VARADERO, JUICY MANGOES AND BEING A RAP GODDESS xox

I bought two juicy mangoes at the market this week, as it is currently Mango Season in Cuba. Bajan Roommate had previously expressed a deep satisfaction at the quality of Cuban mangoes in comparison to Bajan mangoes, which are apparently much juicier and more delicious, but as I was comparing cucumbers at the market this morning, Ojito, my new best friend, offered me a slice of one of his best specimens. It was very, very good, so I decided to splurge. I saved it all day until I’d had my dinner, then put on some Cat Stevens and CONSUMED IT!!!! Mangoes are so difficult to eat, and there was juice and pulp evertwhere. My skin and throat are now reacting very badly as I think I’m a bit allergic to fruit juice, but it was so worth it. The thing tasted like liquid-solid-mushy ecstasy. I’ve never eaten anything so incredibly delicious, and a huge part of me doesn’t think I ever will again.
Luckily for her, Bajan Roommate is out for dinner so she didn’t have to sit through the Great Mango Eating of April 2013, because her parents are here! What’s more, it’s the holidays! We have no university, in celebration of the failed CIA invasion of the Bay of Pigs. Hurray!  Everyone is making the most of the week we have off. A large portion of Calle B have travelled to the east of the island to hike up Mount Turquino, which sounded like a good idea, but I eventually decided that in actuality, climbing up a mountain in intense humidity wasn’t something I fancied doing this week. Instead, we decided to get away from ‘real life’ Cuba and go to Varadero.
***PAUSE IN STORY-TELLING FOR NEWS FLASH::::: Just had a power cut. It only lasted for like ten minutes, but that is ten minutes that the fridge was off for. My other mango is in there, I pray to GOD that the sudden temperature change didn’t disturb its delicious ripening process!!! ************
Veradero is one of the largest tourist resorts in Cuba, which Lonely Planet describes as ‘wrapped up for tourist consumption and packaged as a cheap alternative to Cancun’ then continues to detail its: “lack of history, frequently lack of Cuban people themselves, and lack of one vital ingredient: magic”. Despite this glowing review, over the past few months I have sporadically and loudly voiced my zero desire to go there, ever. However, life in Havana was getting me down.
I don’t want to dwell on negatives because very often living in Cuba is living the dream: Pina Coladas, palm trees and playa, playa, playa. However, it can be a bit tiring looking like a foreigner here because we’re a constant target for hustlers and rambunctious taxi drivers who yell at us in the street and overcharge us for everything and then get really huffy when we try and get some banter going. Everything is systematically designed to keep tourists and Cubans separate, which leaves us in a confusing spot as we’re ‘temporary residents’, and have Cuban ID, but we’re still treated like tourists and often can’t access the same things that Cuban people can, either because rules and legislation stops us or because nobody in their right mind will ever believe I’m Cuban, no matter how many times I insist I was born in Havana.
Anyway, Erica, who is a calming influence on me, pointed out that no matter what we do we are always going to be treated as outsiders here and we’re always going to be ripped off and people are always going to shout at us on the street, so it’s best to get over it really and just enjoy ourselves.
SO we decided embrace our tourist status! Yolo! Or, even better, YOLICO!! And off we went to VARADERO.  Varadero is NICE. It’s not just resorts, there are lots of little Cuban houses and many-a casa particular, in fact quite contrary to Lonely Planet’s opinions, I found there were more Cubans there than foreigners (possibly because it’s low season and we were staying in Varadero town.) The beach was stunning, and the best thing was that it was really shallow for ages so there was a very small risk of heart-stopping-scuba diving flashbacks. Most excitingly, the sun has become a ferocious ball of constant, violent heat than managed to penetrate my factor 30 and yesterday I woke up in a body covered in skin that was going from pink to GOLD. GOLD!!! For some reason (not sure why, probably sun cream and sun position related), it is the most uneven tan ever seen. One of my companions, who I shall refer to only as Moodkiller, told me it looks like a really badly applied fake tan, which was mean and untrue – in actuality, I look GREAT. This is the colour I was born to be. I have spent a long time peering in the mirror and moisturising a LOT so that this skin never, ever falls off (people who know me well will struggle to imagine it’s possible for me to moisturise any more than I do already, but I’ve managed it.). I have TAN LINES, which other people can actually see (proving they’re not in my imagination!) Anyway lets just hope this isn’t a one off, and the tan continues to WAX and NOT wane!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We came back a day early because we couldn’t find accommodation for the last night of our trip. Ana-Maria didn’t know we were back so we went out for dinner, and then this morning I had to go and ask her for more breakfast. She was very amused to see me, and even gave me chicken breast for dinner (!!!!) Then today I decided to continue indulging myself and bought some treats. I got some fake designer flip flops ($6), one packet of cotton wool ($0.95 – I know right, absolute rip off), some books about Cuban Culture from a homeless man ($6, an obscene amount to pay for second hand books) and then treated myself to a mani-pedi, for only $3! Moodkiller pointedly told me “of course that’s a complete rip off, you know.” But I beg to differ. The woman was really nice to me and at the end of the day, it’s better to have someone be nice to you because you’re paying them than have no one be nice to you at all (something I learnt at Power Plate in Austria). Plus she shaved of some of the bottom of my foot which had gotten all hard from lack of socks, AND she offered to set me up with her 25 year old son, after the usual “do you have a boyfriend in Cuba?” No. “Oh! Do you have a boyfriend in England?” No. “Oh! Neither!?” (It’s surprisingly usual to have one in both). Unfortunately he lives in Camaguay, but he is a chef (!!!), so it’s not all bad news!
I will end on an even more positive note, because last night I had the Coolest Experience of my Life. We went out to a club in a castle/fort that overlooks the ocean and the harbour. It’s an outdoor affair and the views are lovely. They play ‘house music’ there, which, if I’m honest, is a music genre I do not understand, but my cursory awareness of the music scene in Manchester informs me that house music is very ‘a la mode’ at the moment. Anyway, being a naturally gifted and enthusiastic dancer, after dodging a few bouncers I managed to get myself where I belong: on the stage. The DJ was to my right, and my good friend Nick (who ended the night in a very sorry state, but we won’t talk about that) was to my left. I should mention that about a month ago, I participated in a particularly spectacular freestyle session outside a club called Fresa y Chocolate (because I am not only mind-blowingly good at dancing but also a genuine rap genius). Since then, our notoriety as the UK’s Greatest New Rap Stars has been spreading like wildfire. After hanging out on the stage for a while and trying to befriend the DJ (trying and failing, if I’m completely honest, but haters gonna hate, and he was a hater) I spotted a microphone in the middle of the stage. With it I saw my opportunity to finally fulfill my 2012 New Year’s Resolution (“kick start my rap career”),  and so after confirming that the microphone was switched on, Nick and I decided to grasp the chance to flex our MC skills.
Rapping in Cuba is great, because nobody has a clue what you’re saying. If you can’t think of anything to say, just make a noise that sounds like a word that rhymes, and nobody knows that it isn’t a real word, because they all speak Spanish! They just assume you’re a legend! I can’t remember many of the rhymes that I ‘spat’, but I remember looking out over the sparse crowd in the fortress courtyard and feeling like a Rap Goddess. It’s a memory that I will treasure for the rest of my days.
Gotta go because I need to pee.
Over and OUTT!!! M.C. S-COLL!!! xxx

