You should know this: Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Jiniteros

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Please note, this is what happened to me and can happen to anyone. So, if you don’t want be in an unpleasant situation, it’s a good idea to be aware….

I don’t think I have ever seen or dealt with so many husslers as in Cuba. Please forgive me for saying this but this is what happened and it’s just a personal perspective I am putting out here. I can’t even count how many male prostitutes hit on me and how trapped I felt when I would start talking or dancing with them.

I took a two-day road trip to Trinidad and Cienfuegos during my last weekend in Cuba. Everything went well in Trinidad. I strolled around old stone streets, went dancing, met a few nice and normal Cuban musicians and ate a bunch of ice cream and pizza from local kiosks.

At the bus stop on the way to Cienfuegos I met two guys from London and we spoke for a couple hours on the bus. They were heading to a different town and we decided to get a beer in a few days. When the bus arrived to Cienfuegos there were a lot of people at the bus stop offering Casas Particulares. I got the cheapest one.

After I got settled and talked to the host family, I decided to take a walk to get to know the city. Since the waterfront is always the most popular place to hangout I headed straight there. It was a Sunday night and the sun was going down beautifully reflecting in the water. Lots of young people were drinking ron and beer, dancing reggateon and talking.

When I turned on a less populated street I noticed that a tall black guy with dreadlocks was walking on the other side of a road at the same speed. He looked like a Tarzan.

– Are you mad at someone? – He asked crossing the street and coming my direction.

– No, why? – I asked. It was an unusual starting line.

– Well, the girls in Cienfuegos don’t walk with such a serious face here. Everyone is relaxed, smiling, laughing. Where are you from?

We started talking and he asked if I wanted to see a little castle at the end of the waterfront. He looked almost exactly like my friend Nick from college and that made me trust him.

– Welcome to my house! – He said. – If this were my house I would through a huge dance party. Do you like to dance?

– I love dancing!- there he had me- Is there a good place to go here? – I am sure he could see the sparkles of excitement in my eyes as I was talking about salsa dancing.

– Of course! You are in Cuba. A beautiful, smart and amazing girl like you has to go dancing tonight. There is a band playing next door. It’s only a dollar to get in do you want to go?

– I’d love to go but I am sorry I am not paying for you. Don’t you have anything better to do then strolling around with me on a Sunday night?

By second week of my stay in Cuba I was so seek and tired of guys who asked me to go dancing with them to a club but the minute we would get there would suddenly have no money and ask if I could pay. I was testing Opel (I think that’s what his name was) in any possible way to see if he was one of “those”.

– No no no. Of course not! Don’t think I am one of those guys who want you to pay for me.

*When the guys say “Don’t think I am one of those, it’s a red flag that they are exactly one of those, and they know exactly who they are*

– If so I would be going around with an old lady. I only earn $15 a month but if I have to spend it all today with a beautiful girl like you and eat rice for the rest of the month I would do it!

– So why aren’t you are dating someone right now? Aren’t there a lot of Cuban girls who would go out with you?

I was interrogating him, trying to get deeper into talking and getting to know him but somehow he would turn the answers around to tell me how wonderful I was and how happy he was to be around me and that it didn’t matter if I were from the Moon or Venus, rich or poor… He was also telling me how he wasn’t like other men in La Havana who try to seduce tourists for money or visa. How he would love it if I could stay longer and go to the beach with him tomorrow … and blab la blab la…

As we were walking, we run into group of Christians that were giving out little brochures about Jesus.

– Do you believe in God? I asked.

– No, why would I believe in God if he is so unfair? He can’t change anything anyway.

I didn’t say a word. He paid the club cover and we entered the discotheque. He was saying hello to a lot of people but didn’t introduce me a single time to any of them. Most of them would give him a quick handshake and an eye blink. Everyone was looking strangely at me. I had a negative feeling but was so trapped into his sweet talking that felt hopeless.

After the first disco he asked if I would want to go to another place. I didn’t feel like it and said I wanted to go home.

– If you want to go home then you don’t like me at all? – he inquired.

– How can I like you I just met you? I haven’t even talked to you that much. – I said surprisingly.

