My friend Gabriela is as Austrian as Lederhosen and though she’s lived in Australia for many years, her ‘r’s’ rrrroll off her tongue like a Masarati revving for a race. Gaby loves to travel, and keeps a diary which is as unique as she is.
Her take on Cuba was entertaining, and I decided to share it with you as one shares a new cocktail. It’s fizzy, a little exciting and her opinion on the food? “It’s awful Christina! The food is dreadful everywhere, but it’s still a very interesting place. Different.”
The piece is long, so I’ve split it into three to give you an entrée, main course and dessert, as befits a food blog. And while the food in Cuba might be awful, the stories are prime beef. The photos are not perfect either, but they’re the best I could do in the absence of Gaby at the moment who is hurtling towards Antarctica, but that’ll be another story.
In Gaby’s words:
“Wonder of wonders. Our flight to Havana is ON TIME! And we arrive about 20 min early!!!!
It’s hot but bearable, not quite as humid as Cancun which we’ve just left behind. We negotiate a taxi for $25. He wanted 50!
Arrive at our casa particularus – should that be peculiarus? – which we pre-booked from Cancun. Details just in case you might jump a plane and head to Cuba.
LA CASA DE ESTHER, Aguila No.367, Corner of Neptuno and San Miguel St.
firstname.lastname@example.org Mother’s name is Flora.
It’s quite a nice room with bathroom and very quiet Aircon!!!!! What bliss. $25 per day. Breakfast on the top terrace. Good location and close to the centre of Havana.
But just to rewind a little: the Taxi ride was quite something from the airport. Pretty heavy traffic with all sorts of 50s & 60s American vehicles you can possibly imagine. There are old cars, older busses, even older and dilapidated trucks. Lots of motorbikes with side- cars. Pushbikes with at least 2 people on them always. Horse Carts. And in the sea of shabby are lots of the pushbikes that act as Taxis (BikeTaxi), with a trailer and 2 seats in the back. And of course the obligatory ‘toooot, toot, toot’. It’s organized chaos running to its own crazy rules.
We unpack, and later we venture out into city centre. Like the traffic, it’s a bit confusing and we end up at the “Cafe Bohemia” for a light snack.
BikeTaxi home: $3.00.
Next day we’re served breakfast on the terrace which is 3 levels up. The highlight is the most fantastic coffee (which is everywhere in Cuba), fresh fruit, very good fruit juice.
Then it’s downhill from there with something resembling cheese, quince paste, eggs of choice and stale bread. The view is almost 360 degrees looking mostly onto what looks like bombed out buildings, no glass on any windows but which curiously are still occupied. We see people moving about in them and washing hanging out of the windows.
Venturing out again down to the waterfront we discover the old fortress and lots of grand old buildings. But in between everywhere are semi-destroyed buildings. Overall, to me it looks just about as bad as Aleppo looks now when we see it in the news! There seems to be quite a lot of restoration work going on. But I think they are fighting a losing battle. What a shame.
Of course we are being non-stop hassled. Do we want Taxi or to buy something, or want a restaurant, or Cigars, or whatever. It’s like running the gauntlet non stop.
The HOP ON HOP OFF bus seemed like a great solution to get some peace into our sightseeing. It took about 2 hours and showed us more and more monuments erected for something or somebody. Che is everywhere!
The old cars are everywhere, but I think they might be now more kept as tourist attractions and we don’t see them as much anymore in the other cities in Cuba we travel to.
In the evening we venture out. Drinks in an Irish Pub with music, (yeah, go figure! Those Irish were big settlers), then a restaurant for some pretty awful food. And we get ripped off with a surcharge which is about the same as the bill for the food. This will happen again unfortunately! On the way home, we stop for some more music.
Next day we go to the MUSEO de la REVOLUCION. What a history! An exquisite building, it’s housed the presidents until Batista, and boasts a Tiffany’s of New York designed interior. How bizarre how bizarre? The hall of mirrors, aimed at a copy of the Palace of Versailles, contrasts madly with the propaganda that’s hurled at us from beginning to end. Like Cuba itself, the entire experience is contradictory in the extreme. Crazy corruption and wealth with walls punched by bullet holes, a stark reminder of their bloody history.
Later in the evening, we find a restaurant with great music (black female singer) and some more terrible food and some undrinkable Cuban wine. Then we wander into another venue with a great band . Home by BikeTaxi.
Next day, we get a bus to Santa Clara. We were reassured by our casa particularus that there should be no problem to get a ticket if we are just there at least 1 hour before. This is the special Tourist Bus. (We’ve seen some buses full of locals and it’s not advisable to try those I think.) Anyway, we get on a standby list with about another dozen people.
