Carmen Bush is a freelance writer, teaching artist, and educator. Taylor Lancelot is a freelance photographer and engineer. They live together in the Bay Area.
I went to Cuba in July with my boyfriend, Taylor, summer clothes and theDough Naughty Donut Print High Waisted Swimsuit Bottoms and the Pretty in Pink Tie Back Bikini Top from Siobhan packed tight in my too-big suitcase. We jittered with excitement over our journey, completely unsure of what to expect.
After a few days in Havana (the cars! The music! The old women with giant cigars!) we got on a bus to Trinidad to meet the hosts we had been communicating with for months via email.
Yannaika and Luisma welcomed us with open arms and a surprisingly large quantity of food. As we stuffed ourselves with mango chicken and soup and perfectly creamy avocadoes, Luisma asked us what our favorite travel experiences were. Surfing was Taylor’s goal – unfortunately, the beaches in Trinidad are as calm, serene, and cerulean as any travel brochure could boast. Luisma suggested a trip to a nearby river and waterfall as an alternative. We agreed, and woke up early the next morning to catch our cab (a Ford convertible from 1910, which made up for in beauty that it lacked in shocks on the rough road to the park).
After a short walk through the forest, past a cliff face covered in wasps nests a hundred feet high, we found a deep pool of water surrounded by caves and a keening waterfall. Taylor held up our towel for cover as I shimmied into my swimmy like a lizard and let the redbrown dirt cover my bare toes. Taylor and Luisma jumped in from 10 feet up, and as their soaking, grinning faces cheered me on, I soon found myself flying through the air and into the dark water. Splash.
It was a cold but welcome reprieve from the heat and humidity that clusters around Cuba like the pips in a pomegranate, sticky and sweet. A few strokes took us to the lip of a deep cave that hung around the waterfall. Luisma and Taylor lifted themselves up easily and grabbed my forearms to pull me into the dank, water-pummeled room. We clambered over the slippery rock, the boys hurling themselves back into the pool as soon as they could. I stayed in the cave for a moment, marveling at the little bowls and crevices that centuries of dripping water had created, listening to the chatter of the families and couples that were playing in the water below.
God, it was beautiful. God damn, it was hot. The river called my name. Splash.
After five days in Trinidad, we gave Yanni and Luisma tearful cheek-kisses and boarded another bus to a little city called Playa Larga, a stone’s throw from the infamous Bay of Pigs. It was July 26, a day of celebration in Cuba. The narrow beach beside our casa particular was so crammed with people that it looked more like MTV Spring Break than a quiet beach town.
A little history lesson: On July 26, 1953, Cuban rebels attacked an army facility run by dictator Fulgencio Batista. Though the attack failed, it was a crucial moment for the rebels as they began the long, bloody process of overthrowing the tyrannical government that had dominated the Cuban people since his election in 1940 and subsequent dictatorship began. After years of fighting and countless horrors of war, the rebels succeeded in 1959 and Batista fled to Spain. And so, on the 26th of every year, scores of Cubans come together to celebrate this pivotal moment of their revolution. And damn, do they know how to get down.
The beach was smack dab against a big parking lot filled with ancient Fords, Chevys, and buses. The heat radiated off the pavement in waves.
It was hotter than a bake off in Satan’s kitchen, but that didn’t stop the wild crowd from wandering through an open market that had sprung up down a narrow strip of car-less asphalt. There was chicken, soda, beer by the gallon, even a tent filled with aquariums and tiny, skittering fish. We walked through, sweat dripping, grabbing cold orange sodas and a thin tube of warm, roasted peanuts.
Spanish salutations crowded the air, already thick with heat and barbecue smoke, and we admired the crowd as it pulsed and boogied and hollered. Finally, we wandered down to a quieter section of the beach to cool our heels. As we sat looking out at that clean cerulean, Taylor wrapped his arm around the small, exposed section of my bikini-clad waist. We breathed it in – the popcorn, the revelry, the smell of freedom.
The ocean slapped the shore.
Shop these swimsuits and more at my Etsy shop Alea Swimwear ; )