Seven Days in Paradise (2 Days in Havana)
Wheels up, looking out the window, about to enjoy a complimentary mimosa enroute to Cuba to shoot a music video. I had just bought some new diamond stud earrings in the duty free shop and lets just say I was feeling pretty damn fly for a white guy. At this point in my life I knew absolutely nothing about Cuba, save for a few stories from a girl I just started dating. Not that the stories about her vacationing there with her ex-boyfriend weren’t helpful, I just don’t think they applied to my specific situation. I hadn't heard the most positive reviews except for the beaches and only the beaches. So, I was heading to this mysterious island with a somewhat open mind. I remember standing in the line for customs once we landed and noticing that the customs officials were women in surprisingly sexy uniforms. I also remember forgetting my bass guitar in the baggage claim area…
Out of the airport and into the muggy heat we make our way to the buses that will take us to our resort. In the airport parking lot there are vendors selling ice cold cerveças, could this place be heaven? Well, yes and no. About an hour after my excitement for the heat and women’s uniforms and beer vendors wore off; our entire band and management crew are standing on the side of the road beside a broken down bus. Bit of a SNAFU it seems. Rest assured we are rescued by another bus and soon arrive at our resort. After checking in we all head to our separate rooms, where our drummer Aaron, finds a man sleeping in his bed. The man wakes up and is obviously confused at whats going on, then again, not even close to being as confused as Aaron however. My room looks semi normal, just a run down shitty kinda sorta room yknow?
So then I did what any 25 year old band guy would do; went down to the lobby and bought a carton of cigarettes for 100 pesos. Next up we all head to the main cafeteria area to begin our all inclusive Cuba resort experience of free drinks and free food. Well, its pretty hard to fuck up a Cuba Libre, but this resort certainly swung for fences and provided me with some strange version complete with an umbrella and what I can only describe as Coke without the bubbles and sweetness. Couple of those bad boys later and its all good baby. Next up we hit the “buffet’ that was serving up a grey tinged stew, as well as rabbit meat. We are supposed to stay here for 5 out of the 7 days we’re in Cuba, so this might be difficult, I mean last time I had checked a man cannot survive for a week on Havana Club alone (try me).
As we’re sitting in this shitty cafeteria at this shitty resort attempting to eat this shitty food, slowly but surely our surroundings are made aware to us. There is a lot of old white dudes with very young Cuban female companions, and not that many families or couples or anybody else really. After a quick google search that absolutely devoured the data on Pat’s phone (the only one smart enough to purchase a cell plan beforehand) we discover this particular resort is known on the internets as a brothel. Well, I mean we were all thinking it and in the spirit of believing everything you read we were convinced. So, to unfuck this situation I decided we should just upgrade to a different resort. The only problem is no one else in the band has a credit card, and for some “strange” reason our management people’s credit cards weren’t working there. Naturally I had racked up a pretty ridiculous amount on my personal credit card so definitely didn’t have enough room to foot the bill for 8 people to pay the difference to upgrade a few stars to a better resort. So the only solution was to call our sweet little business manager Phyllis to transfer funds onto my credit card. I was feeling a little slurry from the half ass Cuba Libres so you can only imagine how smooth and coherent that conversation went. Funds transferred, the dream is real. We pack our shit as if our lives depended on it and fled the worst resort in Cuba, onward and upward to a place with less prostitutes and better food (debateable).
The upgraded resort was slightly better, with not as many young working girls but definitely a whole lot of gigantic half naked tourists demolishing the snack bar like it was their last meal. My room has 3 beds and out of the 10 channels on TV, somehow one of them is a Canadian news channel. Winning.
We hire a driver to take us from Varadero to Havana for 200 pesos and honestly I can’t say I was surprised when the vehicle that showed up was a very small equivalent of a cargo van. Our management crew and band pile in and settle down for the 150km trip.
We arrive finally and tumble out of the cramped and sweltering heat of the transport van and upon the magnificent front steps of the Hotel Nacional. Built in 1930, i can tell ya from experience, it hasn’t changed much. An absolute beauty of a relic, we check in and find our film crew out by pool bar. We head out to dinner to a very secret spot, that was, in fact, someone’s living room where we indulge and enjoy some incredible and authentic Cuban home cooking. Back at the hotel we engage in a few nightcaps too many; tomorrow we shoot this silly music video.
