When we visited Cuba last May, we had dinner one evening at Restaurant Moneda Cubana on the corner of Mercaderes and Empedrado Streets, near the Cathedral Square. We had a table for two on the rooftop, at the edge, with a beautiful view of the fort across the Bay of Havana and of the surrounding buildings and the small park below where boys were playing. Beside our building was another building being renovated, with signs all around the building showing what it would look like when completed. While we were in Old Havana for a week, we never saw any actual work in progress on that building, or any indication that the renovated building would look like the imagined building.
From our table in the restaurant, we had an excellent view inside one room of the building under renovation. The room, with bricks propping open the shutters on either side, was empty except for a man who stood in the window periodically, probably because it was cooler there. He was dressed too well to be a worker and it was too late in the day to be working. Was he a foreman, a squatter, or someone else? We never knew.
From his perch in that window, the man observed the tourists walking beneath him. They never looked up. From our higher perch at our table, we observed the man. He never looked up. We were in almost the same place but worlds apart.
This morning Caridad got up at 5:30, since we have an 8:30 start. The towel she put under the bathroom sink to catch the plumbing drips was soaked and water was pooled in front of it, just where someone stands to use the sink. The plumbing leak has been getting progressively worse each day. There is a floor drain under the sink, but the water does not go anywhere near it. Caridad mopped up the water with the towel and wrung it out in the tub (three times). The maid had left a towel animal for us yesterday, and it was a shame to sacrifice it to mop up water. When Caridad got out of the shower, the dripping of the sink was audible as the water drops hit the towel on the floor. While the leaking of the sink has gotten much worse, the toilet has been working better for the past two days.
Lazaro feels much better this morning, stomach-wise, and the wound on his head appears to be healing.
As Caridad sits typing this, the cigarette smell is getting worse.
The drinking water situation for us is getting serious, since we have been unable to get out to buy large bottles of water. We each get 500 mL per day on the bus, and the same size bottle costs 2 CUC in the hotel. The hotel doesn’t sell larger bottles.
A few words about our tour group members: of the 13, 2 are from California, 4 from Virginia, 2 from Washington, DC, 1 from Pennsylvania, 3 from New York, and 1 from Maine. We are West Coast and East Coast, and we are as varied in opinions as would be expected, a microcosm of the US. We have (at least) one Trump supporter; while some others express strong opinions that suggest political leanings, they have not openly declared for a candidate.
Since we are going out in the country today, we are using sunscreen and an insect repellent with picaridin to discourage mosquitoes from biting us. We haven’t seen any mosquitoes yet, but the Zika virus is here in Cuba (with cases in Havana, even) and we don’t want to risk taking it back to the US.
Downstairs at breakfast, we had the tried and true: hard-boiled egg, toast (without the runny “jam”), dates, and coffee, as well as some pineapple that was fresh. Our new theory is that fresh food appears on Wednesdays and stays there (for at least a week) until it is eaten. Our first breakfast here was Sunday, the 5th day of the cycle. Today Caridad tried a half-slice of French toast, with some kind of syrup, as a test. She could not cut a bite off with a knife, which left only a faint depression after a few long seconds of sawing. Lazaro said that he has seen people put the tough bread through the toaster, but, of course, we don’t know if it worked for them.
Welcome drink at Las Terrazas
Musical performance at Las Terrazas
We were back downstairs early for the scheduled 8:30 bus departure (that happened at 8:45). After about an hour on the bus, we arrived at Las Terrazas eco-community and picked up a guide for Las Terrazas. Here we were given a welcome drink and musical performance.
Since the briefing room there was being renovated, the guide briefed us on the bus ride to the first stop, a local artist, Ariel Gato Miranda. This man makes paper from recycled office paper and silkscreens his designs on this paper to make smaller prints and notepaper. He also makes wooden hummingbirds from bits of leftover wood. These hummingbirds come apart for easy transportation. Our souvenirs were a hummingbird and an art print.
After this, we drove to the site of an ancient coffee plantation that had been owned by the Spanish and worked by their slaves. The guide explained how coffee beans were picked, dried, and hulled by the slaves. She showed us where the slaves were locked in at night, with a dozen slaves in each stone room than was about 8 feet on each side. There were 10 such rooms.
