Of all our local guides, Willmar is one of the most beloved. He’s become famous among our travellers for his outgoing personality and wealth of knowledge surrounding Cuban architecture and history. Not to mention his impressive dance moves.
Get to know Willmar and why he’s passionate about hosting our gay Cuba tours below.
1. Please introduce yourself. Where you grew up, where you live now…
My name is Willmar Rosales. I’m 45 and I’m from La Habana (Havana). I live just ten minutes from the international airport. I’m passionate about dogs, animals, plants, history, and architecture.
2. What’s the current situation in Cuba re: covid-19?
Right now we are having a very difficult moment in Cuba, with the highest number of infected people per day in the last five days. At the moment, Cuba has its own vaccines but the government hasn’t approved them yet.
3. What have you personally been keeping busy with since covid halted travel and tourism?
I’ve been out of work since March, so I’ve been spending my time with my partner, dogs, etc. We hope the country will open up soon so I can get back to doing what I love.
4. How did you end up in the travel industry in the first place?
Above all else, I love history, architecture, and culture. I’m from a country that’s geographically very small but at the same time very rich in these things. I love to show them to visitors.
In addition, Cuba is politically unique and I enjoy educating visitors about this—independent of what I personally think or how I feel.
5. Out Adventures’ tour stops in four key regions/cities: Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Viñales. Which of these regions do you love taking visitors to most and why?
I was born and raised in Havana and I love my home. So this is my favorite place to introduce visitors to.
If you’re asking me for another place where I could live in Cuba—somewhere I’d be proud to show visitors—it would definitely be Cienfuegos.
Cienfuegos has this incredible combination of things I love: it’s facing a beautiful bay, has a beautiful architecture, and a beautiful beach. Also, I feel very attached to the city because it’s where my great grandparents emigrated from Spain in mid-XIX century and settled down. Both my grandma and mother were born there.
6. In your experience, what do you find Americans are most surprised to learn when they finally visit Cuba?
When Americans visit, they’re always surprised that Cubans actually really love them. And this love has nothing to do with politics.
7. Cuba has come a long way in regards to LGBTQ+ rights. Can you tell us what it was like growing up as a gay Cuban? Were your family/friends accepting?
Like most gay people, my biggest challenge was to live as a gay man without the need to hide my feelings. With most of my family, it was pretty easy coming out. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so easy with my grandpa. Eventually, he realized no matter who I sleep with I was the same person who loves him and the one he loves too.
8. In Cuba, locals couldn’t historically choose where they lived. This regulation prevented a gay quarter/village from developing. Has this changed? Is there more of a gay scene nowadays in Havana?
Nothing has changed recently and Havana still doesn’t have a gay quarter. I think there needs to be a deeper political and cultural change in Cuba before Havana has a gay village.
9. Can you talk about how you and your husband met?
This story has two chapters, with a lot of twists and turns that could be turned into a full novel. Ha!
We met almost 22 years ago and we have been together for almost 20 years. What I can tell you is that meeting him was one of the most beautiful and important moments of my entire life.
10. Gay travellers often use gay dating apps to meet other LGBTQ+ locals. Given Cuba’s limited wifi, do local people use apps like Grindr, Scruff, Hornet etc?
I knew about them from Out Adventures’ travellers and no one said that they have any problems having access to those apps.
11. Are there any popular gay beaches and or gay bars/spaces you like?
The most popular gay beach in Havana is Mi Cayito. It’s super popular among LGBTQ people. Cuban gay bars are very different and I’ve had mixed experiences. But my favourite Cuban gay bar is La Esencia.
12. Speaking of bars, Cuban rum is internationally renowned. What’s your favourite cocktail that visitors must try?
Without hesitation a ‘mafia mojito’ (three types of rum) or ‘mojito Santiago’ (with Santiago Rum). But you can’t leave Viñales without a ‘piña colada’ from 3J Tapas Bar and an ‘anti-stress cocktail’ from El Paraíso Organic Farm. Oh, and don’t forget the ‘canchánchara’ from Trinidad.
13. I know you’re a bit of a dancer. Do all Cubans grow up learning salsa?
Dancing before social media and the internet was the best way to socialize, meet friends, or to start dating. Cubans love to dance. I remember dancing with my mom when I was very little, around three- or four-years-old.
14. Do you have any advice for visitors looking to authentically experience your beautiful island?
Be flexible and go with the flow. Cuba is a very special place but don’t expect top-notch service. Also, when visitors go into Cuban shops, they need to realize that the shop may not have everything they’re looking for. For that reason, I always say “let’s see what they have” to prevent disappointment.
15. What part of Cuban culture/history are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of what Cuba is today; a mix of Spanish, Aboriginal African, and other European cultures. All of these unique cultures brought different elements to Cuba.
I’m very proud of our architecture as well as what was done to preserve it. Not to mention the efforts to preserve our historical sites and world heritage cities. So we have valuable things to show to the world. When a visitor arrives in Cuba they may realize the island has so much more to offer than sun and beaches with white sand and turquoise water.
Curious about Cuba?
If you’re interested in travelling to Cuba with like-minded gay men, we offer two unique tours: Cultural Cuba and Cuba: New Year Fiesta. Both tours operate under the USA’s ‘Support for the Cuban People‘ visa and are legal for Americans.
All photos courtesy of Willmar Rosales and Carl Hiehn.
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