As the events director and brand ambassador of Soho restaurant Miss Lily’s, Gabija Mitchell knows how to have a good time. The Mustique native spreads plenty of good vibes among the rum-fueled crowd that clamors to chow down on Jamaican eats and get down to reggae jams. And when given the opportunity to attend the Rolling Stones’s historic concert in Cuba earlier this spring, she kept the party going all weekend long.
Growing up, Mitchell was a friend of the Jagger family, and she joined longtime pal Georgia May Jagger for a 48-hour whirlwind jaunt through Havana, taking advantage of the recently eased diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba. With little to no Wi-Fi access, though, she used her phone as a camera, capturing the colorful adventure for later. As she explains, “Cuba is a time zone of its own. Simply being there transports you to a time and place unlike anywhere else in the world.”
Below, a look at Mitchell’s rocking good time in Havana.
“I joined the Rolling Stones tour in Miami where excitement levels were at a serious high. Many of us were taking our first flight to Cuba. We all knew that history was being made with every inch we got closer to the country. Total flight time? Forty minutes. Actual flight time? Half a beer and too many laughs.”
“A few short streets away from where we stayed [Hotel Saratoga] is el Parque Central, at the doorstep of the old city. These are parking spots for cars ready to take you on a tour in a classic ride. Every driver in Cuba is his own mechanic. The engines in these cars have been taken from other newer cars, making each one of these bad boys unique.”
“It is not so uncommon to see Che, Castro, or the flag represented everywhere you go. La Guardia is a famous restaurant on the top two floors of the most beautiful derelict building we saw during our short stay. The mix of the food, the ambience, and great company toasting to history made for a beautiful dining experience.”
“The rooftop at La Guardia was so picturesque that even the couch had a picture frame. Quite fitting for the striking, beautiful company I keep—honestly, I’ve been blessed with some beautiful souls in my life, both inside and out. And the mojitos and the live band were exactly what the good Cuban doctor ordered. Girls’ night in Havana!”
“Straight after dinner we piled into vans whisking us off to La Casa de la Musica where we joined the rest of the crew for a live performance by Osain del Monte and star percussionist Pedrito Martinez. Being the girl that I am, I couldn’t help but wait for some sort of Dirty Dancing moment to happen. Alas, my Johnny Castle was nowhere in sight, so instead I found the loudest speaker to groove on and cheer on the dancing below. I felt like a kid at a movie theater, only I swapped the popcorn for a less PG rum and cigar.”
“El Floridita is home to the best daiquiri in the world! It was a blessed sight after walking around in the midday sun. Ernest Hemingway famously frequented this bar: His barstool remains inside, and there’s a statue of the writer outside. The line was rather long, as this place is a serious tourist hot spot, but the atmosphere was great. I felt like I was getting tipsy in the 1950s.”
“The time to roam around the old city was so limited! That morning was the only free period we had, as we were due to arrive at the concert at 5:00 p.m.”
“Backstage was a zoo of everyone running around mixing margaritas and taking photographs. My not-so-little loner self went wandering around the grounds trying to take in as much as my all-access pass would grant me.”
“I went onstage where my friend Josh Ludlow was spinning tunes as the show’s opener. It was crazy to see what more than 500,000 people looked like in the crowd—especially crazy to hear them all sing along to songs their radio stations are forbidden to play. I am told that most music is passed around under the radar via a weekly package called ‘El Paquete Seminal’: USBs containing music, TV shows, and movies. However, by far the strangest thing I saw looking out onto that crowd were balloons being passed around that turned out not to be balloons at all: They were blown-up condoms! There are hardly any shops around, let alone a convenience store where one would purchase balloons, let alone the even more appropriate beach ball.”
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