Life has become way too complicated (and trying, truth be told) lately – something I predicted would happen. I chose to pointedly ignore the trying part here in that ‘hey, it’s a new year, maybe the world really isn’t going to shit and perhaps I will finish my memoir’ spirit of things. Also, since Cuba’s default setting is Trying, I didn’t want to beat a dead horse. Instead, I focused on the need to balance competing priorities and reminded everyone – myself included – to take the time to stop and smell the roses.

Six months on I can safely say I’ve failed pretty miserably in following my own advice (see previous maudlin post!) and that new year’s optimism has, once again, proven to be a fallacy: the world is going to shit, my memoir continues to gather dust, and I can’t even sort through the priorities, let alone begin to balance them.

Regular followers of Here is Havana will have noticed a precipitous decline in new posts over the past year and for those who care: so sorry. If it’s any consolation, not writing screws with my head mightily since it’s a form of catharsis and therapy – something anyone who lives long-term in Cuba needs in spades. So, here I am again, with a new proposition: a series of short dispatches crafted from various Cuba experiences, 2014.

Let me pop the Dispatch cherry with one of the country’s oldest outdoor music festivals, Atenas Rock. Held in a copse tucked back in the hills of Matanzas, this weekend rock festival features two days and nights of heavy/death/black metal, camping, and more drinking and drugs than food and water. I had no idea what to expect and knew only one person in our piquete. But I love to camp, (plus it’s something I’m good at); I can never get enough rock and roll; and I always like to meet new people. To hell with competing priorities, I thought as I packed my camping hammock.

Our camp!

Our camp!

Although this type of metal isn’t generally my cup of tea, I’m 13% more deaf, which is generally a good measure of a proper rock festival. It’s terrible for my friends, family, colleagues and anyone else with whom I converse of course: I only hear half of what they’re saying and the rest of the time I’m shouting because my volume control is busted. But Atenas Rock 2014 was completely worth it.


Everyone tells me this wasn’t as good as other years, in another era, but this weekend festival has some basic factors working it its favor. First, the setting in a grassy valley surrounded by woods bisected by the meandering Canímar river, is majestic. Second, the entire affair is free – the camping, the music, swimming in the refreshing pocket pools along the river. And, much to my amazement, Matanzas has some pretty good rock and roll bands (though groups come from Havana, Holguín and other provinces to play here, transport difficulties and lack of resources mean Matanzas is heavily represented); keep your ears open for Rice & Beans and Stone Road, especially. Finally, though there was liberal intake of all sorts of psychotropic substances, it was a very mellow, even family atmosphere, with long-haired rug rats throwing up the devil horns as they frolic in the river.

yankees vub

Some aspects, however, were less than ideal. Like not providing a single bathroom for the hundreds of concert goers? A shit show, literally. To be clear: I have no problem peeing and shitting in the woods. Indeed, I’ve logged en plein air baño time all over the world, from Hawaii and Bolivia to Morocco and Guatemala. But after a weekend of roughing it with people ignorant of the most basic camping tenets, heading into the trees when nature called was like walking into a feces minefield. To wit: my friend went to pee before turning in the first night and almost took a massive digger when her flip flop skidded in a pile of human shit. The kid in the next tent convulsing and barfing, pausing just long enough to shout about how he was possessed by a santo malo was also a bit of a downer. I, for one, was thankful when he passed out long and hard.



Sleep was elusive, what with deafening decibels shaking my tent flap and too many of the bands played covers. Hey, I like a good cover just as much as the next rock ‘n roll chick, but when it’s Highway to Hell played by six different bands, some badly? It gets a little tiresome. And it’s a waste of valuable stage time. But all in all, it was a fantastic festival. I can’t wait until next year. Rock on!

last night


Filed under Americans in cuba, camping, Cuban customs, dream destinations, Expat life, Living Abroad, off-the-beaten track, Travel to Cuba

13 responses to “CUBAN DISPATCHES: Rock ‘n Roll!

  1. maudiaz

    Wow. This was good! Keep ’em coming,

    Who would’ve thunk there was a rock festival in Matanzas! The spirit of Woodstock lives on… in Cuba, of all places!

    Nonetheless, thanks to you, I’ll be having flip flop nightmares starting tonight!


  2. Wow, is all I can say…I guess you must have felt you were in India in the middle of the night (aka…crap everywhere). Thank you for your posts, I enjoy them immensely.

