There was a show going on in the mercado.
People wearing bright colors and headwraps, pointed hats, cowboy hats, Cat-in-the-Hat style hats.
Faces decorated with painted designs. Piercing calls from day-glo lips.
Walking on stilts, dancing on stilts, slapping stilt-mounted bongo drums, effortless twirls on stilts while swirling large sections of brightly colored fabric.
A colossal fuschia dragon head with bulging yellow eyes, cavernous black nostrils, and knashing white fangs.
All eyes, we sauntered through the cobblestone streets of the mercado, passing all manner of Cuban life…
Boys playing a boisterous game of soccer with a deflated basketball and tattered, homemade goal net with more holes than net…
Women leaning out of high apartment windows hanging laundry…
Jineteros aggressively hassling tourists….
I took a photo of a very old Cuban woman dressed in glowing white with a big red flower blooming from her headwrap.
And I learned the word ‘regalo’ (gift) when every passing Cuban began calling out to me to give the old woman some money in exchange for the photo I took.
I also learned, when I put a pile of quarters into her hand (I had given all my dollars to the ‘Guantanamera’ musician) that, from businesses to beggars, American coins are not accepted in Cuba.
Solo papel. (Only paper)
I got change and, for the rest of the day, kept singles in my front pocket, ready to disperse in exchange for photos.
Big mistake. Huge.
My dollars were all gone within the hour because Cubans are the most riveting, beautiful, photogenic people ever.
Karli, Dana and I split off from the group and wandered aimlessly around the mercado sipping bottles of $1 salty-metal tasting, obviously recycled Gulf seawater we bought from a guy with an ice cooler.
We had only a few sips before chucking it, but even so, this is why I’m here in our room writing & percolating instead of at a Cuban club writhing & gyrating.
Mercado impressions: selling, selling, selling…aggressive vendors hawking books, food, deeply emotional artwork, jewelry, sarongs, carved wooden sculptures & figurines …it was endless in variety of items for sale.
As we strolled, we three wide-eyed American girls, we three Charlie’s Angels – a brunette, a red-head, and an ‘exotic’ one – we were ogled by oodles of Cubanos. But not just ogled; Cuban men are vociferously amorous.
We were all but made love to.
It was great.
Because Cuban men are take-me-right-here-right-now sexy. Every time we thought we’d spotted the hottest one on the island, five more would appear. They wooed us relentlessly in their seductive, heavily-accented Cuban Spanish.
We were getting wooed to a pulp.
And loving it!
Our Communist Casanovas were also friendly, patient with our subjunctive-fumbling Spanish (mostly me – Karli’s quite fluent, but Dana doesn’t speak Spanish at all. We had a mad laugh attack when she asked, in honest wide-eyed innocence, “How do you say ‘Yes?’).
The Cubano hunks were also very willing to talk to us about their lives under Fidel – the good & the bad. Some loved Fidel. Some were on the fence. Some hated Fidel.
Just like back home where, depending on which American you ask, Bush is either Moses or Lucifer.
And these Cubans spoke openly to us – no whispers or furtive glances, no fear. Other Cubans joined in the conversation, adding their own sometimes positive/sometimes negative opinions of Fidel and their Communist government.
Where are all the Cubans too terrified for their lives to speak out publicly?
The ones my government keeps cawing about?
Read All Excerpts
“Diary of An American Girl’s Journeys to the Forbidden Land.”