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September 30th, 2014

Revelling in the sultry rhythm of Cuba by Katie Hickman

Author Katie Hickman, who wrote for the Mail Online, and her daughter Madeleine took to the roads of Cuba on a recent holiday.


It is midnight on a sultry August evening, and Yuli and Toni are getting ready to dance. At the Casa de la Trova, a tiny, cigarette-smoke-and-rum-hazed dive in downtown Santiago, they are the undisputed king and queen of the night.

Music was everywhere on our six-day family road trip across Cuba, but nowhere more so than in the beautiful old colonial town of Santiago de Cuba where we began our journey.
A melting pot of Haitian, African and Spanish influences, Santiago is the birthplace of the country’s most renowned musicians. Exquisite tunes poured from every bar and shop.

We stayed in the elegant Hotel Casa Granda overlooking the main square, Parque Cespedes. The plaza, with its baroque cathedral, is the heart of the city. Musicians congregate here every day to serenade passers-by, and the hotel’s shady veranda proved the best place in town to listen to them.

We retreated here to escape the stifling midday heat (40C and rising) and to cool ourselves with fresh lemonade, or a mojito or two (rum in Cuba, I swear, being cheaper than water).

From Santiago we headed off on the first leg of our journey to Holguin, Cuba’s fourth-largest city. At least we hoped that was where we were heading. Rental cars are modern, bit the only maps are so sketchy, and road signs so few, it was hard to know where we were going (a wrong turning would have taken us to Guantanamo Bay, 30 miles away – not a great holiday destination).

Eventually we were heading north, across the spectacular Sierra Maestra, its tropical vegetation such a vibrant electric green it almost hurt to look at. It was in these hills that Fidel Castro his out in 1953 while planning the Batista regime.

In Holguin it was carnival time, but you wouldn’t know it as the place was deserted (we found out later everyone had decamped for a knees-up at the baseball stadium). So, after one night at the Hotel El Bosque, a former country club preserved in 1950s aspic, we moved on.


To read the full article, published on Sunday 28 September 2014, take a look on Mail Online.

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