Sunday, 25 December 2016

The one where we went on an old steam train, Cuba part 3

So what did we actually do while we were there?
Cayo Levisa. You have to get a little boat out because it's actually an island. I'd decided this is where I wanted to be for my birthday. It was on the way there that the announcement about Fidel was made. They call him Fidel, not Castro.
You already know about the horseriding. We took a bus and a boat to an idyllic Carribean white sand beach, where the clouds were thunderous, the wind was fierce and it spotted with rain.
On my 50th birthday. It was a bit cold and windy, but I went in the sea anyway. I'm British for goodness sake!
We went to an amazing hotel with a pool and scenery to die for, which Fidel had visited. In fact it was his idea to have a hotel there.
La Boca, a little fishing village near Trinidad. Where the river meets the sea, that's where our little casa was, complete with its own balcony, so we could just sit and watch. Every now and again our  Casa owner Guillerme would walk past and say 'Todo bien?' and his wife Viola would come by laughing 'Pintura, pintura, pintura!' with paint all over her hands. All that work-witnessing wore me out. I only moved to go for a swim or to go up the road to the pizza shack for lunch.
We took a steam train to the Valley of Sugar Mills, high above Trinidad. We went to Hemingway's house as you've seen. We chilled at the seaside. We saw Cuba through the windows of our collectivo taxis.
It's not even a one horse town, it's just a little fishing port where the locals go for a dip at dusk and then they go out in their boats looking for a haul. 
We kept moving. In Havana you have to keep moving. There's always somebody saying 'Where are you from? Do you want to buy lobster? I know a restaurant, I know a disco. Do you want to buy cigars?' And after you've said all the 'No gracias', they simply say, 'Well, can you give me some money for food then, because I haven't eaten for two days?'
That's a condor up there. They're everywhere. We also saw hummingbirds. So tiny and beautiful.
What can you do? You give them some money, with a smile, and thank your lucky stars that you live in a country where there is hot water and supermarkets with food and the right to vote.
But what of Fidel? On the 25th November, at 10.30pm he died. Within hours he was cremated and his ashes were on display for the people. People all across the land queued for hours to sign the Book of Condolences.
That's one of the towers from the old Sugar mills in Iznaga. A picturesque shot on the left, but that's closer to reality on the right.
The country went into nine days of mourning, which involved: no music (aside from political music played at one town hall), no entertainment, no museums open, and most of all, no alcohol! We firmly believed Ron (as they call rum in Cuba) would become our new bff, but no. Ron was on his best behaviour. We hardly saw him. One of our Collectivo friends said, 'Thanks Fidel. A free detox.'
I could have managed without the music, in fact when we heard the news, I felt quite touched and sad, and was impressed with the scale of the respect being shown. When the lady said, 'Our esteemed Commandant, our beloved Leader has died', I felt for her.
But I can confess that it wasn't until we went to a bar that night, my birthday, to meet friends for a few drinks, and was told 'No alcohol for nine days', that I properly went into mourning!
Slightly joking; we did actually look at each other and burst out laughing. Hysteria probably.
When anyone thinks of Cuba, they think of music and Rum. Well, we did it neat. No music, no rum. And I can report it's still a fine place, a special place. In fact, I'd say we had a deeper experience of Cuba if anything.
So if you go, enjoy, but be prepared. You might need to adjust a bit, but if you are able to, you will be rewarded by meeting wonderful people and having a unique, eye-opening, possibly life-changing experience.
So long Cuba, I wish you all the very best.

13 comments:

Fiona said...

Sounds like it was a superb experience all round Tania, just bad luck that Fidel shuffling off coincided with your 50th. (Another birthday factoid...Fidel shared the same birthday as me.) Hope you are making up for the lack of holiday Ron this xmas. x

Lynn Holland said...

I've loved seeing the land and buildings of Cuba through your eyes Tania. Near to where we live we are so lucky to be able to have a steam train and my favourite thing is a bit of fine dining on it or an afternoon tea. I sometimes think I was born in the wrong era.
What great memories you will always have of your 50th xxxx

little3ramblings said...

The colour is again so powerful in your wonderful photos. How lovely to chill out by the sea for a couple of days. Bit of a shocker about 9 days of mourning with no fizzy pop on your birthday but what an historic moment to be there. Hopefully now some of the change you talk about will come to Cuba . Thanks for sharing such an engaging series of posts on Cuba : what a gentle, informative way to find out so much about the place and people xxxx

Veronica Cooke said...

Well, I'm going to appoint you salesperson of the year. You could sell Cuba to the Cubans! It surely looks wonderful even though you had no booze and no music.

You look very relaxed and gorgeous and what a wonderful place to spend your 50th birthday - it will never be forgotten, that's for sure!

I'm very envious about the condor and the hummingbirds; that would have made my holiday.

Hope you've had a lovely Christmas.

Curtise said...

Just catching up on this and your previous post, Tan, written with your trademark sensitivity, thoughtfulness and openness to experience. What a trip you had - so much beauty, so much to enjoy, so much to think about. I love the fact you and Q saddled up, that you dived in (literally and metaphorically!)and didn't let the lack of music and rum stop you from immersing yourselves in the full Cuban experience. You've made me long to visit, and travel writing can't do any better than that, can it? xx

Polyester Princess said...

How inconsiderate of Fidel to die when you wanted to celebrate your birthday! Joking aside, it must have been a sobering (sorry!) experience visiting a country with so much depravity behind its picturesqueness. I really enjoyed your account of your travels in Cuba! xxx

Mim said...

It must have been very odd experiencing Cuba with neither rum nor music.

Do people really go without food for days? When we went, kids even got free cakes on their birthdays so no-one had to go without, it was something the government was very proud of. Sounds like a lot has changed in 15 years.

little3ramblings said...

Meant to say how amazing to see a hummingbird. It's on my list of things to see xxxx

freckleface said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
freckleface said...

Hi Mim

Well, if I'm honest, I don't know. I can only go on what I was told, and trust that it was the truth. There was a lot of talk of financial hardship and taxi drivers and guides didn't eat in our presence unless we gave them food. We heard tales of foreigners inviting people to eat. They would eat a small amount to be polite and then take the rest home for their families.

But it surprised me that in a communist country, there is a definite disparity in wealth. People who work with tourists have more money and apparently people who run casas have access to more food. Every evening, after you have finished eating, you see a steady stream of people arriving to share the food. The casa owners seem to feed the family. I was worried about leaving food, as they cook you so much, but the casa owner said 'Don't worry, the family will eat it'. Another foreigner said she felt they depended on it, which made me feel much better...

I always feel in life you get bits of the story, and you kind of put them all together and form an impression. I can only hope I'm not misrepresenting anyone. It would be easy just to say great country, great people (which is true) but it feels more complex than that, especially after all the conversations we had with Cubans. They seemed to want to make sure we heard the message, which again, based on what I'd read, surprised me.

I'd be so interested to hear what you think if you went again.

Vix said...

No Ron on your birthday? You know what that means, you need to have another celebration, maybe for your 50 and a half birthday? I'm in!
Another wonderful post, a joy to read. I'd be giving my money away, too. After reading a few books on Cuba I realised that life under Fidel wasn't all bread and roses (or rum and lobster).
To still have a wonderful time despite all that calamity, that just shows what an incredible place Cuba must be. xxx

Sue said...

A dry birthday!! Bad timing on Fidels part really. Thanks for part three of the journey, where shall we visit next??

Ivy Black said...

Love it all! So glad you had a good time despite Fidel cracking it and curtailing the rum drinking and music. You have made me want to book our trip even more.
Happy New Year! xxx