Posted on January 24, 2017
Today is my sister’s birthday, I won’t be able to celebrate with her but I made sure to send her a message right before I boarded the plane. Today is also our last day in Matanzas. We have a late check out, so the girls went out for a run, while I enjoy the house to myself, the quiet and the need to not rush.Mitchell knocks on our door, he’s here and ready to drive us to Old Habana. He picks up my suitcase and throws it in the car. Instead of paying attention to the scenery, I start watching the episodes of The Office I downloaded before I arrived. Cuba is great, yet I’m already thinking of the next trip I want to have, by myself.We arrive at our third casa particular. We’re right in the center of Old Havana, our place is a railroad apartment with dim lighting. I’m pretty tired.
Cuba makes me realize how spoiled we are. Internet access, and the food. As soon as I get back to New York I want my mother to cook me some oxtail, or maybe get myself a real burger. The food here is not the best, but it´s edible and it’s better than starving. Sometimes we get lucky though. El Fígaro is right around the corner, and it´s been recently aired on the Diner Drivers and Dives.. with guy fiere. The waiter was nice and spoke English, and started flirting with Tanya. I ordered ropa vieja and it was delicious. Thank goodness. The sangria was sour, and so was the limonada I ordered, but the food, no complaints.Today we will be attempting to go to the Fabrica de Arte, once again. We tried to go before and it was closed, so we ended up going to La Casa de Música instead. Tonight we didn’t have the best of luck either. We met Rodney, another taxi driver who did his best to take us to a dancing spot but that didn’t work out. We ended up paying for a cab to take us there, and bring us right back. Wack. We stopped by a bar really close to our house and I ordered the infamous drink Cuba Libre. It was named after the slogan of the revolution since Fidel Castro used to drink it all the time. It´s basically a rum and coke with lime, Tanya had 2 mojitos, and Oli ordered herself a pina colada. We talked for a few hours, and like always I´m the first one who’s ready to call it a night. I´m getting so old man. We pass by the restaurant we were at earlier and the waiter, Jean Carlos asks us if we wanted to go to a bar and continue the night. We were really thinking about it, but changed our minds at last minute. Now, were currently upstairs, and the girls are still talking… I don’t know how they do it. How can you have so much to say? We planned our day for tomorrow and I´m ready to call it quits. I stayed up a bit to write and draw, until tomorrow. Night ya’ll.
Posted on January 22, 2017
I finally got to sleep in a bit today. The girls are already roaming around the house getting ready. They’ve planned a whole day I wasn’t even a part of. It’s alright… I ask what the plans are and we have a lot of walking to do today. I wasn’t too happy about that at first. I kept thinking about how I lost my camera and the memory card that was along there with it. It didn’t help that I couldn’t find my sunglasses either. My prescription sunglasses, the ones I wouldn’t be able to see without. I was cranky.We found a park, and noticed everyone on their phones. Our host offered us a wifi card and we finally got to put it to use. Tanya finally had a chance to reach out to their boo, 4 days later, to let him know she was okay. Olivia messaged her mother, and when it was my turn to use the phone, I didn’t really have anyone to text. I decided to get on Google Maps instead and find some directions to where we were headed. If I needed to contact anybody, they could wait until I got back to the states. Anyone who is important knows where I am.Matanzas, there’s one main road, La Calle Prinicipal as the locals call it, is one long strip over looking the water. Crossing to the other side is a hassle and unless I missed something I haven’t seen any traffic lights. We would wait until the cars were far enough to run to the other side, but since it was a two way road, our chances were pretty funny. Seemed liked we were playing a real life version of a video game. The sun was strong today. My shoulders felt the burn from yesterday’s beach day. The straps on my backpack kept digging into my skin and I felt every tug. I’m glad we hopped on a cab, since where we were headed was an hour of a walk. Our taxi driver was a bit wreck less and didn’t even know where he was going. He stopped about every 3 minutes to ask someone where El Parque de la Libertad was. This park is where the military parades where held back in the 1800s. When we arrived we walked into the gorgeous and ancient Museo Farmacéutica de Matanza. This pharmaceutical has been around since the 19th century. Our tour guide was so sweet, she asked if we were famous dancers because we were just so pretty and made up. We blushed and said no, and she proceeded to ask if we had boyfriends. I tell her one of us is happily taken but two of us are single. She gets all excited and tells me she has a nephew…. Oh my goodness… we’re getting matched up in Cuba ya’ll!Another lady comes out and says her son is single as well and is looking through her purse to see if she can find a picture to show us. She doesn’t find any on her phone and manages to find an old passport looking style photo in one of her pockets. I told her, her was handsome, and joked around her, that next time three women passed by the farmacy she had to be better prepared, so he can run off ad marry one of them. She laughed and said, I was right.I fell in love with all of the glass jars, all still containing original remedies, herbs,the French porcelain vases that were decorated by hand. She even mentioned that some of the small bottles that were used for elixirs, where made in New York. The botany, chemistry, medicine, pharmaceuticals and recipe books have all been preserved since 1964. It was simply ancient, and step back into time. I loved it.
