In some countries it is easy to start feeling like Angelina Jolie within a day or two. You walk streets where hoots, whistles, blustered bravado and beautiful words fall like confetti .
It’s your passport, your wallet, that makes you pretty, but from the lovely lines you’d think it is all about your eyes, your smile, your special heart, saccharine sweet and sickly to swallow.
In Cuba the people who case foreigners for friendship, fun and an all-inclusive good time are called jinteras – a word which covers everything from prostitutes to the semi professional boyfriends and full time charmers.
I am no innocent. None of this was all that new to me, but I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable at finding myself the cash cow. I couldn’t help but grimace on chatting with nice old guys, who reminded me of my dad, and then seeing them fondling teenage girls on the beach.
What I see here is a reality, but it’s not one that I like.
And yet I can’t help but edge up against my own hypocrisy. I have no problem with people having sex just for the sake of sex, with pulling the person wholly out of the package, and yet I find myself inclined to judge when cash or favours start changing hands.
Travellers are by nature a rather promiscuous breed, pitching for cultural connect, and the next right here right now, with all and sundry. There are those long hot nights, the flashing smiles, the hands that linger just a little too long until touch tumbles over touch in a hurry to be undone. After all travel is about experience right?
When you wander, the world can seem like your buffet, laid out in plates of people to touch and taste.
Swimming in these seas, I’ve found it easy to lose a little faith in special. Everyone seems to be cheating, everyone lying to someone here or elsewhere, hiding something or just eyeing the next blonde with a backpack to bail off a bus.
I wonder why we come such a long way just to consume one another, whether this kind of travel is another sex tourism, just a slightly less obvious set of transactions.
I tell myself that there can be an honesty in it, the mutual emptiness of one happy night. I wonder whether that is enough to make it alright, whether consumption is okay if it is done with consent.
I sit and chat to a German guy who is leaving Cuba the next day. He sent his girlfriend just one mail in the 3 months he has been away. It read ‘please pick me up at the airport and bring good cheese’. I quirk an eyebrow, query their closeness. They’ve been together for five years and apparently they are happy, just like this, that it works like this.
I ask what he loves about her, prompting him to find the words I imagine she would have liked to read instead. He says her father is the fourth richest man in Germany, that she is nice, that they share goals, that it is too early to talk of love.
I can’t quite hide my horror.
He says she understands, that it is honest and it makes sense for both of them. He says that they will be together when I am alone watching repeats on TV and waiting for something special. He might just be right.
I ask him what he will do if special comes along for him somewhere further down the track when the deal is all done. He thinks for a moment, and tells me that they will be together, until then.
I am no one to judge. It is honest, practical, maybe even close to perfect, and yet seems so lacking in life. But waiting, hoping, holding out is so much harder than settling for something rather than nothing, for right now, for just this.
Here in the land of empty shop shelves I have thought a lot about what buying things, what consuming means, what it makes us. Perhaps this is a good place to stop, sit and reflect on how pleasure delayed, deferred, can deepen, and taste all the sweeter for substance gained… or perhaps not.