As we exit the minibus, a heavily Cuban-accented voice says, “You go. Down step.”
The whir of the engine cuts out and is replaced by the sounds of the swamp: the beating of crickets’ wings, the hi-pitched buzz of the arch-enemy of the British tourist, the mosquito, and, going by the imposing mating calls, a terrifyingly large tree frog.
My friend Reece and I find ourselves on the edge of darkness, seemingly entrapped in an episode of Lost. Only three other guests have accepted the invitation to the ominously named ‘Cave Club’; two rather bubbly gentlemen from Canada, and Steve - token drunken idiot from Brighton.
Our minibus party has not hurtled so much as crunched along the road, littered with large crabs attempting a last ditch escape from the onrushing headlights. We are barely ten minutes from our hotel, but Cayo Coco, off the north coast of Cuba, is barren. We did not want to find ourselves stranded, what with the stiflingly muggy heat of the night, the aforementioned vampires of the insect world, and rumours of wild crocodiles. And that frog.
The Canadians do not share my apprehension, and immediately make for the steps. I nervously mutter the words, “Er…okay,” as we follow behind them into the cave. As a faint shadow disturbs the shimmer on the rocks, I feel a swift movement breeze past my ear. We are not alone in this cave.
“What are those shadows flying around, birds?” I ask Reece. My eyes close with resignation when I hear his apathetic reply. “I think they’re bats.”
But then something wonderful happens.
The cave is suddenly flooded with intimate lighting throughout, revealing a makeshift sound system, and a small bar. Within moments, a rum and Coke is thrust into my hand. As it turns out, our minibus is the first of several to arrive from the local hotels, carrying as many Cubans as they are tourists.
The bats seem to disappear, leaving the crowd to chat, drink, and dance as they please. We banter with the Canadians, laugh with the British, and dance with the vibrant Cubans, the DJ rarely deviating from the pulse of Latin music, besides the odd splash of Bob Sinclair.
Sadly, two o’clock brings an abrupt end to the evening, much to our disappointment. As we make our way back up the steps and onto the minibus, the Canadians talk enthusiastically of the food at the twenty-four hour bar back at our accommodation, which is greeted with celebrations all round, and for a fleeting moment, everyone breaks into a rendition of Akon’s I Wanna Love You.
Back at the hotel, over burgers and chicken wings, we proceed to list the contributing factors of our enjoyment on this momentous night: the taste of Havana Club white rum; the seductive groove of the Salsa sound; and the feeling of being part of a crowd experiencing a simultaneous high. And last but not least, not coming face to face with the tree frog.