Day to day life in Havana: "MARCH – APRIL **** M Y S E C R E T D I A R Y !!! ****"

Here’s a pick of me looking great with some traditional Cuba drink made from squashing sugar cane. I made it sepia and heavily edited it to make me look (even more) beautiful!!!!!!!!!!! (And to hide my ECZEMA EYESSSS!)

I know you must like to imagine me whilst I’m writing my award-winning blog posts, so let me set the scene. I’m sitting in my kitchen-diner, which looks like a bunker you’d build in case of atomic-attack because it’s made of breeze blocks and metal and the glass is blacked out. It’s so beautiful(!!!!) I’m listening to Eminem, because I’m STRESSED, due to an enforced-fried food, ants nest and broken glass juice jug related INCIDENT which we shall NOT dwell on. It’s been a busy couple of weeks so here’s a little compilation of what’s been gwarning! These entries are taken from my top secret diary, please keep all the very private info to yourselves!!!
26th March
Weather in Havana has been uncharacteristically tempestuous this week. Walking around in a skirt has become a bit bothersome because the breezy Havana wind keeps creeping up under my hem-line, like a pervert’s spindly fingers, and lifting my skirt up. I think I have probably flashed at least half the population of Havana in the last two days alone. Walking to university was bad enough already. I tell you, if one more person tells me I need to go to the beach to get some more sun, I do not know what I’ll do. I’ve been here for almost two months, I have had a LOT of sun and I feel like being constantly referred to as “Blanca” by passers-by is really contradicting my claim that I have tanned. NB: I’m working on a politically charged, world-changing essay entitled Reasons I Don’t Like You Calling Me ‘Linda’ When I’m Walking To Uni And I’m Late And I’m Sweaty And Please Don’t Touch Me When I Ignore Your Whistling, and I’m going to send it to the Granma and the Guardian (to kick-start my journalism career!).
29th March

Many of you will be sick with worry about how I’ve been coping since the Scuba Dive. Well, three weeks P.S.D. (Post Scuba Dive), and the emotional scars associated with my Trauma Underwater have begun to fade. Nonetheless, my life has continued to be characteristically turbulent, obstacle-filled and blood-pressure increasing. Why!? I hear you cry. Well I shall not delay in telling you. It is due to the one issue most beloved, important and close to my heart. The one issue that can make or break my day, week, month or (in this case) semester abroad. The one issue that I should have realised would make happiness in Havana impossible…………………… [DRAMATIC PAUSE!!!!]