While walking, we stood out like sore thumbs. The men kept throwing compliments at us, calling us beautiful and making conversations. They would ask where we were from and would try to make conversation. I would say thank you and to have a nice day. A minute later we would have someone else doing the same thing. The cars will honk at us, the whistles. El piropo was real. To them, we were exotic and we would get many stares.A few cuadros (blocks) later, we walked into a Ediciones Vigía, a publishing house with beautiful handmade books. All made by recycles materials. I ask the two ladies who are bookbinding on a long table if we could join them. Gladys and Virma welcomed us to join them and gave us some scissors. They were cutting the images and texts from the recycled paper, so they could later arrange all the pieces on to the books they were creating. Oh, these ladies were so damn sweet. We talked about Cuba and how much fun we were having so far. They asked what we had done so far and gave suggestions on what we should do next. We started to speak about music and how much Virma loved Marc Anthony. Glady’s mentioned that as soon as Tanya walked in, she reminded her of a poem, La Bailarina Española. (The Spaniard Dancer), by José Martí, she went on and recited the poem, which was so beautiful. I asked how they felt about the gates opening up to tourism in their island, and they mentioned it was both a a good and bad thing. When I asked in what way, Glady’s mentioned that it would be good, because more money will be coming in, but it will be difficult to keep a hold of their wonderful culture and it only meant that things would be changing. Virma asked me how I felt about our newest president. A lot of people are upset, I responded. I won’t be back when he gets inaugurated, but I know I’m going to missing a huge part of history because I was here in Cuba. They asked what we did for a living, and we explained how we were teachers, writers, artists and helped our community of the hungry and homeless. They were surprised and gave us compliments on how were were so young and beautiful and were doing great things.
Sitting down while cutting away and having a regular conversation with these women felt so natural. They asked me how it was in New York and the first thing that came to mind is how so many people are rude and caught up in their phones and in their lives. Cubans have to be the most nicest, inviting, patient and well mannered community of people I have ever met in my life. I wish some of that culture can be rubbed off on New Yorkers. We said our goodbyes and they made sure to let us know that we were always welcomed if and/or when we returned to Cuba. Right across the street, was El Museo de los Bomberos (Museum of Firefighters). I noticed a handsome man in his uniform and asked we could walk in. He guided us inside and since the historian wasn’t around, we didn’t get to learn much about it. His coworkers came out to see us, and they would stare at us as if we were the ones on display. The firetrucks were so intriguing, and kept us busy for a few, but we were starving. . Finding food is a bit difficult in Cuba. Almost everything is little things to peck at for the moment. Finding somewhere with hot food was a tough one but we found a spot and sat down. The cafeteria was small, dark with only a window illuminating the restaurant. We had the place to ourselves and we sat right by the window. Next thing we know some guy is peeking in through the window with his face all up in the glass, mouthing something to us. We have no idea what hes saying but we say thank you so he can walk away. He doesn’t. He walks in instead and starts talking to us. Or food is already on the table, and he’s standing there talking to us. Making small talk about his family who lives in Jersey. I engage and then tell him it was nice talking to him but we wanted to get our meal. He says no problem and walks away.
The food wasn’t that great. I scarf it down anyway, because I don’t know when I’m going to be able to find food again. Especially since I´m starting to run out of money. Cuba isn’t that expensive, but everything does start to slowly catch up to you. I know when I get back to Havana I’m going to have to go change some more cash.
Posted on January 20, 2017
That was a good night sleep, I was so cold though. I snuggled up next to Tanya just to get more warmth. It’s 10am and our taxi is waiting for us. Mitchell is quiet, and also very polite. He drives us to Varadero. Cuatro palmas is a gorgeous beach. I noticed there were way more tourist around, I guess the resort explained it. The loud speaker was playing some salsa and when I turned around there was an instructor teaching older folks how to dance. Varadero became a fashionable beach for the wealthy, after Castro took power in 1959, the area was opened up to all kinds of people.