Well, its 10am, time for my solo scene, and if you know anything about film or music videos when it is your scene it seems like you do so much more waiting around than you do actual shooting. So there I am, full suit in the Cuban heat drinking lukewarm coffee that is already premixed with way too much sugar and cream. Well the coffee sucks so how is the catering one might ask? Catering consisted of pre saran wrapped ham and cheese sandwiches served out of a garbage bag by none other than the makeup lady who looked like she lost a bet and her punishment was to hang out with one hit wonder losers from Canada for an entire day. Yes of course I tried one of the sandwiches and to no surprise it tasted exactly how it sounded.
Next up is Pat’s scene with the love interest aka the hot video vixen who had just maybe/hopefully celebrated her 17th birthday. In the treatment for the video, Pat is caught up with this exotic beauty while the band is waiting ever so patiently for our fearless leader. Set in a hidden courtyard that was actually so awesome in all its rusted and deteriorating glory, we get ready in the adjacent living quarters that essentially was a bedroom and a bathroom that a family was living in. Again, awesome. So, back home in the wonderful town of Toronto, Pat has a full time serious steady girlfriend and after a bit of figurative tooth pulling I finally discover the reason he doesn’t want to make out or be overly physical with the video chick is because his girlfriend would kill him and he’d also have to live with the guilt and suspense leading up to the video being released had he not forewarned her. Well I am not one for ceremony or emotion getting in the way of my ever so waining career’s destiny, and when our director pulled me aside and inquired “whats up with your boy? we need this in the video”, lets just say i knew exactly what to do. The local film crew was setting up another angle/scene/whatever (I never pay attention) so I saw this as my golden opportunity. I sprint in my full suit and diamond earrings about 3/4 of a block down to the bodega on the corner and purchased a bottle of Cuba’s finest: Havana Club. Mix? Coke Lite please, you see I couldn’t live with Pat drinking regular coke and getting diabetes so instead I plan on poisoning him just enough to get his inhibitions lowered to get the shots we need to get.
So there I am; Junior Director of Photography (watching playback in the monitor) as well as Personal Assistant and Drink Deliverer to the one and only Pat K. In other words I was smoking and drinking watching my friend get closer and closer to a non verbal entity in a suit and tie. We continue filming and gathering the footage we need, meanwhile Pat was confessing his undying drunk love to this poor girl at this point, convincing her that in North America he could provide a better life for her to which she replies “No thank you. I like it here.”
The local crew starts shouting in Spanish and we are informed its time for lunch/dinner. The rest of the band was on the air conditioned bus during Pat’s scenes and stumble out just in time to see Pat being held up by two crew members, completely disheveled and incoherent with a smile that resembled Jack Nicholson as the Joker. It is decided that Pat needs some “me time” and is shovelled into a bus seat to take a break. Meanwhile, we the band enjoy an amazing meal complete with free beer and guacamole.
Next up in my memory is the club scene, AKA the band performance. It is here that I befriend some random Cuban dude that seems extremely keen on going out after the video shoot and partying with us. Like the fool I am drunk or sober I give him our hotel info and continue on with the video. We have one heck of a time running through the performance scene and as night falls we are finally done. We hop on the bus back to the hotel half asleep and almost in a strange haze I barely remember getting back into my hotel room and crawling into bed. As I’m exhaling and letting the bed claim me as its captive for the night Im jarred awake by the phone ringing. Instantly I know its that weird dude who I had totally agreed to go party with after. Looking back as I’m writing this I probably should’ve gone out, who knows, it might have been a better story than this one. I let it ring, huddling in fear hoping that the guy wouldn’t actually come to the hotel and come up to my room. He doesn’t, thank goodness, but he does call a few more times.
I wake up the next morning to a mild hangover and my go to is usually to turn the bathroom tap on and rehydrate, however in Cuba they recommend you do not drink the tap water (more on this later). I head down to the lobby cafe and find some of the video guys, best dudes ever, and we enjoy a breakfast of sweet coffee and slimy eggs. I love Cuba so much but they need to figure the whole food thing out.
Now its time for the journey back to our resort in Varadero to exist for 4 more days on our all inclusive vacation package. We hire another driver and quickly find out he has one CD and plans on playing one CD only: Europe. The band. As in “The Final Countdown”, for 150 kms…
To be continued.