The issue is: FOOD!

Ana-Maria, our ever present, ever scowling ‘ama de la casa’, cleans and cooks for us. She brings us breakfast in the morning and dinner at night (brought in several thermal bowls that greatly resemble dog dishes) and frequently responds to anything I say to her by smiling at me witheringly, telling me she doesn’t understand a word I’ve said and asking Mercedes to explain what I mean. To begin with I thought she was very friendly but lately, our relationship has been on the rocks. Regular fans may recall The Great Breakfast Dilemma of March 2013. You’ll be intensely relieved to know that since telling our landlady I was constantly hungry because I couldn’t sustain myself on one bread roll and butter, breakfasts have been a lot better! Following this victory our attentions soon turned to the evening meal.

Things became particularly precarious last week. Ana-Maria enjoys frying food. She LOVES to fry, and she especially loves to fry croquetas. Croquetas are stumps of processed potato mixed with an unidentifiable meat (we assume it’s pork, but following the revelation that our spanish teacher occasionally eats horse meat and sees no problem with it, we’re not certain) and covered in breadcrumbs then (naturally) deep fat fried. Last week we had them at least four times in the week, and the other three days we had patties, which are basically the same concept but round and flat. We were getting most perturbed. I don’t mean to over-accentuate the point, but two months of rice was starting to bloat me. On the seventh day (of croquetas) we took leave of the establishment and went out for dinner. We contemplated sneaking, but instead walked boldly down the patio, croquetas and rice rolling to and fro in our wake. We had prawn salad for dinner.
The following day, after about two hours of stirring each other on with words of encouragement, we approached Ana-Maria. Mercedes elected herself to make the appropriate comments (due to the aforementioned fact she never has a bloody clue what I’m saying), and told Ana-Maria the vague white lie that the fried food had been affecting our digestive systems in a most undesired way. We were very worried she would be offended, angry or grumpy with us. To our surprise and relief she just started laughing, pointed at me, laughed some more, and told us she’d make us sauteed fish.

6/04/13
Ruth has been visiting me this week so we’ve been doing all the touristy stuff! Things got off to a slightly rocky start as, whilst doing our second tourist activity (the ballet), I managed to lose my purse/get my purse stolen (<<<<the differentiation between ‘lost’ and ‘stolen’ turned out later to be of vital importance). Getting my purse stolen is usurped as “The worst and most expensive and time-consumingly complex thing to happen to me ever” only by missing my plane to Austria. Therefore instead of enjoying the relaxing Cuban lifestyle, we spent the next couple of hours doing the appropriate credit-card-canceling phone calls,bag-searching and purse-searching and teary eyed things like that. Then we went to the police stations and embarked on The Worst Evening Of My Life (or maybe One Of the Worse Evenings…) The police station was stressful, time consuming and very confusing and made me feel very tired. You’ll be happy to hear, however, that they did let me go without charging me with anything.
The rest of the week passed very nicely. We did lots of good things like going to a baseball game, eating at the two BEST restuarants in Havana (apparently), walking through Old Havana, seeing the Buena Vista Social Club and drinking mojitos and we visited the Botanical Gardens.
9/04/13
The Croquetas are back, so I had biscuits for dinner. I tried to have juice but I broke the juice jug, there was juice and glass everywhere, and then I discovered another ant’s nest. Going to go out and drink Pina Coladas before I self-combust.

10/04/13
Today we played our vital role of representatives of the United Kingom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland by attending the University of Havana’s international fair. There were representatives from all sorts of different countries, like Syria, China and Djibuti. We were the only Europeans (except for Russia, but I choose to discount Russia), which made us feel pretty goddam cool, and our stall was very popular. We think this was because our blazing white bodies reflected the sun like huge beacons and drew the crowds like magpies to silver pennies. They asked us lots of questions, many of which we didn’t know the answer to, but thankfully years of oral examinations has given us a great skill of bullshitting. I had to bullshit a lot about Richard Branson, because he reatured on one of the stickers that the British Council had given us, and Margaret Thatcher, because of recent events. After an hour or so we began to realise a nearby table was usurping our clientele, and we were no longer the most popular stall in the courtyard!!!! It turned out the beastly Americans had opened up shop and, unlike us, they had no leaflets, photos, maps or informative info cards on offer, so they had just bought twenty five bottles of beer and were handing it out in plastic cups. It wasn’t even American beer! (Obviously.) Nevertheless their strategy worked, and all the visitors were grouped around and chanting things – until the beer ran out and the Chinese representatives started doing some traditional Chinese dancing in fancy costumes.  
This is the end of the extracts from my Secret Diary. I hope you found it enlightening and interesting in equal measure.
Forever yours,
SC xxx