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Viajando con vivaciousness: travel chronicles and Cuba’s queer surprise

Hola hola mis lectores fieles (espero que hayan algunos, jaja)!

Hello hello my faithful readers (hopefully there are some by that description :) )!

I am still recounting back in time (because I tend to write about events very posthumously), but it’s totally worth your while. Before Flor de Yucatán, which was during the last weekend of Semana Santa/Pascua vacations, I embarked on a few weekend and day trips, and during the second week of break our whole (minus one :( ) gaggle of IFSA gals and Miguel followed our directors Diana and Cintia (who is originally Cuban) to CUBA, La Habana (or Havana, spelled both ways apparently) to be specific. But before I get ahead of myself….

Because Berenice is from Campeche but hasn’t explored much of that state except for Ciudad del Carmen and Isla Aguada, the small island where she’s from, we thought it would be fun to stay in San Francisco de Campeche, the state’s northern-coastal capital. Founded in 1540, the very heart of the city has no overhead wires—it’s all buried underground—and features high sidewalks in case of flooding, incredibly colorful rows of houses, almost a dozen baluartes and fuertes (bastions and forts), very much intact vestiges of the days of defending against English and Dutch pirates like the (in)famous Francis Drake in the 1600s. “Campeche” itself comes from the Mayan name Xtabay, que significa “lugar de serpientes y garrapatas,” which means “land of snakes and ticks,” curiously. Pictures of Campeche include: conchas from Pomuch, Mayan pueblo renowned for its STELLAR breads (the stone sign of the bakery we went to says, If I should die and be reborn, a baker I shall be); a huge statue of a Campechano fighter whose base reads, Everything is possible with the force of a pueblo, or, Todo lo puede el esfuerzo de un pueblo; a botanic garden housed within an old fort; Baluarte San José, whose entrance is curved in order to prevent any bullets from reaching the door (clever right??)

San Cristóbal de las Casas is another venture that I cannot fail to mention. Remember when I went to Palenque with my New Mexican friend Denise, mother of a close friend from high school, and the two of whom have visited Chiapas at least yearly to distribute blankets and to buy inventory from artisans? Well, they have been telling me about San Cristóbal for years and I was blessed to finally be able to meet up with my IFSAs for two days (even the 15-some hour bus ride each way was completely utterly worth the trek). Staying at a hostel without much research and putting total faith in booking myself one bed in a mixed dormitory was a fun and daring decision for me. Such a nice chill hippie vegan place called Hostal Papá Chango. 10/10, would highly recommend. Guadalupe Victoria #18, Colonia Centro. Abundant within the town were markets full of sweets and accompanied by bees swarming the fresh raw honey treats.

I made friends with Julio, a college student from Quintana Roo in the bed next to me, and he joined me as I joined up with some of my IFSA group (in other hostals) to walk around the main streets of San Cristóbal—Avenid Miguel Hidalgo, Calle Noviembre 24, Avenida Insurgentes. Another cool fact: a good 60% of the tiendas on even the most touristy small boulevard were EZLN-run—Frente Emiliano Zapata Liberación Nacional, the revolutionary resistance group in favor of libertarian socialism and with many rural and female supporters. The CHURCHES in San Cristóbal—my goodness, breathtaking and indescribable and numerous. Photographs of this chapter of Semana Santa include: graffiti demanding the return of the 43 missing students; a sweeping vista from the climb up to one church on a hill; overlooking one of the beautiful churches, mountains, and markets, a view farther down on Guadalupe Victoria than my hostal was.

And queerest for last, Cuba offered delightful surprises on the LGBT scene, and I was surprised with how much I learned about the realities of Cuban life in just four days. From the two currencies—25 monedas nacionales that pay salaries nationally (which are on average 25 DOLLARS per MONTH!!!! yikes), equals one CUC, the currency of tourism—to the system of máquinas which are like taxis but really cars driven by a wide range of random people, to the free public education and the system of ranking your potential university major by preference and that you will get the one you want if your examination average is good enough, to the ration system provided by the government, I was so fortunate to get a glimpse of the “real” La Havana.

As it turns out, a fellow Bowdoin friend, who has been Miguel’s best mate throughout college, Caroline, was studying in La Havana this whole semester, so her Cuban boyfriend Ronnie and classmate Janet visited Miguel, Imelda and I (we were staying together in one of the three casas particulares that our program rented from three different señoras—map attached: we stayed in the area to the left of the Cementerio, the city cemetery, and to the south of the Malecón, the sea breakwater/pier). The three brought cake for Miguel’s birthday and Havana Club rum and Coca Cola to make a Cuba Libre [coke and rum YUM—picture of the festivities included] and discussed with us these issues of the government ration and free education and external politics. Both Janet and Ronnie study Marxist/Leninist Philosophy (that’s really what it’s called), which was their third and second choice, respectively.

The Wednesday night we were there, Janet organized us all (13 IFSA-ers…quite a pack) to go to a traveling (around La Habana) gay strip show (but which has an appeal for all audiences) and we lost two of our group members, Gina and Imelda, to a rogue máquina for about half an hour, then regrouped with advice from strangers to find the show at Club las Vegas; Janet and I rode in the same máquina as one of the dancers himself!!!

From an opera singer covering Andrea Bocelli’s Con te partiro in Spanish, to a drag queen performing in the most fabulous red gown, to a series of increasingly-steamy and foggy male dance numbers, to a beautifully tender and extremely well done choreography by two incredibly muscular yet svelt male dancers, to the ambiance of total friendliness, boldness, chat-up-everyone-you-find-intriguing (many gay men clamoring to dance with me [????] and Miguel [makes more sense…]), intimate dance floor, great announcers and súper prideful performances. Photos include part of the Divino strip show and the drag performer in her gown with a complicit/selected member of the audience as a stage guest. I stayed out until 4 am with Miguel and we had such a fantastic time, thanks to his best Bowdoin friend and to our willingness to be flexible, curious, and to soak in the steamy atmosphere and the newness of La Havana’s streets at night.

The remaining photos include a cinema called Fresa y chocolate (which is a movie we watched in our IFSA Spanish class about a gay Cuban man and his relationship to a young straight revolutionary); la señora Mayra who rented us our rooms and the incredible breakfast of papaya, mango, bread and butter, oily scrambled eggs, and mango-orange juice she provided; and the main Catedral of La Havana—incredible impressive and massive.

¡Hasta luego!

Besos para todos,

Peace and happiness,

Over and out,

Emily

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