January 14, 2013 by vivalafiona
I read in a local magazine about the thousands of Cuban farmers who have adopted permaculture as their preferred farming method, out of both choice and necessity I suspect. Introduced to Cuba by Australians during the special period (when the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba was no longer able to access industrial fertilsers or insect repellant) to help feed people in Havana. The Aussie philosophy has spread to other provinces and is utilised in the valley outside of Trinidad. Insect repellants are still beyond the economic reach of most farmers, which is a good thing perhaps for those of us consuming the food and breathing the air, but bad for the farmer in terms of the yield and hence income he/she can achieve.
Reading the article brought back memories of lugging car stock of Bill Mollison’s huge black Permaculture ‘bible’ to bookshops all over Sydney and Canberra to satisfy demand. Those of you who have worked in the publishing industry for as long as I did may recall how popular this book was in the 90’s. I always wanted to have a plot of land and the time to put this method to the test. There are local courses available so maybe that can be one of my next projects here, once I master the Cuban accent.
I am in love with my Cuban hosts pressure cooker. Not only does it produce fantastic steamed puddings with minimum effort, but with my new stash of spices and a recent delivery of lentils from Spain, we can produce really flavoursome stews/curries in 20 minutes. Why did I never own one of these in Australia? The Cuban kitchen is never without a pressure cooker, mostly brand new electric versions, but many still have the old stove top stainless steel or aluminium ones. I believe I may need to invest in both as well as a gas stove. Trinidad still experiences blackouts (power supply overload) from time to time and unless you have an old kerosene cooker (no thank you – too scary) or an old carbon stove/bbq cooking can be problematic at times.
Peak tourist season is upon us and is indicated by the rise in taxis on the streets of Trinidad. Unfortunately for the budget traveller taxis are often the only source of transport, unless you hire a bike or walk, to get you to the beach or up into the mountains. I am gobsmacked at what a taxi charges here and what tourists are prepared to pay, but the alternative (hitching or riding in a Cuban ‘bus’) may not suit everyone. This morning I got up at 5.00am with Osiel to catch the local bus to Tope de Collantes, in the mountains. The bus was a Russian truck, vintage unknown, but suffice it to say it broke down twice before we had even left Trinidad. Fortunately it responded very well to lots of loud banging from the driver, who I can only imagine is very well versed in it’s mechanical foibles, because it did get me and Osiel and about 30 other people, to our destination 19 kms away, an hour later. As I squeezed my way to the back of the ‘bus’ I bumped into something warm on the ground, in white hessian bags, and discovered we were also delivering the daily supply of bread to a community in the mountains. For the return trip the numbers doubled, and some, and included one rooster.
Offering standing room only, unless you are lucky enough to get a seat in the cabin with the driver, this is the only form of public transportation for the people who live in the mountains and indeed for most Cubans. A plastic canopy protects passengers from the rain and sun, but not from the heat and humidity. A good sense of humour is mandatory, as is tolerance of close personal body space. At least on this journey I can vouch for a lack of body odour, perhaps thanks to the cool mountain air. I do, however, know what I am in for when the humidity hits us, having travelled often enough in peak hour during the summer months on the old red rattler Sydney trains, in the days before air conditioning. I seem to recall it was standing room only on those too for most passengers, and the doors, which were not automatic, were left wide open for ventilation. Absolute hell when the train stopped for endless minutes to let another train, that was running late, pass.
The local Cathedral has a very cute life size nativity scene set up near the entrance, minus the baby Jesus who does not appear until 25th of December. I will put up some photos on my facebook page. A huge star on the rooftop lights up at night and can be seen from all over the town. The Cathedral here is surprisingly the largest in Cuba and is a popular tourist attraction. I met the head priest the other evening when taking a peek inside, who seemed to be a very jovial fellow and very proud of his Church. When strolling the streets at night, the sound of Christmas carols emanates from quite a few old churches around Trinidad. It appears that there is a rise in Church attendance here, particularly in the non Catholic varieties like the Jehovah’s, that are a hangover from the strong US presence before the revolution. I have to admit it is rather comforting to hear old familar Christmas tunes and spot the odd Christmas tree.
Obviously I won’t be delivering mango chutney and shortbread to many of you this Christmas as, sadly, it is not mango season here until June next year and there is no cornflour or rice flour in the shops. I will however be thinking of you all tucking into a turkey and/or seafood dinner with Christmas pudding and cherries and Darrell Lea chocolates (are they still trading?) on the side, after an early morning swim at the beach.
On the 24th I will be cooking up a pizza feast for all the workers on Maritza’s farm and on the 25th will be serving an Aussie Christmas lunch, minus the Christmas pudding, to Osiel’s family. I suspect it will be washed down with rum rather than wine and champagne.
Merry, Merry Christmas to everyone and Best Wishes for 2013.
P.S. Glad to see the Mayan’s got it wrong, or perhaps it is the historians/ archeologists that are somewhat mistaken.