The girls went straight to the water. Olivia in her red two piece was being cheeky, and every time a guy passed her they made sure to turn around and look at her butt. I wanted to catch up on some writing, I stayed on the sand and typed away. There may be no internet here, but my iPad came along with me, so I would be able to draw and write on my leisure. The sun was beaming and I was so glad I decided to wear a huge floppy hat.
When I finally made it in the water, my good mood was ruined in a few moments. My brand new underwater camera was swallowed by the sea. I was and still am so upset. All I could do was pout, I didn’t want to see the water any longer.
We roamed around Varadero City, and enjoy the view while riding on a trolley that was being guided by a beautiful horse named Caramelo. He dropped us off at the market and we all kind of went crazy with souvenirs. The vendors were sweet, and were all trying to make their money. Adonis one of the vendors kept flirting with me and asked if I wanted to try some of his coffee. Que rico.
I told myself that I wasn’t going to go crazy with souvenirs… I lied to myself. I fell in love with a cute little baby girl dress that I bought for Harlie, and I purchased an original Cuban all white suit for Amaury…. my future nephew. I saw a gorgeous dress that I’m still debating if I should keep for myself or give to my mother. It’s a nice orange ombré crochet dress.I purchased a small knick knack that holds a small bottle of rum for my dad, but there was this hammock, a one seater hammock swing kinda thing that was crocheted. I fell in love at first I just had to have it. It’s going to look so wonderful in my mother’s backyard. I have no idea how I’m going to pack it, but it’s going to get done.
We hopped on an old school 20’s Ford, I loved the mixture of the neon pinks, green and yellows together. Our next stop, Las Cuevas Saturno. According to the locals this cave has a spring that many enter because of its youth regenerating abilities. We grab some food first, and my dish, rice and beans with pork was only 3 CUCs. Super cheap. I lost the girls for a few and went in anyway. I walk down the steps and the view is gorgeous. The cave was old, dingy yet beautiful. I’m snapping away and some guy comes to speak to me.
“Hola, pero tu si eres bella.” (Hello, but you sure are beautiful.)
I thank him and he tells me his name is Tony. I ask if he’s visiting and he tells me no, he’s cuban.
“Y tu esposo?” (Where’s your husband?)
“No estoy casada.” (I’m not married)
“O, y entonces, tienes novio?” (Oh, in that case do you have a boyfriend?)
“No, y no quiero uno tampoco.” (No, and I don’t want one either.)
He invites me go dancing with tonight and I politely decline. The girls finally spot me and make they’re way down the steps. Tanya passes him and he’s already trying to flirt with her too. I laugh and ignore it.
I meet the lifeguard, Joé, who guides me into the water. I warn him that I don’t know how to swim and he assures me that I’ll be okay. He leads me into the shallow end of the fountain and I step on the rocks that lead me towards the middle. The girls are already on the other side of the cave. The water is a stunning blue, almost turquoise. The water is so cold, and I do my best to suck it up. It’s now or never and I go underwater…
My curls are ready to make an appearance on this trip. Tanya swims back to me, and tells me she wants me to go on the other side. Um, no… I’m so scared. I don’t know how to swim and I keep screaming it. She’s like ” just grab on to me!” ” Don’t let me drown.!” was my response. I grabbed on to her and she swam towards the elephant shaped rocks.
Joe was sitting on another rock that facing us and was snapping away. I noticed the tour group that was there with us, was now gone. We had the place to ourselves, all while doing our little photo shoot. The life guard was telling us how to pose, and kept calling us mermaids the whole time.
After our swim, Mitchell our taxi driver was waiting for us to pick us up. I was starving. I was tired. All that water and sun today exhausted my body. We got back to Dona Edita, the name of our Airbnb, we washed up, scrubbing away all the sand from our bodies. Amelia de el Mar was a cute little restaurant that we managed to walk into. We were trying to find food, and almost everything was closed at 8:30pm. We walked into the supermarket called “La Sirenita” (The Little Mermaid), who recommended the restaurant.
The outdoor seating area was packed, figures since there was almost nothing open. She sat us in a tiny room with another couple. We were pretty loud, I felt bad… Okay, let me rephrase that.. Tanya was pretty loud. She blames it on her being Puerto Rican and a New Yorker. The girls were talking up a storm but I was in another world. All I wanted to do was lay down. The food arrived, and it wasn’t the best. Olivia hated her spaghetti, according to her it was bland out of the can tomato cream, with grated cheese that wasn’t even melted. She was upset. I ordered the same thing except with shrimp… I ended up just adding the shrimp on the pizza I also got myself. Tanya liked her garlic shrimp with moro, and is already wanting to come back to this restaurant tomorrow. After eating my plate I was ready to lay down. I let the girls keep talking and I walked myself home. I watched the rest of my downloaded episodes of Celia on Netflix, and fell asleep before I could l finish the last five minutes of my novela.
