The Nightlife of Matanzas, Unsuited to Cubans, Migrates to Varadero

The discotheque La Salsa, located in Peñas Altas, is one of the hangouts that young people prefer / La Salsa

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Matanzas, May 8, 2024 — With the sunset, the streets of Matanzas lose vitality. Years ago, the live shows that illuminated the night emigrated to Varadero, and the “recreational” offers of the State have headed, one by one, into extinction. For those looking for entertainment in Matanzas, there are the bars inaugurated by private individuals and some nightclubs that survive State management, which can be entered only with money – and a lot – in hand.

Deceived by the lights, the views and the confluence of bars and cafes, Cubans who plan to spend a pleasant night approach Narváez Street, on the bank of the San Juan River. Prices soon destroy any aspiration to see the boats pass by with a beer or a coffee in hand. “An espresso costs 120 pesos, a beer, 400, a Neapolitan pizza, 800. Who can afford that?” complains Yandro, 19, who is no longer surprised by the situation.

“To pass the time, my girlfriend and I come and sit on this little boardwalk, next to the river, which is the only place where they don’t demand an arm and a leg,” he says, resigned.

The Athens cultural center in Cuba is one of the few places that welcomes teenagers / 14ymedio

Asked about other places in the city, Yandro says that when they have money, they prefer to go to La Salsa, a discotheque located in the Peñas Altas district, east of the city. “I like it because it’s a larger space. From time to time there are singers and live music. You can drink beer and prepared drinks at a very acceptable price. And the karaoke on Sunday is good, right?” he asks his girlfriend.

The problem, he emphasizes, is that “it’s not easy to get transportation there, and less so at night, when you have to do everything on foot. Taking a máquina* from La Vígia, my neighborhood, to Peñas Altas is very expensive. When you arrive in Athens, El Bahía or La Salsa, you are now broke, which forces us to save twice as much to go out for a single night,” he explains.

El Bahía, with a view on the sea, looks like the ruin of an old beach mansion. The multi-story gastronomic complex, which in the past was the center of leisure in Matanzas, today exhibits its stained and grayish-blue walls, which combine with its deserted tables. The offers, some drinks and fast food, are not enough to persuade passersby, who don’t even peek through the windows.

El Bahía offers drinks and fast food / 14ymedio

Also in Peñas Altas is the cultural center Atenas de Cuba, one of the few places that has a program aimed at teenagers on Saturday afternoons. “I come with friends from school to have fun,” exclaims Lisbeth, extracting from her wallet the 20 pesos that it costs to enter. “Inside we dance, and you can buy dispensed or canned soda. But if you want to eat other things you have to buy them from the sellers outside,” explains the 14-year-old girl, about to enter the “small disco.” “If the lights go off, I’m outta here,” she adds.

When the youth section ends, the adult round begins. The entrance: 150 pesos that does not include any consumption, and the same space to dance with some lights and music played by speakers.

For those who cannot afford any of these options, all that’s left is the “concert” that is sporadically offered by the audio speakers from the Casa de la Cultura in the Parque de la Libertad. “I’m tired of telling the bosses that this is not entertainment or anything like it, but well, they are the ones in charge,” the team manager tells 14ymedio, annoyed at the idea of spending two more hours in the park, “putting music on the statue of Martí.”

In La Salsa there are drinks at acceptable prices and a karaoke night / 14ymedio

His opinion coincides with that of Ignacio, 69, who dances Danzón** and says that “they do those things to fulfill a plan.” “Before, you went to René Fraga Park or Tennis Beach, and they played free music for the youngsters to have fun, but those times are over,” he regrets. “Even the activities of the Danzón Club have lost a lot of quality.” That the State, in a declared crisis, has not dedicated resources to nighttime recreation for a long time, is also made clear by an official of the Union of Young Communists who talks with this newspaper and prefers not to reveal his name. “The main problem is that there are no venues that have affordable prices and quality products,” he explains.

“We constantly tell people that you can entertain yourself by reading a book or going to museums and theaters, but we don’t manage to attract an audience in those places either. In addition, sometimes people want to go out and do something different, whether it’s dancing or having a beer, which has become almost impossible,” he reflects. “It’s no secret that the best ends up in Varadero and is for tourists.”

Translator’s notes:

*A máchina, also called an almendrón, is a 1950s American car that is used as a collective taxi with a fixed route.
**Danzón is a historic genre of music and partner dance, often performed in public spaces in Cuba and Mexico.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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