By FIONA WEBSTER | [url=http://www.nzherald.co.nz]http://www.nzherald.co.nz[/url]
The throb of big-finned American cars hangs in the air and mingles with the smoke from my cigar. It is dusk. The street is loaded with warmth, dust and stickiness. A narrow street of Spanish colonial buildings with peeling paint and intricate balustrades relaxes as night time creeps in.
The drumming gets louder as my compadres and I turn a corner. The street opens out on to a square filled with coloured lights and music. A cafe has spilled its contents of people outside. A band, made up of anyone who wants to join in, plays on and around a small stage, which bounces with its burden.
Dark-skinned people groove to the rhythms, adding their music in shouts, claps and yahoos. Everyone dances: old women with soft, swaying hips and closed mouth smiles, skinny boys and girls wearing bright patterned cotton shorts and skirts, stunningly beautiful women and elegant men dance together with passionate intensity.
There are white-haired men in suits who dance the same way as they did when they met their wives, buried their parents and christened their grandchildren.
And here I am dancing, with my Havana cigar, adding my own rhythms. My senses are filled up and flow over like a glass of champagne. I drink it all in.
This is Cuba.
Return airfares, Auckland to Havana, start from $3269 per person based on a round-the-world airfare with a minimum of three stops and a seven-day advance purchase from Flight Centre. A Havana stopover with two nights’ accommodation starts from $316 each share twin. Contact Flight Centre on 0800 243544 to book. Conditions apply.
Things to see and do
Cuba has more than 300 beaches of fine white sand and crystal-clear water. The most famous is Varadero, but there are others to the east of the capital city in Holguin and Cayo Largo del Sur, as well as in the northern keys of Ciego de Avila and Villa Clara.
Most parts of Cuba are served by a modern fleet of buses. Hire cars and taxis are also available.
Cuba is a long, narrow island shaped like a crocodile. It’s 1200km long, and its widest section is 210km, its narrowest 32km. The island has 14 provinces and the special municipality of the Isle of Youth (Isla de la Juventud).
In the urban areas, where 70 per cent of the population lives, eclectic architecture prevails. However, in some cities, such as Havana or Trinidad, the old quarters’ colonial ambience has been preserved.