Travelling to Cuba around Christmas is more difficult than expected. The flight from San Jose in Costa Rica is 3 hours delayed - which is nothing compared to the 4 hours the luggage takes to arrive at the luggage belt once we land in Havana. By the time I’m reunited with my backpack, I have sworn an oath that, in the future, I’ll travel the world with hand luggage only. I’m also stuck in Havana, since the last bus to Santiago, where I’m supposed to meet a friend, leaves at 00:30. Also, my German SIM card stopped working as soon as we touched the ground.
Fortunately, I have a back-up plan. Before taking the flight, I have been emailing Lianne, a Couchsurfer from Santiago de Cuba. Currently, she’s in Havana visiting friends. I text her from Stephan’s phone - he’s a guy I met at the airport, waiting for the luggage to arrive. She invites me to come and stay with her.
I meet Lianne and her two German girl friends at a street corner in downtown Havana. We drop off my backpack at the Casa Particular (a kind of home stay that replaces hostels in Cuba) they’re staying at, and before I know it, we’re on our way to a club to celebrate Stefanie’s last night in town. “It’s a gay club”, Lianne explains, “I hope you don’t mind? We’re lesbians, you know.”
“No, I don’t mind. I’m straight, though” I reply. “I hope you don’t mind”. The girls laugh, just as we arrive at the location. Inside we find a ice-cold room with lots of small tables arranged around a tiny dance floor, a screen on the back wall, cheesy music playing and a laser show lighting the still empty space. We sit in a corner while the men - there are only men - start to roll in. Hairy muscled guys with gold chains around their necks, manicured metro sexuals, amazingly good looking toy boys in hot pants and quite a few trannies in evening garb.
Then, the show begins. Dramatic music plays, and two pair of guys dressed only in golden tutus and holding candles positions themselves on both sides of the screen. A photo show clearly borne by Windows 95 starts to play. I marvel at the terrible quality of the presentation that is entertaining a now packed club, only to realize that I’m watching a tribute to a deceased member of the community. The moment the last picture fades from the screen, a drag queen resembling Jessica Rabbit, dressed in a red glitter outfit, with long red hair and a gap between her front teeth, enters the stage. With a dramatic turn of the hips and her head thrust back, she begins to sing “All by myself” by Celine Dion. Or almost sing - since the performance turns out to be playback. Including quivering lips and chin, and heaving bosom. The audience loves it. Men walk up on stage to stuff small notes in her bra and kiss her on the lips, for which she momentarily has to pause the singing. One admirer wipes off a bit of mascara that has gone astray, and the crowd applaudes.
The show goes on for a couple of hours, with three transvestites taking turns belting out eighties tunes. Every few songs there is a short interlude of four guys performing boy band choreographies with lots of thrusting hip movements thrown in. The home-sewn costumes get skimpier, and Jessica’s last outfit doesn’t include more than panties, a bra and a flowing blue robe that reveals her buttocks to whistles when she twirls at a particularly emotional part of the song.
While I’m not sure what exactly I’m witnessing and I’m freezing cold, I’m really enjoying myself. It’s one of those evenings that you couldn’t have planned for, where you learn more about a country than from any guided tour. Being here feels like being at a 80ies bad taste party cum Singstar meet-up, where everyone is having a fabulous time. People have clearly known each other for eternity, and appreciate and celebrate each expression of individuality, as flawed as it may be. There is a sense of community that seems self-aware that parts of the evening are ridiculous, but they’re going for it anyway. Part of me wishes to be part of that crowd. Lianne grabs my hand from across the table and grins: “Do you like it?” “Yes,” I reply earnestly. “I love it.” “You’d make a great lesbian, you know. Just in case you change your mind.”