Then an announcement comes that our bus is 1 hour late! Ahhh, Cuba. The toilet at the bus terminal had no toilet seat, no lock on the door, no running water, no toilet paper – this was no problem for us having our own supply (of toilet paper, that is). And you have to pay the Lady sitting there!
Anyway, we get on the bus, right in the back.
The trip takes 2 1/2 hours on a 4 lane highway and every 30 seconds or so a car or truck passes in any direction. It’s so… quiet compared to the craziness of Havana.
We arrive in Santa Clara and are met by our Host with a name-sign, holding it high up for us.
This time it’s a short Taxi ride and we find out we’ve chosen a very good location but it’s noisy with traffic.
HOSTAL ELIDA Independencia, 266 Santa Clara.
Carlos has email but I find out it’s pointless to write here as he is not on the internet. Even after 1 week as I write this we have not come across anybody with and an IPHONE! Just old style ALCATEL brick phones.
People are only permitted the Internet if it’s needed for education or work, we are informed. In Internet Cafes we have to show identification, so they obviously struggle with keeping the outside world out. And 1/2 hour costs $3.00.
But I can’t help noticing that people here seem happier than in Australia and even when drinking (rum of course) are always happy and friendly; my philosophy, IGNORANCE IS BLISS seems to be correct.
Our accommodation here in Santa Clara is pleasant, comprising a whole small apartment on the upper floor of the host’s family home. Aircon is very noisy but has a good fan. Carlos, our host who speaks quite good English has a fat young wife, 2 kiddies and a baby and her mother. It’s normal that 3 generations live together. Funny that doesn’t work so much in Australia.
Unfortunately the room is not available to us on the first night, as some German guys lost (had stolen) their passports and were not able to leave as supposed to.
But ever solution driven as Cubans seem to be, Carlos had organized a room across the road in the house of Nelson and Doris.
Nelson’s house is full of plastic flowers and every possible piece of KITSCH you can imagine. This is Cuba’s Weston-Super-Mare. He normally plays the guitar and sings for tourists but has something wrong with his throat at the moment.
We are being enticed into having dinner at his house. (This is their way of making a bit of extra cash, the rent of the room is recorded in a book for the Government, it would appear feeding the guests isn’t). He tells us that the restaurants here in Santa Clara are not very good and you might have to wait maybe 45 min. to get some food. Also he points out that when people leave food on their plate it goes back in the kitchen and gets served out again to the next person and sometimes also gets sneezed or spat on it! Aiiyiiiyii.
So we cave and have lobster and chicken with beans and rice and salad. The lobster is not too bad but everything else is pretty awful. I think it was all done in the microwave. And of course then there’s the obligatory banana chips which come with everything.
Even with his bad throat he insists on serenading us after dinner. Mid morning next day, and we can move into our accommodation across the road; the Germans having obtained some temporary ID.
We go walking around town but there’s not much happening during the day as it’s too hot for anything with the temperature being always around 30+ degrees. Of course, as it is the hurricane season (low season) we can expect some rain, and as it is, just about every day a big storm and heavy rain hit in the late afternoon. But after that it is usually a bit less hot for a little while.
Venturing around town in the evening we come across a big doorway with music coming out and lots of people inside. Sticking our nose in we are being waved inside by a dark guy dressed in all white with a big, heavy silver looking chain. This is DANIEL, our “GUIDE” for the next couple of days. His English is so-so but he tries hard!
Anyway we find out that we are here at the gay capital of Cuba and this is the Saturday Drag Show.
He orders drinks for us; MOJITOS which are the thing to drink in Cuba. A cocktail of rum, sugar, lemonade and mint leaves. We give him the money to pay which seems easier. He’s getting a round of 3 drinks for $3.00. Wow. We’re with Daniel! Here in Cuba we’ve already noticed there are 2 prices for most things. The price locals pay and the other price? For tourists. But as things are pretty cheap we just go with it.
The show is quite incredible, and having lived in Sydney a long time, I’ve seen a lot of drag shows. The costumes dazzle, and so do the performers. Afterwards they put on very loud disco music and everybody gets dancing and the atmosphere is alive. We love it. It becomes a very late night, or late/early morning, as Mediterranean style, nothing starts here until about 10 pm.”
Next week, the main course, as Gaby and Brian bounce around Cuba, duel with the touts, dance around the food and mix with the locals. It’s a crazy, mixed up country, but that’s its charm, is it not?
Chrissie and Gaby 🙂