Havana’s Happy Ending Massage


Next to a full-blown orgasm, there’s nothing more relaxing than a full-body massage in my book. A good massage even beats out great masturbation if you ask me, and while I’ve had massages in places as far flung as Hawaii and the Bronx, Guatemala and the Yucatán, I’ve been reticent to explore such carnal (albeit platonic) pleasures in Havana. It’s not a question of cost – a full one-hour massage is as little as $10 here – but rather the 1-2 combo of Cubans’ notoriously lascivious nature and a rabidly jealous Scorpion husband (see note 1). Who knew what would go down on that table, yours truly lying there nude, a strange man’s hands roaming all about?

But recently, a different 1-2 combo struck, sending me to that table: first, the need for release and relaxation was too pressing to ignore and then a friend opened a full-service spa. Permissible under Cuba’s new consumer capitalism regime, this privately-owned spa is in a privileged corner of an upscale neighborhood and offers everything from spinning classes and yoga to Brazilian wax jobs and microabrasions.

It seemed like the golden opportunity to invite the strong, well-oiled hands of an unknown Cuban macho to get acquainted with my body…

But before getting down to the nitty gritty, I wonder what you imagine when you hear the word ‘spa?’ Is it some oasis serving cucumber water and salmon/watercress baguettes on Little Palm Island? Or a strip mall in the Valley specializing in waxing, wrapping, threading, and peeling? Whatever images the word ‘spa’ conjures in your corner of the world, I bet it’s nothing like what we have in Havana.

All of the spas I know here (see note 2), are mansions or grand homes at least, with living rooms converted to fully-equipped gyms, bedrooms repurposed for Pilates, and closets retrofitted as saunas. My friend’s spa falls under this rubric, though as educated, well-traveled and cultured as she is, her spa is mucho más allá, offering nutrition consultations, medicinal plants for sale on the landscaped patio, and self-defense classes for women.

Bright, clean and spacious, the spa was welcoming but exuded the contradictory energy typical to Cuba at today’s crossroads: phones rang, appointments were made and administrators made sure it hopped with the hustle and bustle of a profit-making/seeking enterprise, while employees sat around picking their nails and contemplating their navels.

I was shown to a Swiss-clean room with AC, professional massage table, and linens monogrammed with the spa’s logo. In the gleaming, marble bathroom, I was instructed to change into the robe provided. Just then, the masseur appeared. I’ll call him Henry. He was big not wide, which was good, and had the sculpted muscles of a gym rat, nicely displayed in a skin-tight wife beater. Except for his braces (adult orthodontia is big here), he was easy on the eyes, which is neither here nor there since my baby blues would be closed, but like having an unattractive or downright ugly gynecologist, it never hurts. Henry had the smooth, lustrous skin privy to youth and would be considered a hottie by anyone’s standards.

Expectations for popping my Cuba massage cherry were high…

I assumed the position face down on the table and Henry spoke the only words he’d utter to me over the next hour: “would you like your gluteus and breasts massaged as well?”

Wait, what?! I was sure I’d heard right, but was struck dumb for a second as yells of “you can do it señora! Feel the burn!!!” bellowed through the thin walls from the spinning class next door. My mind flew into high gear, considering his query:

- Is a tit massage standard procedure?
- Had I ever even been asked this before by a professional masseur?
- Do boobs even have muscles to massage?
- If the answer to the above questions is no, was there a hidden subtext?
- If I answer yes to the tit kneading, does it open the possibilities for a “happy ending” which, considering the cut of Henry’s jib, wouldn’t be the most unpleasant thing to happen to me today?

“Just the gluteus,” I told him when I’d regained my senses. He got busy.

Things started off suavecito, suavecito and my first thought was ‘Is this a massage or foreplay?’ It was too light and fluttery, nothing that would route out my many sore muscles and overworked tendons. ‘Maybe he’s just warming up,’ I reasoned.” But he kept on killing me softly, even on both feet, committing that all-too-common infraction: neglecting the feet in massage quality and quantity.

When it became clear Mr. Muscle wasn’t going to apply himself, I sucked up the string of drool crawling across my cheek and said: “please: do it a lot harder.” And I think he tried – for half a calf at least, but then lapsed back into the massage mode I call “How to Relax Housewives and Pleasure Slackers.” I imagined him learning the techniques at an intensive weekend workshop somewhere bucolic like Las Terrazas or Viñales. Needless to say, this masajito was doing nothing for the knots tucked deep beneath my shoulders and my related stiff neck. Henry’s approach released no toxins and alleviated stress for about as long as takes you to finish reading this sentence.

