Cordelia O’Neill visits Cuba and finds there’s more to the island that its revolutionary past
Paradisus Guardalavaca, Cuba
Bullet marks, seven-year-old rum and a chance to wear her gold bikini, Cordelia O’Neill discovers the heat is on in Cuba
IT’S A sweltering evening and through the darkness, musicians drum an intoxicating salsa rhythm.
Tall palm trees seemingly swing in time as I sip my glass of seven-year-old rum and prepare for a night to remember.
Suddenly the spotlight swings to the two stages, and a flock of girls – the so-called Diosas de Carne, Goddesses of the Flesh – descend from trees in time to the music.
The music picks up, lights flash on glittering sequinned and feathered costumes, and the world-famous Club Tropicana kicks off another long Havana night.
Launched in 1939 at the Villa Mina, a sprawling six-acre estate on the outskirts of the city, this floor show inspired copycat cabaret in Paris, Las Vegas and New York, and has drawn countless tourists to Cuba’s capital for nights of decadence, drama and daiquiris.
But the sequins and feathers hide a darker side of the club, whose history is almost inseparable from the Cuba of the popular imagination – gangsters, gambling and gunshots.
The past is rarely far away on this Caribbean island which won independence from Spain in 1902.
Apart from the near-constant presence of its revolutionary heroes – Fidel Castro and the more photogenic Che Guevara – the island’s chequered history is etched into its heart.