Sunday, 21 February 2010

And life goes on!

Wow, the end of my visit to Cuba and the following weeks have pretty much blown my mind away. I now sit in a home-stay in Guatemala, where I’ve come for a three-week language course. My Spanish needs improving if I’m to get the most out of a trip to South America. The biggest drawback to recent trips has been the language barrier, it’s constantly left me feeling isolated and lonely. It isn’t how I want to be, I want to get the most out of places I visit. I want to interact with people, exchange views, information and ideas. It isn’t enough to introduce myself and order food or drinks, more profound conversations are essential for me, I need mental stimulus. The vague basics of a language will not allow that to happen, so the only option is to learn better Spanish or restrict my travels to English speaking countries. I can’t imagine that satisfying me, so here I am!

I had poor start to arriving back home, missed connections, delays and a cold climate to fend off. All told it has made me want to turn straight around and jump on another plane. One of the biggest effects of coming home is not feeling I belong here, with no wish to be here. This isn’t unknown on returning from travels, in fact it’s a common situation, this time it has not diminished though. A week went by and it merely reinforced these feelings. I know I caused friends concern over my feelings, I love my friends dearly and don’t know what I would have done without them for the last couple of years. They’ve all been invaluable but all I’m doing now in Wales is slowly sinking in my own shit. Returning achieved nothing, quite the opposite, it leached away the energy and motivation I gathered whilst away. When it came time to leave Cuba I was more than ready, I only wish my return had been uplifting, unfortunately it wasn’t. Despite a weird and partly unpleasant last few days in Havana I had found inspiration whilst there. I began writing again and thoroughly enjoyed it, a month at home and my keyboard hardly saw my fingers. But now I’m here again, tapping away and slowly regaining my enthusiasm.

Slowly I’m becoming aware of this new person I seem to be, though I can take nothing for granted. I don’t act, feel or think in the same way I used to, how I could depend upon. I can’t, physically I can take nothing for granted, emotionally I’ve depleted all my reserves and I’m trying to get my head round it all. Unusual for me I actually became involved romantically with a Cubana, now that has taken a lot to confess so I hope you all bloody well appreciate it. It brought a smile to my face; woah, hang on, she brought a smile to my face. We made each other laugh, despite the difficulties of language. Most important, it brought me some happiness, made me feel good to be with her. It also put my brain into analytical overload and made me feel very self-conscious being seen together by other tourists. I had to look long and hard at my situation, had to distinguish between what I was doing and Cuba’s growing sex trade. Throughout my travels I’ve been adamant about not becoming involved with local women, been a staunch critic over interactions between tourists and nationals. It took a lot for me to get my head round and initially refused to get sexually involved. I’m not about to return to Cuba and start a new life, nor am I about to introduce a foreign bride to friends and family. In all honesty I can still hardly believe I allowed it to happen, but it did and I have no idea what will become of it. All I can say is I haven’t gone away and bought myself a woman, I haven’t gone and taken advantage of some young lass and I haven’t any plans to set up a new life with her. I have maintained contact though! This took a lot for me to make public, judge me if you wish, I can assure you I remain my own worst critic. I’d love to say I don’t care a damn what people think, but in all honesty I do; I don’t want to be seen as a dirty old man who goes abroad to buy sex.

So far in this blog I’ve been extremely open and honest about what’s been going on for me. I’ve shared everything, almost, and so decided to be open up about this too. It’s taken its toll on my psyche, so I’ll share with you the thoughts it initiated. It took a lot justifying it to myself, and if it hadn’t been in a foreign country it wouldn’t have the negative implications for me. I’ll treat you to my thoughts and observations on the subject!

Baracoa has a lot of Italian tourists. They make up the bulk of visitors to the town, for no apparent reason, I’ve not noticed a preponderance of them anywhere else in Cuba. Almost without fail the single guys are with local women. Language barriers are not as exaggerated for them, they all seem proficient in Spanish. That makes interaction with locals easier, to be honest though I don’t notice much going on in the way of conversation. Maybe that’s a crap statement, I don’t feel I can label the situation in Cuba as a rampant sex trade, though there is no doubt it is from the tourist side of it. If the intention is to pay for sex there are many willing contenders. I would not refer to the majority of women as prostitutes. It just isn’t as clearly defined in our use of the term, though many are getting what they can from having sex with men. There are obvious cases where the sole purpose is to make money, maybe more than I’m willing to see. Being picked up, taken somewhere for sex, paying for it and parting again does happen. I won’t pretend that is anything less than prostitution, and there were plenty of offers of sex as I walked down the streets in Havana. I would not pretend to be so na├»ve as to think otherwise, that is not the same as I refer to here.

The Cuban Chicas in general are hot and up for a good time, both dancing and in bed; it’s their way of enjoying life. Shagging tourists is purely a way to afford some of the things not accessible with Pesos nacional. I was assured by local friends that paying for a piece of hot totty is not only a tourist privilege, if you have sex with someone and it’s just a casual thing it’s likely you’ll be asked for some show of appreciation. I’m not sure where the boundaries lie but money changing hands after sex seems a common enough occurrence. From what I was lead to believe most tourists are all too happy to throw some money at the lass and walk away contentedly conscience free. I just don’t feel comfortable with it, Cubans were surprised how adamant I was over refusing to have sex for money. People were surprised at the way many westerners view it, they couldn’t understand why we see it as such an immoral issue, why the women are viewed with such distaste. And Chicas were gobsmacked, to them it’s no different to women in the western world going out at the weekend and having sex with someone they pick up from a club. Well it is the same thing; the only difference is you’re likely to be asked to show your appreciation afterwards there. They are generally not meeting a guy and taking him straight off for sex, they’re not selling their bodies in a straightforward transaction. They’ll dance, chat and flirt, if you take to each other the chances are you’ll leave together at the end of the night and sleep with each other. Isn’t that normal promiscuous behaviour, it’s afterwards that the boundaries become blurred.

Leaving Baracoa was a relief is many ways, I’d got fed up with fairly constant approaches for money, beer, or even the clothes I was wearing. There is no doubt about it a lone tourist is a prime target, and I remained alone for five weeks while I toured the provinces. I was wrong to tar them all with the same brush, I made a number of good friends. Despite brushing them off at times they remained friends, I’d been sure the sting would come: it never did. Two and a half hours out of town on the bus I got a text message from the UK, “are you OK, have you been effected by the earth quake?” It was the first I’d heard about it, apparently Baracoa had been evacuated in preparation for the tsunami, which never materialised.

My bus journey was thankfully short, I flew from Santiago de Cuba to Havana. I couldn’t stand the thought of another 14 hours on a bus. So it was back to Havana and my last four days, to spend more time with Grisel and her daughter, I hadn’t seen them for over four weeks. While in Cuba I was struck by how passionate and close couples were, always hand in hand, even old folks. It was a real pleasure to see, a shame being the same with Grisel caused awful problems with the police.

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