His hands were big and strong and my mind’s eye saw them kneading whiter skin than he had probably ever touched. ‘Litro de leche’ Cubans often call my skin tone – not always in a good way. When it came time for me to turn my lily white self over, the draping acrobatics commenced. Since I’d declined the boob massage, he had to flip me while keeping both my genitals and chest strategically covered. He was fairly deft at it, though somewhat mechanical, and I imagined a full third of that weekend workshop in Viñales dedicated to ‘How to Drape Your Client without Exposing Popular Erogenous Zones.’

I asked him once again to put more oomph into it, but he didn’t. I resigned myself to the fact that my mind and body were not going to attain any bliss today. Just then there was a knock on the door; a muchacha entered asking if she could leave her bag in the massage room. Busting in on a naked (albeit draped) me didn’t really rankle: I was used to people barging in here – during couples’ therapy, on the toilet, in the throes. Privacy in Cuba is one of the island’s enduring oxymorons and one you have to cope with if you fancy spending large amounts of time here.

My faux/flojo massage was almost over and I realized the only happy ending was for Henry, when I left him a nice tip – just for trying.

Notes
1. In 10 years here, most of those covering the health system (where almost all massage therapists train and work at some time), I’ve never met a female therapist – something which I predict is going to change fast as more foreigners drop into Havana’s day spas.

2. Watch for my upcoming article on Havana’s spas and their inclusion in the next update of my Havana Good Time iapp. It’s worth pointing out that there are both state-run and privately-owned spas here now.

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46 Comments

Filed under Americans in cuba, Cuban customs, Cuban economy, Cuban idiosyncracies, Expat life, health system, Living Abroad, Relationships, Travel to Cuba

46 responses to “Havana’s Happy Ending Massage

  1. Ha! I have only heard of the breast massage once before, from an extremely mild-mannered and sweet Mexico City guy who was doing massages in Merida (at Luz en Yucatan, in fact!). He didn’t do it on me, but then I recommended him to a friend who was staying at the hotel, and he busted it on her without even asking. She played it cool, and was chatting with him about it, and he was like, “Yeah, to learn this, I had to practice on my sister.” Aaaaaagh! I felt pretty bad for having put my friend in such an awkward position. Last I heard, he’d gone back to the DF.

    • His sister?! Thanks for today’s laugh-out-loud/coulda been in Cuba moment Zora. I guess I should be relieved he asked? I don’t know what I would have done if he had just sprung it on me. But come to find out: tit massage is not that uncommon here in Cuba! Thanks for reading and writing in.

    • Jessy

      Hello there from CA…I stumbled on your blog and have spent the last few days reading it like crazy…I’ve always been fascinated with Cuba…Don’t think I’d be able to live there, but I’m always curious about any place that the good ol’ land of the “free” says I can’t visit…Anyway, you’re hilarious and I find your perspective so much more interesting than the random articles and travel sites that talk about Cuban culture. I’m planning a move to FL later this year, so who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be able to visit Cuba and see the culture for myself, stanger things have happened! Please keep the posts coming, I love reading it!!!

      • Hey Jesse.

        Glad you stumbled over into my corner of the world, where people saying ‘you can’t do this; you can’t do that’ has always been good enough reason to give whatever ‘this and that’ is a shot! It’s a wonder Ive lasted here so long, I’m so anti-authoritarian.

        I only post once every few weeks due to other writing responsibilities but lately, my muse seems to be at odds with me, filling my head with wholly negative (ie Debbie Downer!) or inappropriate (ie X-rated) tendencies. So trust me: Im trying to keep the posts coming, but it has been especially hard as of late. If you subscribe to the blog, it will come to your inbox and you won’t miss a beat.

        Good luck with the move.

  2. Priceless as always Conner. I actually nearly wet myself laughing this time. Just so you’re clear I’m laughing with not at you!! My massage stories are many and varied. It’s the one thing I really can’t do without here. That and a food processor. In the past year or so I’ve had massages from a) ex-physio to national baseball team, so hard and deep I wept with joy when it was over… b) Russian (female) pretty good but lectured me why I shouldn’t get involved with Cuban men throughout… if I wanted Sally Jessie Rafael I’d have had coffee with my girlfriends… c) guajiro physio from Oriente trying too hard to ‘please’ me even though I would bet money he swings the other way…. And so I continue on my quest to find a proper therapeutic massage. Having taken some courses in massage years ago my new plan is to teach my partner….. But I suspect I may have more success by waiting for some more new spa’s to open with staff who know what they’re doing.

