Cuba by Night: Tropicana

After a long day in the sun, touring the city and all its spectacular sights, which you can read here if you missed it, we headed back to the ship for some water, fruit from the pool deck buffet, and some rest in our cool dark cabins before heading back out for some fun in the country's nightlife. During the day I wanted to match the island's vibrant aesthetic, but at night I wanted to dress up a little bit more. I borrowed a ruffle-sleeved shirt from my sister, painted on some red lipstick (remember lipstick?), and donned a flowered maxi skirt that would keep me cool in the humid night air.

We had tickets for dinner and a show. At the Tropicana, a nightclub that opened in 1939, and had been performing spectacular shows ever since. We picked up our taxi outside the port, a bright green Chevy convertible that took off down a different street than we had seen in our tour this morning, through the center of the city. The sun was just starting to set over the ocean to our right, with the lights of the city coming alive to our left. Cuba by night was less rehearsed. We saw families dining through their open apartment windows, people stopping for a sandwich on the way home from work, and bikers commuting down the street with grace. Another wonderful fact about this island compared to many foreign countries i've visited is the flow of traffic. Maybe its because most of the cars are almost 70 years old and can't afford to get into a fender bender, but the traffic is smooth and unaggressive. Cars stop so that pedestrians can cross, turning signals are sued if the car is so equipped, and drovers wave to each other at four way stops. In stark contrast with, say, Bermuda, where every time I boarded a bus I feared for my life. We arrived under the twinkling lights of our restaurants foyer in style, being whisked into the skylit dining room and seated in front of crisp white tablecloths. Wine was poured, menus were presented, and steaks were ordered. Portions are smaller here, as they are in most places outside of the USA, and the steak was tender and delicious with soft mashed potatoes on the side. As we ate a violinist wandered between the tables. It was wonderful.

Just after dinner, as everyone inside was wrapping up, we walked next door to the nightclub itself. A band warmed up in the hanging p

it orchestra, and we found our seats. When in Cuba, have a Cuba Libre, or two. Basically a rum and coke, garnished with limes, it's refreshing and local. We each were granted two with our admission. We sat at long tables perpendicular to the stage, and every seat was full. I'm so glad my mom planned ahead and got us tickets to this show, because it was an incredible things to witness. It started off with showgirls in bedazzled thongs and headdresses, like what I imagine I would see in Vegas, with a large band behind them for accompaniment. Throughout the night the acts became more fantastic and more daring.

Strong men swung their lithe partners through the air like rag dolls, and girls performed tricks in the air that defied gravity and their own anatomy. The most impressive moment was the aerial routine. It can be dangerous to rig aerial equipment quickly, so they decided to let one of the company's men hold her rigging while she swirled on the trapeze, balancing on one hand, all the while being held up on her frame by her partner. The dancing, cultural displays, and bright music was spectacular enough, but the stunts were totally unexpected, and we were blown away.

We drove back to the ship, elated, stunned, and feeling the high of the humid Caribbean night. We passed plenty of people walking on the street walking from one club to another. Our car stopped at a red light on a large intersection, and to my right I saw the letters of CUBA illuminated in the night. It was strange, knowing I was definitely visiting this place for the last time. As soon as I boarded that ship, I would never see Cuba again, and this place would live only in my memories. Maybe one day the embargo will be lifted again, and I can revisit this time capsule, with the same classic cars and art deco architecture that has defined their island for decades. The small magnet lives on my fridge, among my collection, and reminds me of sights and smells, the friendly faces, and the stunning cultura of this small country. In route to the Caribbean, my ship has passed by many times, where I see the lights gleaming in the distance. When I was young my dad would say as we passed, "That's Cuba." A far off land I never thought I would see. Now, as we sail by in the night, I fondly remember, "That's Cuba." An island I see in my dreams.


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