Posted on January 17, 2017
After our beach date, I headed to track down our taxi. I love the beach, but I can’t stay there all day. I saw the green Chevy and I laid on it… waiting for Jovani to come around, where ever he was hiding. He noticed me right away. For a “whatever age you are man” I felt like we had a really good vibe around each other. I don’t know if it had to do with the fact that I was the only one who knew Spanish, but it worked. We kept talking every time we say each other, and even though my Spanish is on point, I still get stuck on certain words. A viejito came around with his guitar playing some soft music, and tipped him right before the door was opened for me to get inside the cab.
Olivia and I told ourselves, we’re going to get home by 2pm. We have no idea what’s going on with Tanya, but if she is really is still going to come on this trip, we should be at the airbnb to let her in the house. Since we arrived yesterday at 3:30pm, we decided to give her a timeline of 6pm. That’s way more of enough time to get where she needs to be. We knew she was going to be alone, not speaking Spanish.. so we were generous.
We were roaming around the apartment for awhile when I hear Julian scream “She’s here!” Ooooooh yeah, we had our doubts. Olivia and I run barefoot about of the house and meet her in her cab. We gave her at least two hugs each and she responds with a “wait, you thought I wasn’t coming?” So non-chalant, like..bitch.. we were worried!
We didn’t even give her time to rest up, were ready to go back out, and since we’ve been taking cabs everywhere it was time for a walk. A two hour walk to be exact. We passed the infamous and largest cemetery in Cuba, El Cemeterio de Cristobal Colon ( I love cemeteries, I actually fell in love with another of his cemetery in Puerto Rico, but that’s another story… see that HERE)
Soon enough it was 5:50pm, and we had promised Jovani to pick us at at 6pm. Except we had tried to call him to change that to 7pm. None of us had cellphone service. Buying a wifi card seemed out of place for almost no access. It was just a lot of work. Because he didn’t pick up, I didn’t want to keep him waiting for us. The girls (Tanya and Olivia) we’re behind me… I always seem to be the one who walked the fastest and ahead of them… I rushed to our airbnb so I didn’t keep him waiting. Apparently I look better after every time I see him.
I apologized for making him wait and asked if he could pick us up 2 hours and half from now instead. He agreed with no issue.
Posted on January 16, 2017
The bathing suits are on. Our ride is here and we made our way to Santa Maria. A beautiful beach 20 Kilometers away lined with pine and coconut trees, recommended by our taxi driver. The drive was quick and we drove by El Malecon again, this time watching the calm waters, nothing like yesterday. Jovani has been extremely helpful and more than patient. He gives us a few back stories on all the things we pass, when we arrive he parks his green Chevy and tells us he’ll be waiting for us whenever we’re ready.
The view is glorious. The blue sky matches the water beautifully. The sand is so soft in between my toes. There’s small huts and we grab some chairs. I decided to be a diva today and put on my see through maxi skirt over my suit. The skirt flowed in the wind, and the winds were strong. No matter though, the sun was beaming, Olivia was already laying down with her back and her ass towards the rays. Her family kept saying how pale they are, and when the do catch a tan it usually starts off red, like a lobster. Yeah, I don’t have that problem. I’m not much of a tanner, I love my sunblock, but if the sun decided to catch up to me accidentally, then I know I’ll be blessed with a nice bronze. No complaints here.
I order a piña colada, and in time I make my way to the water. It’s refreshing, there are no stones abusing my feet, I’m in love.
After I went to the doctor appointment before my trip, I’ve been trying so hard to make better choices with my meal decisions. It’s not easy , I love red meat, and as a Latina, I love myself some adobo. I decided to go to with the red snapper, the rice and frijoles con maduros. Either than the sand that was blowing towards my plate, my dish was delicious. The couple in the next hut asked if my dish was any good. Yes. When reading (and doing meticulously reading) I got the impression that Cuban food was not that good. Since most of their agriculture is based on tobacco, their food doesn’t have much spice… I had my plate and I cant complain, my high cholesterol thanks you. The fish was still edible, even though the wind kept blowing the rice away from my fork, and the sand into my plate. Still worth it.