    • Hahaha. Thanks for sharing! This guy was good, he just couldn’t follow instructions – par for the Cuban macho course! They have 2 masseurs on staff at this spa and I aim to give the other guy a go. Im also friends with the masseur for Danza Contemporanea and as soon as he has his table built, he coming to my casa. he might be a good fit for you.

  3. Brigitte

    Dear Conner, mil gracias for your vivid description – that’s soooo Cuba!! I laughed out resoundingly in a rushhour-crowded-zurich-tram…

  4. toto

    Just found your blog and spend the last couple of hrs reading…. wow, I left cuba when i was 13 and i have never been back. I envy you and cant believe how familiar you are with our culture. One day I will make it there

  5. Candysita

    Come to Gibara, mi hija. I have a friend who used to be a physiotherapist and he gives great deep muscle massage….no fluff ‘n buff for him.

  6. William

    I think I’ll skip the massage but Im looking for a good spin class ! Where is it located ?

  7. William

    Ill be there at the end of this month so I will look for the new update before then.I know where there is one combo spin club and hair salon in miramar but maybe there are more stashed away…

    • There are heaps of new spas William, offering spinnning, yoga, etc etc. I will haul ass to get the app updated before your trip, but if it doesn’t happen (things are a bit cuh-razy around here), drop me a line a few days before your trip and I’ll hook you up!

      Cheers

  8. If only.....

    This explains a lot. My last Cuban massage was like a very light oil rub.

  9. Too funny, love your work- “Just the gluteus thanks.” I don’t blame you, I do love a good ass-kneeding too, as dodgy as that sounds. I once had my nipple sucked during a massage by a small Thai woman in my hometown. True story, one I cannot believe I just shared. Oh well, noone knows me here! Love your writing, by the way.

  10. Pingback: Havana’s Happy Ending Massage | connergo's Blog

  11. Great story. Last time I was in Habana, last June, I was hard pressed to find a massage time at the hotel (Pcentral). Granted, I was working and had a pretty packed schedule. Could you fill me in on this new spa you’ve uncovered? Is it on your ipad app? Great app by the way, I will recommend that my next round of clients download it. Keep the stories coming.

    • Hola Lexmo

      I hear the Parque Central has good massages (and the rooftop pool/view can’t be beat!). The spa review is already written up and the photos shot for the next update. Now I just have to get somewhere w a decent connection so I can upload….look for it in the next couple of weeks. Thanks MUCHO for rec’d the app. Feel free to comment and review – this kind of direct, interactive user feedback is what distinguishes this platform from guidebooks.

      PS: 2 more great stories of mine re Cuba are in Best Travel Writing vol 9.

  12. I’m dying to know what getting a Brazilian wax in Cuba is like!
    I’m tempted to get a smart phone/iPad just to use your app. Thanks for great posts, como siempre!

  13. I was enticed into a hair salon in Baracoa that had a female giving massage – she definitly knew how to work the tension out of my shoulder and neck ( I had only stopped for a partial massage). It was wonderful – she even sat of the table, had me sit in front of her, she wrapped my arms in hers and quickly laid backwards – kind of a thai massage movement that really hurt and then I felt wonderful! They need more women in this field, they aren’t afraid of being firm.

  14. Fernando

    Hi, I just get you iOS app but can not find any spa or place to do some fitness there….I will be traveling there this Saturday Dec., 29th.

    Thanks

    Fernando

    • Hola Fernando. The update including the spa info has been delayed – Jazz Fest was more raucous and party-filled than expected! It will be up soon, but probably not in time for your trip. Sorry about that! Have a great time.

  15. Pingback: Havana’s Happy Ending Massage | connergo's Blog

  16. I really hate those soft massages! And having to pay for it too .. so unsatisfying

  17. darenesq

    Oye nina, where is the update, … December 26, 2012 6:13 pm has come and gone. I am in Cuba every month, sometimes twice per month, there ain’t that much going on in Cuba to keep you so occupied that you can’t share a good massage spot. (smile).