Cuban trogon, national bird of Cuba
Lichen on tree
At each place, the guide pointed out trees, plants, and birds. The Cuban trogon, pictured on the left above, is the national bird of Cuba. It is known in Cuba as the tocororo, or tocoloro, for its call. This trogon is sitting on the branch of a tree with the nickname “English Tree,” so-named for its red bark that looks like sunburned and peeling skin. The lichen (pictured on the right above) that grows on some trees as splotches or stripes, depending on the type of tree, indicates that the health of the air is good in this area.
We made a stop at the village shops that service the community. Here we were able to sample local Cuban coffee in the Café de María.
We went from here to Casa del Campesino, where we had lunch. We had a salad (cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber), bread, sweet potato crisps, rice, black beans, chicken, shredded pork, and chocolate ice cream and coffee (espresso) for dessert. While we ate, a peacock and a mother hen with chicks searched the ground just in front of the restaurant for crumbs. One brave chick ventured inside to search between feet under the tables .
While the itinerary listed free time to swim at Rio San Juan, the Las Terrazas guide told us that was not possible because there had not been enough rain for the past three months. When some group members asked whether we could see it anyway, she declined, saying the place “would be embarrassing.”
We headed back to Havana on the bus. The local guide accompanied us for a few miles before getting off near her home.
On the bus, the tour members questioned our guide about various topics. Our guide, in discussing higher education in Cuba, described someone she knows who has a college degree in computer science, but at his job was asked to use MS-2. After a few seconds, someone said “DOS,” but the moment passed. The guide did not realize that MS-DOS means “Microsoft Disk Operating System”; she just translated the Spanish word “dos” into the English “two.” (MS-DOS was principally used from the 1980s to the mid-1990s, after which it was gradually superceded by Microsoft Windows, although it was the underlying basic operating system through Windows 98 SE. Microsoft support for Windows 98 SE ended on July 11, 2006. The guide’s acquaintance was being asked to work with a system that hasn’t been supported for 10 years.)
We arranged with our guide for a reservation for dinner at a restaurant in Old Havana. We will go and return by taxi on our own.
We were all returned to our hotel to freshen up before dinner. Five of the group are going in a convertible old car to the Tropicana for a show tonight. They will be out very late.
When we got to our room, we found that the plumbing for the sink had been repaired while we were out. There are new supply lines and shutoffs. This should be the end of the leaking. This probably means that our toilet was also actually repaired several days ago. As an added bonus, our maid left us a towel swan, which we can now keep intact.
Dinner is at Restaurant Moneda Cubana on the corner of Mercaderes and Empedrado Streets, near the Cathedral Square at 7 pm. We took a taxi from the hotel and were at the restaurant 15 minutes early, but they seated us anyway. We had a table for two on the rooftop, at the edge with a beautiful view of the fort across the Bay of Havana and of the surrounding buildings and the small park below where boys were playing. The dinner was bread (rolls, large crackers, and bread sticks) with a dipping sauce, squash soup, two large lobster tails each, rice, and some cooked green pepper and cucumber slices. It was delicious.
As we were finishing, we saw that four members of our tour group were seated at the other end of the roof from us. Our guide had independently recommended the restaurant to all of us, but we didn’t know we would all end up there. We were finished before they were served.
After this, we walked to El Floridita, which is a bar that Ernest Hemingway made famous. There is a life-sized statue of him posed at the end of the bar, and many tourists have their picture taken with “him.” After taking pictures, we sat and listened to a small band play Cuban music. There were four women (singer, drums, guitar, and flute) and one man (bass) in the band and they were quite good.
After this, we walked around taking pictures after dark of streets, statues, buildings, and parts of buildings (e.g., towers). We walked back to the same area near our restaurant and declined offers of taxis until a young man with a green 1952 Pontiac approached us. His car has a Toyota engine and a Citron steering wheel. He drove us back to the hotel for a good price.
We bought a 500 mL bottle of water before going back to our room. Then blogging and bed. Tomorrow the bus leaves at 9 am.
Stay tuned for more of our Cuban diary. If you want to catch up on the first days, read: