January 14, 2013 by vivalafiona
It has been a good day today, and I must admit there have been some shockers of late. Cultural shocks primarily. But today my new wardrobe/clothes rack and shelves arrived, in a horse and cart, delivered by Osiel, who made it for me. A replica, in bamboo, of the black iron one I bought from Freedom Furniture 15 years ago, at a time when things were built to last. My room at Maritza’s now bares a slight little resemblance to Herbert St, with my multi-coloured stripped quilt cover on the bed and my colourful clothes from One Village in Lane Cove and a well known Spanish label.
And I found natural yogurt in the shop. A great big 4 litre bucket of it! It has been 3 months since I was last was able to find natural yoghurt. I could tell you that perhaps like the eggs, this is because all the locally produced yoghurt has been sent to Santiago, post Hurricane Sandy, but this may not be true. Couldn’t find any toothpaste yesterday either and had to go to a hotel to buy shampoo earlier in the week. Trinidad is full of tourists, mostly Canadian and European, who clearly didn’t come prepared.
A bad day, in case you are wondering entails receiving sad news from home, a 2 hour wait in an unair-conditioned bank to take money out of my account only to have the staff question the authenticity of my signature despite the fact the identification I have presented is my passport, with fairly recent photo and signature. Overzealous bank clerks – got to love them. A cancelled Spanish lesson and a puncture on my bicycle due to the broken glass that is decorating the streets post New Year’s Eve didn’t help. No smart motorised street cleaners here, only brooms and elbow grease.
The remedy was to climb the hill outside town where at least the little black guard dog was very happy to see me and sit, sighing loudly, watching the sunset over Trinidad and the sea beyond. Nothing like a good walk in the ‘bush’, the wind in your hair, a few rain drops and solitude to clear out the cobwebs and put some perspective back into one’s thoughts.
The solitude was sadly lacking one morning at 7.00 am as I made my way up the hill, by the sounds of men yelling up ahead. I was unsure if it was an argument, an early morning ‘secret’ political meeting, a bunch of drunks or a Santeria ceremony but decided the best course of action was not to find out and, rather, pick another hill to climb. As I descended I met one of the guards on his way to work and told him I had been scared off by a loud ruckus above. A week later he sought me out near the television tower to tell me I needn’t have been frightened or concerned. The shouting came from a group of evangelical Christians holding a rather fervent service on the mountain side. A few days later I saw a dead chicken hanging upside down from a tree, in the exact spot where the Christians had their ‘meeting’. My hunch is that followers of Santeria (the animist Afro-Cuban faith) also use this scenic spot to conduct their ‘services’.
The Christmas pizza party for the farm workers didn’t take place until after New Year due to the flood of tourists that descended on Trinidad. If you check out my blog on Viva la Fiona you will see a photo of the pizza cooking on a traditional wood stove. The first few were slightly burnt on the bottom so we reduced the amount of carbon (charcoal), which probably saved a few more hairs on my arms from being singed to oblivion. I was painfully reminded of the blinding effect smoky fires can have on one’s eyes and had to flee outside for a while, which may have also been a contributing factor in the overcooking. This didn’t stop the nine men, 4 children and one woman who help out on the farm devouring them as soon as they were cut into slices. It’s not that I am a great cook, it’s just that I cook much better pizzas than the bland bread-like ones you can buy on the streets or in the restaurants. A thin crispy base is always the best.
Once my work was done I went off on an adventure with the kids, to swim in the crystal clear river that descends from the Escambray mountains above and to climb in the hillsides chasing goats and cows, a black mule called Pepper and a handsome Pinto horse that is practicing his courtship techniques on the poor mule. The boys brought me to a tree they call the chiclet tree (chewing gum tree). The small seeds when masticated for about 10 seconds resemble chewing gum. We sat on the hillside, chewing, looking at the farm buildings below, most of which have roofs made from the leaves of the palm trees growing around us, watching the goats, sheep, cows, pigs, guinea fowl, chickens, turkeys and their offspring wandering freely about in search of food. The house is shaded by mango, custard apple and guava trees and there’s a banana plantation out the back. Nirvana, in my opinion.
I spent Christmas Day with Osiel’s family at his aunt’s house, near the beach. Rising at 6.30am to prepare roast chicken, coleslaw and green salad, a sort of Aussie Christmas feast. We were picked up at 10.00am by a red and white 1950’s Chevrolet with said feast, beach gear and presents for the children. This family, like most Cuban’s, doesn’t celebrate Christmas but they were happy to indulge my need to impose a little bit of Aussie tradition on them. The 3 kids (Osiels daughter and her two cousins) were particularly keen on the present giving component and spent most of the day drawing and painting and colouring-in with their gifts.
Osiels’ aunt also prepared rice congri (rice with black beans) to add a little bit of Cuban flavour to the meal. This was washed down with rum of course. His cousin prepared an aperitif which is a Cuban Baileys – rum, powdered milk and sugar. Crema de Bia. You can buy this in the shops when you come to visit.
At 6.00pm the Chev returned to take us home. We, or I should say the car, was photographed by quite a few tourists as we drove through Trinidad. A mother and daughter from Sydney were staying with Maritza so Osiel and I went to Casa de La Musica with them for a Christmas night drink. An Afro Cuban band and dancers were performing and the place was packed with tourists, and quite a few Cubans. The park behind Maritza’s was also full of people out enjoying the hotter than usual evening (high 20’s). There are no restrictions on drinking in the streets and parks here, but the police were patrolling in their Ladas . There was not a cloud in the sky with a nearly full moon and a planet sitting right next to it. Jupiter I believe.
There are not too many bars catering for Cubans and certainly no such thing as a pub in Trinidad but the beer trucks are out in force at this time of year, selling beer in plastic ice cream containers and water bottles (how’s that for recycling?). New Year’s Eve is, however, a rather tranquil affair as Cubans celebrate in their homes with family, feasting primarily on pig, fried green bananas, yuka, rice and beans and salad. After an early dinner with Osiel’s family, which also included a nutmeg flavoured flan (creme caramel) I prepared, we went to Maritza’s sons six room Hostel where Osiel sang until 2.00am for tourists and the Hernandez family and friends. It was a firework free evening which was a little strange for me, having lived in the firework spectacular capital of the world. Can’t beat the sight of the Sydney Harbour Bridge imploding in colour and light and showering millions of sparkles to welcome in the New Year. Hope its a very happy one for you and yours.