    • Oye m’hijito: I’m doing my best! Remember, I have to squeeze in research between my day job, writing deadlines, doing interviews, bike polo, cleaning my house, carnal endeavors, cooking, grocery shopping, fumigating, visitas with my loved ones, standing in line for any number of things, and resolving cigars. Plus, I can only update off-island due to connectivity problems. For someone who comes here so often, you are a little impatient! Also, this last update was delayed due to technical problems on Apple’s end. Announcements like these (plus what’s happening in Havana) are posted on the Havana Good Time Facebook page. Cheers.

  18. darenesq

    Tambien. I suffer from ADHD, so you will have to excuse the impatience. Can you imagine me in Cuba? It must be all the run I consume that keeps me under control as well as my acceptance Cuba does not give a rats ___ about my ADHD.

    Anyway, anything happening in la habana -in terms of special events- Jan 30 – Feb 4?

    Best wishes.

  19. Leo

    Connor your story cracked me up (I’m a male MT in the States and have a few good ones). I’d been wondering a bit about how the modesty levels there compare to here because I’m heading to Santiago de Cuba for about a week and hope to give and receive a few sessions. Anyway does your App mention Santiago at all, or have you travelled there? Thx again for the entertaining info.

    • There is no comparison between here and there – it’s a different ballgame. Cubans are completely open about bodily functions, for instance (young girls talking about menstruation with their father’s friends, to give you one example) and many cubanas leave nothing to the imagination in the way they dress. As far as things go during a massage, however, I couldn’t say – the one described in the post is the only one Ive had here.

      Ive been to Santiago several times, working, playing, with different people and under different circumstances. Its not my favorite place in Cuba (for different reasons), but my last trip there was inspiring and Ive just been invited back for some time on the coast so it can grow on you. The app is limited to Havana bc it needs constant updating and this is where Im based. Have a great trip!!

  20. Hi,
    I myself am a massage addict and enjoy a hard Russian or Thai stye massage. I’ve tried a few times in Havana, Hotel Kholy, Melia Cohiba, and an independent who talked me up at the Habana Libre. All were very soft wimpy Swedish style. The masseuse at the Hotel Kholy was a woman and was the best of the three. She also taught a friend of mine her techniques. I enjoy your blog and look forward to trying out the new Havana spas you mention.

    • Hey Mike. I also love a good massage. Im coming to think Cubans need more direction at the beginning of the session (after all, they’re used to be being told what to do), though I was very clear that I wanted mine mas duro, mas fuerte. A friend of mine if the masseur for Danza Contemporanea. Though Ive never had his hands on me, he is well trained and strong. Drop me a line next time you’re coming around and I’ll connect the two of you

  21. Arturo

    I think this story that Conner depicted is ripe for some Sanky-Panky if I have ever seen it before!!!!!!! Incredibly accurate in my experiences as well. I searched high and low in Santiago de Cuba to find a female massage therapist and it was almost and impossibility, all guys. I gotta be in my comfort zone……anyway I was getting all of the “happy ending” massage offers but I was down (and always am) to get a real massage and compare it to everyplace else in the world I have gotten one and put them in that oh-ah-I-remember-that-massage-spank-bank.

    So by the time I finally lay down and I am ready to get worked over, I got what can only be described as the softest massage in the world that would shame a feather duster. I was so not having it after all the hassle of setting it up and waiting for it all to go down as it does in Cuba. I asked “please, more pressure” and after about 10% more effort I really began to wonder WTF is she doing???!!!. It started and ended about the same sadly and my muscles were still sore. She said, hey if you want that hard of a massage you need to get a guy to massage you so don’t be such a homophobe!! I wanted to throw her off of the balcony table first after that!! -Females are very capable of giving sports massages that will make a grown man cry.

    I guess I found out two things: 99% of Cubans really don’t know how to give a GREAT and powerful swedish/sports massage and if you are a guy in Cuba looking for a massage and want a female to do it, it is automatically assumed that you are wanting a “happy ending massage” as there are mostly guys that are doing the work. Professional? -Not hardly.

    Havana is much more accommodating for Spa/Massage/Sauna/IMHO than Santiago for certain. Maybe all the good LMT’s are in Veradero? I will have to satisfy my curiosity now ……..Your husband is very accommodating to your needs! Hilarious and 1000% Cuban.

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