– Why do you think you have to know and talk to a person to like them? Anything is possible.

Well, I didn’t think so. I can’t just go around and kiss all the pretty guys on the planet. Most of them are full of garbage and crap. He was pushing so hard that just to get rid of him I said “Fine”. I went back to my Casa Particular to change my sweaty from dancing dress. My host family was watching their telenovela and I told them that a Cuban guy is waiting for me outside to go dancing.

– Bring him in so we can see him, just in case – they said.

I thought it was wonderful that they cared and I went outside to call Opel in. He looked at me unexpectedly and didn’t seem delighted to go inside the house. After I changed, we took a real horse carriage back to the disco.

We danced reaggaeton till 2 am. He tried to kiss me I can’t even count how many times. When I said I am tired and ready to go, he asked if we could sit for a bit on a bench by the water. He found the darkest place under a palm, took my hand, and started talking a bunch of rubbish flattery into my ear as a drunken older man walked by looking at us.

– Hey man! Long time no see! I just knew it was you by the hair. – he said. What are you doing here? – then he looked at me. – Are you a tourist? – Then he looked expressing regret at Opel. – Oh! Are you working?

He looked Cuban but from his accent I couldn’t tell if he was too intoxicated to talk or from somewhere else.

– Where are you from? – I asked

– I am citizen of the world! I speak four languages and I have known this guy for 15 years. I come to Cuba four times a year.

– Oh nice! – I said. So where do you live? – I asked.

– In Montreal.

– So vous parlez francais? I asked.

– Oui – he replied as if I were insulting him.

– So can I trust this guy? Who is he? – I inquired in French.

– Do you really want to know who this guy is? he asked laughing in French.

Understanding what’s coming, Opel started laughing nervously, trying to hold my hands.

– Why are you guys speaking French? I can’t understand anything. Can we speak Spanish please?

The Canadian was too drunk to care and I was very alert and eager to know about Opel that none of us was paying attention to what he was saying; we had our little French talk.

– Well, if you want to know who he is, we call him Tarzan here. He is a local “jinetero.” I have been coming to Cuba for the past 15 years and that’s what he has been doing. How much do you pay him?

– I am not paying him anything! – I felt insulted, dirty and disrespected.

I felt like a little stupid girl who was taken advantage of. Even thought I didn’t pay for anything I felt like the whole town thought that I was one of those tourists who came to get a local jinetero. Everyone in Cienfuegos knew what he was up to and could totally tell what was going on. I felt aversion and disgust. How stupid it was to get trapped into the whole thing.

Opel got up and started yelling at the Canadian guy.

– What are you talking about? That was in the past. It’s not the same anymore. And you…. How many years have you been coming here to pay to 15 y.o. girls?

Then he turned to me, took my hand and said in a softer voice:

– Look, we had so much fun dancing, I paid for everything, and now you want to go with this guy? Lets take a taxi and go home.

– I am not going with this guy anywhere but I am not taking a taxi home with you either.

– Someone right there is looking right now and saying it’s not right what you are doing. – He pointed on to the sky referring to God he didn’t believe in.

All I wanted to do at that moment was to go home. I wasn’t sure whom to trust anymore. Good thing I felt safe on the street as there were many people passing by.

– You have two options. – proposed the Canadian. – You are either taking a taxi or a car with the family I came with. I will make sure to get you home.

I took a car with him and his family which was anothe stupid idea and when I got home all I was thinking about was “why did I talk to that guy?” What was the purpose of all that evening? Thanks God nothing happened but I definitely learned not to go with strangers like that anymore. It was the first time I spent the evening with a prostitute and left without paying…

The next day somehow Opel found me in the city while I was visiting the town.

– I just wanted to apologize for what happened last night. – He said. My friend has been coming to Cuba for a long time but it’s all in the past. Can we sit down and talk?

– Do me a favor, leave me alone. – I could not believe he had the guts to talk to me again.

I was so frustrated with his persistence and lies that it was all I could say. I turned around and went the opposite direction. Hopefully, I am never going to run into him again. But if you are in Cienfuegos, watch out for Tarzans running around after you.