Posted on January 15, 2017
I told myself I would not be late. Last time we were headed to the airport Olivia and I were rushing, running straight past security, and managed to make it right on time for the plane. This time, I left 4 hours before my flight departure (giving myself a hour and change of commute) Yes, this originally started off as a girl trip, but it’s not much so anymore. Olivia invited her dad, her brother and sister along and we would just wing it. We would go our way and they would go there’s, only meeting up for Olivia’s birthday dinner that’s supposed to be towards the end of our trip. I say wing it, but not really. We’ve been doing so much homework, so much planning has been done, itineraries printed and everything. We tried our best to be over prepared since the lack of internet access would probably be the doom of us. New Yorkers are so spoiled with coverage, that’s the only thing I think I’m a bit worried about. There will be no texting each other “I’m here, come downstairs” no Uber ordering, no googling addresses. No.
It’s 8:20am, our flight departs in 40 minutes, we’re all the gate waiting to board, Tanya’s not here. We text her asking her whereabouts… she slept right through her alarm, she rushes to the airport and she’s not even allowed to go past check in. Wow. They’re not letting her pass, and her seat goes off to another passenger on standby. Oh, and did I mention, it’s her birthday?JetBlue blesses us with wifi, and while I’m over Miami I decide to send her a message. She’s been rebooked for tomorrow, we promised to hold off on her birthday plans for the next day, she has the address and I tell her to meet us at the house when she lands. Daaaaaamn, so glad that’s not me.
The structure is of the airport is on the oldish side. The uniforms of the attendants are what stood out to to me the most. The military beige style with mini skirts, an when I say mini, I mean short. It seems like the only personality they could add to their uniform was pantyhose, and many of them chose to express themselves with fishnet stockings. Getting our check in luggage made me realize that I wasn’t in NYC any longer. I had to remind myself that some of the reading that I had done, mentioned that Cubans are in no rush. The pace is pretty lenient, and the cart belt agreed with me.
We make it outside and a see handsome gentleman holding up a sign that says “Milli” Jovani asked me if he could take my luggage, we made small talk while we waited on a long ass line to exchange currency. Changing my USD into Euros first was probably the best thing, since the exchange rate from Euros to CUC was 1:1 compared to USD which knocked me back a couple of bucks. Our driver was patient and didn’t complain once, all while taking care of our luggage.
We were so excited to be riding in his car. An old school green Chevrolet. I sat next to him in the front seat, while Olivia and her sister Kristina shared the backseat. I was in charge of the translating. He was sweet, and every time we passed something historic and worth mentioning, he wasn’t shy to share information.
We pull up to our place at Vedado, the modern city. He steps out first and opens the door for the ladies in the back. I stay in the car and wait, he pulls my door open and hands me his hand… I mean, he already joked with me, calling me his novia. (His girlfriend) and trust me when I saw I looked horrible. Me after a plane ride, not pretty.
We meet Beatriz our lovely host, she shows us around, gives us a few key information and heads out. We’re starving, the men, Olivia’s dad and brother Julian meet us at our place. They’re spot is only 4 cuadros (blocks) away, but we’re all starving. We decide to walk, and right up the block from our place is a cute little restaurant hidden by trees. If you don’t look close enough, you just might miss it. El Balcón de Diego was outdoors, overlooking a spot of Havana from their rooftop. That view, though not very far, was pretty damn good. My favorite was probably the view of a locals’ rooftop and their hang line, their laundry just drying in the wind.
We order, and I’m surprised how cheap the menu is telling us everything is. I order a langosta, a lobster dish with pineapple, rice and beans…. Oh my goodness! The perfect blend of sweetness. We toast, to Tanya, Happy Birthday.
After stuffing our faces, we debate if we should even go out. We’e all exhausted, but we don’t want to miss a night. We arrive at t=The Malecón, a fortress kind of walk that over looks the ocean. The waves are strong and high, they overlap the barrier wall. The side walk is drenched. Julian walks right through, hoping a wave hits him, it misses him every time. We walk into a small bar, and the waitress doesn’t seem to be fond of us. She introduces herself with an attitude, as if we’re a bother to her by just being there. She asks us what do we want to drink, and doesn’t give us choices, she was expecting and answer and we just answer ” tres cervezas por favor.” The band is setting up and when they start playing, I get into the moment with the salsa that starts to take over this outdoor bar. We ask our waitress for a food menu, she ignores us and walks away. When she returns we ask again, and gives us a snarky response, giving us about four food items off the top of her head. No, no thank you. When she walks away Julian gets up and goes up to the bar, picks up a menu and brings it back to the table, definitely more than 4 items. She comes back and asks if we went to order something off of the menu, Oh, the one you didn’t bring to us? She kind of messed up our night and when asking for the check we had to ask 3 times. How rude.