Screwed, Blued ‘n Tattooed in Cuba

Permanently marking my skin with ink was never in my list of things I thought I’d do in Cuba, but nevertheless I have caved in and done it. Here’s how it happened.

SCREWED
OK. This part’s obvious. I met my Cuban husband Abel over 10 years ago after I’d been working in Cuba for enough years to know he was the one. Although there was no fornication involved in our first date, we did get married 3 months later. One of the hobbies we have is riding motorcycles. I grew up with many friends in the biker world. I had never, however, considered getting inked, in spite of how popular it’s become over the last decade. My husband, a pretty conservative kind of guy, was worried on one of our first outings with the local chapter of our motorcycle club that he wouldn’t fit in with the long-haired tattooed types. I assured him that they’re just regular folks like anybody else, give them a chance.

BLUED
My husband’s antique motorcycles are both blue in color. His favorite is the Panhead. A lot of bike owners here give their bike a name, since it’s bound to be in the family for many years. We call his bike The Blue Streak. Some friends own Yellow Bull, Red Storm… But blue works good here for my story. It’s all the fault of the motorcycle.

TATTOOED
My sister had a strawberry done on her backside quite some time ago which she hid for a long time from our parents. She now wishes she’d never done it. My best friend has had a dolphin tattoo on her back for years, and recently went through a mid-life crisis and added to it, plus got a second one on her arm. I still had no desire to have my skin permanently altered. A couple of years ago I got a pretty big burn on my leg from the pipes of a motorcycle my husband was riding and all my Cuban biker girlfriends were urging me to tattoo over it. No way, no how. Our mechanic’s wife is a hairdresser and since I’ve known her she’s always had her eyebrows tattooed, plus a line extending out from her upper lid, and an odd mole on her face. I once asked her if she penciled in that green mole every time she went out, and she explained “No, it’s a tattoo and the color went wrong”. Another girlfriend here who’s a concert pianist even has quite a lovely flower on the top of her foot. But there was no convincing me. Until one day, on a group trip on the bikes, I was marveling at the straight line my hairdresser friend had penciled in (with 2 different colors) on her upper eyelid. I asked her how she got it to be that straight, and how it stayed that way. Was it a special eye pencil her mother sent her from Miami? Nope, she’d had her eyes cosmetically tattooed. And the same artist had fixed her green mole and was covering it with a flesh-colored ink. Being a natural blonde, the thought of waking up every day with eyebrows that were actually visible, and them still being there when I came out of the shower or from swimming was a big draw. So we made appointments (my friend & her daughter were getting their lips done so we decided to all travel together) and 3 weeks later were all in the torture chair in Punta Brava to have the work done.

Iris & her husband are both artists by profession, and they both now work primarily in tattoos. He does body tattoos and she does the cosmetic work. They have a booming clientele from Cuba and abroad. Even some of the diplomatic corps in Cuba show up there to have work done. First I had the eyebrows done, then the upper & lower eyelids, with a dark brown color, and a beige highlight on the upper lid. For the eyes she uses a topical anaesthetic. It’s fairly sensitive when she gets to the inner eye, but I was a model patient, she tells me. I wore contact lenses for years, so I guess that I’m not overly sensitive to people poking around my eyes. Total cost was $15 for the eyebrows and $20 for the eyes.

I recently had the tattoos retouched (retouches are free) and she decided to go a little darker on the eyes, but I asked her to leave the eyebrows as they were for now. They’re not exaggerated (like some girls’ brows are here in Cuba), and I’m OK with that. In fact, some of my Canadian friends didn’t even realize I had work done. I guess the cat’s out of the bag now. The funniest comment was from a guy I knew many years ago and recently ran into at a friend’s place. He has a LOT of his body tattooed. When I spoke up and said I also had tattoos and that they were in plain sight (with jeans and a long-sleeved shirt on), he couldn’t figure it out. When my friend told him it was the eyes, he about had a coronary. “”Wow! You’re HARD CORE!!!” he said. Me, hard core? I don’t think so. But it’s so funny that you, of all people, think so.

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4 thoughts on “Screwed, Blued ‘n Tattooed in Cuba

  1. Hey Kristen
    I met you a couple times at the Warf Rat Rally. I travel to Cuba fairly regularly 3 -4 times a year.
    I am going again on Aug 29 for 2 weeks. I have friends in around Boca de Jaruco. I am thinking of a tattoo. Are there some reputable artists in Guanabo or santa cruz de norte? I do an all inclusive to Varadero but am always on the move between there and Boca de Jaruco and Havana
    I hope all is well with you
    Kevin

    • Hey Kevin
      Although tattoos seem to be all the rage in Cuba these days (even grannies are getting them!) I’m afraid I don’t have any direct contacts to give you in either Guanabo or Santa Cruz de Norte. I’ve seen some really artistic work, but there’s also some pretty novice stuff out there, so I’d suggest asking someone whos tats you admire where they had them done, and trying to get an appointment from there. The girl who did my work is an art school graduate, and she has a fairly long waiting list of Cuban an international clients. Hope it all works out for you. Best, Kristen

  2. Hi I did my eyes tattoos with Iris some years ago, she is really the best in Havana but I have lost contact with her. Someone told me it now by email but I don’t have the email address, I need to do a retouch and I really need the way of contacting her for appointments. Could you please share the information? Greetings, Diana

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