    • Geez. Ubiquitous poop: reason #39 why India is not on the top of my list for travel destinations. Thanks for reading – I enjoying having an engaged audience immensely!

  3. Kara Freedman

    Too bad about the bathroom situation! Then again, I did a short trip on the Appalachian Trail earlier this summer, and even there – where you would think everyone would know leave no trace and all that – a friend of mine stepped in human shit. So I guess you never know!

  4. The concept sounds great – but I think I’ll have to give that a miss. You lost me at bathroom….

  5. Ali

    Hi Conner!!!

    It’s me…Ali…your number one fan, or your worst nightmare!!! Depends on how you see it!!

    I have previously commented on your entries. I am from Puerto Rico but I am currently in India…a few days ago a went on a trekking adventure with a few friends and it ended up “como el rosario de la aurora” not only the feces issue was a problem (I am thankful I didn’t slip) but also the only one of us who had previously been at the camping spot, recommended the rest of us not to take much clothes, because, hey, after all it is August…it is warm enough…well, we ended up fleeing the camp (not only the four of us, but every single body who was camping at the very spot) because it started snowing!! In August!! I couldn’t believe it.

    Anyway, the reason I comment in this entry is because by now, every Here is Havana reader may have realized my “Idilio” for you…and your penchant for camping and the outdoors is another sign that you are, not only my idol, favorite artist/writer/blogger, but also my muse…You inspire me, Conner!! Not only do you have intelligence, incredible wit and spice…your “to hell with competing priorities” attitude is quiet “crush stimulating”.

    Anyway, I have another confession to make…(You probably remember my confession back in December, about your writing…your recommendation was to “bring it on”…well I didn’t want to be so forthcoming back then, but truth of the matter is that, my crush was as much on your writing that as on you…but don’t be scared, it is a platonic crush, like the crush that any man would feel for Angelina Jolie or Megan Fox, we feel it, but we realized that it is unattainable) I confess that I haven’t kept myself updated with Here is Havana…my now 4 month trip in India has kept me from my “not-so-guilty” pleasure of reading my favorite blog…but damn it!! I will get myself up-to-date with Here is Havana, otherwise I will stop calling myself “Conner Gorry number one fan” (or worst nightmare, depends on how the object of my affection sees it).

    Keep up the good writing!!!

    ¡¡¡Un abrazo grande desde la India!!!

    • Hey Ali. Wow. Thanks for the wonderful feedback and ego-stroking! I dont know who Megan Fox is (13+ years in Cuba will do that for you) but Angelina Jolie? Ill take it (though I don’t have nearly the lips). Enjoy India – it’s about the journey! Cheers.

  6. Anna P.

    Hello Conner!

    My name is Anna, I am a college student in Maryland and in 7 days I will be heading to Cuba to study for the semester! I’ve been so excited about my upcoming travel and your blog has helped fuel that fire! Your inside perspective has been so valuable as the internet is spilling over with misleading and contradictory information about the country.

    As an writer myself and a culture and language enthusiast, I am particularly inspired by your blog and works related. I would love to exchange information to learn more about your work and get some inside advice on my upcoming stay in the country!

    I would love to hear from you!
    -Anna P.

    • Hi Anna

      Glad you liked the blog and I predict you’re in for a wild ride in Cuba! Never a dull moment, as I always say. One of the best pieces of advice I have for first time travelers here is to write down before you arrive what you expect to see, smell, hear, experience, etc. And then once on the ground, keep a journal of what you’re seeing, smelling, hearing, experiencing, etc. The contrast can be startling.

      What program are you coming with? I know many of the uni coordinators here and some even hold orientation/informal meetings at Cuba Libro, the island’s first English language bookstore and cafe I started last year. Check us out on FB, Twitter, YouTube – it’s fast becoming THE place to hang out in Havana (especially if you’re craving a hammock in the shade with a frappuccino or peach iced tea at hand!)

      Have a wonderful semester.

  7. Conner, Not writing for a writer is always bad. Easy to fall off the horse, tough getting back on. Screw the memoir, btw, it won’t happen if you force it. Thanks for this post, very cool.

    • You are so write! hahaha.

      I AM writing, but about some different things, not necessarily cuba-related. A wonderful change!

      And am learning not to force; thanks for the reminder.

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