schwartz

    sara — I read your last sentence — “I led everyone on the floor in the limbo” as a breathless confession. Hell, I think you should scream it from the rooftops! Around here, when a woman passes the age of childbearing she starts fading into the woodwork, and becomes increasingly invisible. What joy to visit a country and spend time with people who celebrate life, period. May you find many more opportunities and places to limbo — and when you do, I hope you’ll invite the rest of us to join you!

  17. Sally Grounds

    Oh Sara, how wonderful it is to hear and see your adventures. I must say, You live life to the fullest. You GO GIRL !!!!!!!

  18. ruth

    Sara I love your blog ( I’m a long time reader and fan) and was so delighted to find you writing again……did you go quiet there for a bit, or was I just not seeing your stuff?
    Anyway, I love the idea of currency NOT spent, and finding some untapped reserves. It’s not for sissies this older woman stuff, and so easy to feel foolish, try-hard, mutton-ish (do you have that horrible expression in the USA?)…just lacking in dignity.
    It’s lovely to read you, and to then contemplate your thoughts and ideas about life, it’s meaning and getting older. In what feels like another lifetime, I remember reading Loose Change in my late twenties and getting so much out of that book
    with many thanks for all you do,

  19. James Angleton

    My reaction draws of Ms. Davidson’s comment that the narcissism of Los Angeles men constituted one reason for her move to Boulder. It also draws on her observation that Cuba had sent groups to deprived areas to help those in need. It further draws on the aggressive sexuality of Cuban and Dominican Republic women.
    The scene is a reading room at the Jonathan Club in Los Angeles. Scott Miller, a bachelor, sits in his chair asleep, a Wall Street Journal in his lap held by his left hand.
    Suddenly an appearance materializes:
    “I am Heaven Sent, the commander of the Heaven Sent Battalion of women from Cuba and the Dominican Republic.” Her skirt looks like a broad black belt. Her top is colored gold. She wears red high heels.
    “Our mission is to make Los Angeles men forget about themselves and think of women and excitement.”
    “Look I have to be at the office.”
    “No, I canceled your appointments. We are going to Battalion Headquarters and will watch a video of Grace Slick at Woodstock in 1969 singing ‘White Rabbit’.”
    “I’m a vegetarian.”
    “Its about mushrooms.”
    “Then we’re going salsa dancing.”
    “Salsa comes with bloody Mary’s.”
    “You’ll learn differently.”
    She grabs his wrist and they head for the door.

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