HAVANA — The dance floor of Humboldt 52, a gay bar near the Hotel Nacional and Havana’s oceanfront promenade known as the Malecón, was packed around 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Rum and Blue Sky, the drink special, were flowing freely as the DJ played Cuban reggaeton and American and European pop songs.
It was not at all clear to me what to expect once I arrived in Cuba, especially since I had never been to the island before and everyone seemed to offer their solicited and unsolicited insight as to what things are actually like on the ground. No es fácil (“It’s not easy” in English) is a phrase that has already come to define my experience thus far in Havana.
I have yet to obtain a cell phone to communicate with local sources because the state-run telecommunications company wants more than $180 for a phone that I will use for a week. The slow wifi network at the Hotel Nacional prevents me from logging onto the Washington Blade’s website and I was nearly doused with something resembling stewed carrots that someone threw from their balcony in Old Havana as I walked underneath it.
There have also been many unexpected moments that have admittedly come as a pleasant surprise. Most notable of these is the Havana-born man from Ohio who I met at the airport in Miami at 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday as we waited to check into our flight who helped me navigate Cuban customs with relative ease as a so-called VIP — an exceptionally nice woman who escorted us through the process even made me a café cubano (Cuban coffee) as we waited in the VIP lounge for our luggage. His relative also drove me to the Hotel Nacional and will allow me to rent a cell phone from a relative, once I’m able to get in touch with him.
The woman who sat next to me on the short flight to Havana that nearly returned to Miami because the Cuban authorities closed the airport with no explanation seemed aware of Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, and her efforts to highlight LGBT issues on the island as I talked with her about the purpose of my trip to her country. Fidel, the man who processed my press credentials at the International Press Center, acknowledged the Blade when he saw it written on my press visa. His colleague who gave me my credential appeared to read the description of the purpose of my trip intently — and intensely — before completing the process.
Life is certainly not easy here, but it carries on. Congueros (conga players) in the park, boys playing soccer in Plaza de Armas in Old Havana, effeminate Afro-Cuban men mariposándose (strutting their stuff) on the streets and two heterosexual couples dancing salsa along the Malecón while a man plays a guitar and their friends sing and clap are among the myriad of interesting things I have observed since I arrived in Cuba.
I am certainly not a cheerleader for the Cuban government and those who vigorously support it. I am simply a reporter who has an opportunity to share the stories and experiences of LGBT Cubans as their country and the U.S. begin to normalize relations after nearly six decades of bitter hostility. No será fácil — it will not be easy, but I will certainly do my best.