August 18, 2014 by vivalafiona
A tiny hummingbird was born in our garden, and is currently under the supervision of dad whilst mum is off searching for food. Baby bird spends the day waiting quietly for mum, occasionally testing out its wing flapping velocity. He is emerald green when the sunlight catches his feathers and is about 3cm long. Dad moves from branch to branch of the mango tree, that is home, to keep tabs on him and mum appears from time to time to drop some wriggling morsel into his mouth. The builders and I have been having our early morning coffee under the tree to watch this delightful spectacle. Hummingbirds do visit our garden everyday, to feed on nectar from our various flowering plants and fruit trees. They are impossible to catch on film, seemingly never staying still even for a second so there is no photo of them attached sadly.
Another spectacular visitor to our garden in the spring is the Luciernaga, which is cross between a fire fly and a cockroach. It has a cockroach shaped body with wings and at the back of its head what appears to be a minute light globe. Large numbers of them descend upon us after dark gliding between the banana and avocado trees using their light to attract a partner. Osiel is quite adept at catching them, something he says he did often in his youth when the backyards of Trinidad were full of fruit trees rather than concrete patio’s or house extensions. I think he managed to collect about 20 in a matter of minutes, using one to attract others. Their lights go dim or go out when they are first caught but they soon return to full glow. Watching their nightly courtship amongst the leaves you could be forgiven for allowing your inner child to think it was witnessing a fiesta of tinkerbell like fairies. A truly magical sight.
We said goodbye last week to a friend who has been staying here for over 3 months, with a quick trip to Mexico in between, helping us paint the house and wrought iron front gate as well as keeping Osiel well stocked with beer. Simon perfected the art of tracking down local beer in the same way as Cuban’s locate stocks of detergent and washing powder, soap, deodorant and many other staples. It would appear that Cubans, who suffered many shortages of food and household essentials during the nineties have developed a habit of stockpiling non perishibles, cleaning and hygene products. Word gets out on the street that something has hit the shelves and huge queues appear to buy up all stock seemingly in minutes. Conversely I think the purchasing officers and retail managers and or their stock taking systems are completely inept or there is high level of corruption at work here. It is certainly the case that, as reported recently on Cuban television, a wicked few are buying up the entire stocks of certain goods and then selling them on the streets for a profit. Fortunately for Simon the ruins of the elaborate Nineteenth Century Opera Theatre, commissioned by the richest of the local sugar barons to introduce high culture to the town, is now a Casa de Cervaza (House of Beer) and almost always well stocked with cans and bottles of Cristal and Bucanero.
Simon also paid his way by occasionally renting a car to give us the opportunity to escape into the mountains or explore other parts of Cuba and treating us to meals in some of the local restaurants. Last weekend we spent a day hiking in Topes Collantes on a trail called La Batata (yam) which takes you down into a valley where a river runs into a cave system, that can be explored with the help of metal ropes attached to the cave walls. We crossed the river and climbed up into a coffee plantation and bamboo forest to a peak that offered a view of the tree tops and surrounding hills. The sound of bird song escorted us along the way. Not the screeching cocophony that emanates from the Australian bush but the gentle tap of woodpeckers or the trill of the Tocororo, Cuba’s national bird (same colours as the national flag, red white and blue) accompanied by the sound of running water, distant waterfalls or the wind whistling through the pine trees above the canopy of the tropical rainforst. When you get a glimpse of the treetops in Topes you are met with the strangest sight of pine trees and huge palm trees standing together, with an occasional burst of fire-engine red flowers from the tamarind or framboyan trees. Whilst below you are surrounded by orchids, creepers, ferns, the white lily that is Cuba’s national flower, wild fruit trees, coffee shrubs, small palms, marmey (sapote) and bamboo and mahogony to name a few.
Meanswhile back at the ‘ranch’ there are mangos falling from the treetops 24/7. Our trees are so old and tall that a plumet from one of the upper branches can sometimes mean a squashy mess upon impact but fortunately the ground below is quite moist, often littered with old banana leaves and offers a soft landing. I have already made one large batch of mango chutney and Osiels father peeled enough mangos this week to fill a huge cauldron. This was placed over an open fire and a few hours later we had litres and litres of mango jam perfect for smoothies, to eat with yogurt or serve over ice cream or simply just eat on its own. Cubans also like eating mango jam and white cheese together. The worst or best part of this jam or mango production is the dilemma of what to do with the hard to remove flesh around the pip, before it ends up in the compost. I believe us and the dogs are almost at overdose levels of mango consumption, but one of our neighbours has come to the rescue. He has an extremely large pig who just gave birth to 12 piglets and she loves dining on mango.
Why I never thought to make mango pulp before and store it for later I don’t know. Perhaps I was never so fortunate to have such an abundance of mangos at hand. Hopefully our tourists will be enjoying the frozen pulp and fruit up until Christmas. The last of our December/winter avocados fell out of the tree today. It should be ready to eat in a few days time. In the meantime our summer crop is almost ready to harvest and looks more like the green pear shaped ones you sometimes see in the shops, as opposed to the black hass variety. It is amazing to think we can offer avocados almost all year round.
I had a very surreal experience one night hearing Radar Love (Golden Earring, I believe) playing in a new venue here in Trinidad. Called Yesterday this bar is dedicated to rock and roll music and to The Beatles in particular. A band from Havana has almost permanently set up home here to be the main live act, its lead guitar player once hailing from Germany. Osiel and I watched them rehearse and do a sound check on the almost open air stage, once a former theatre (seems Trinidad had 2 of these back in the day). The walls are decorated with photo’s of The Fab Four including one featuring their fan club secretary Freda. There is a great documentary out now about her and the years she worked with The Beatles and their manager. We returned a few nights later with a couple from the UK who were staying at Maritzas and noted that not only were we having a great time singing along to Play That Funky Music, Wish You Were Here and Twist and Shout but so were large groups of young Cubans.
The humidity is on the increase now as we approach the summer months but relief often comes in the afternoon with the arrival of thunderstorm rolling down from the mountains and out to sea. This is doing the plants a power of good and we have enough mint to make hundreds of mojito’s at present. As construction on the house is almost at an end we have been able to start establishing gardens with plants purchased from a nursery in the mountains and another here in Trinidad and from cuttings we have gathered in our travels. It has been a bit of trial and error with some varities. Hydranges for example don’t seem to be as fond of Trinidads climate as they are of the mountains, but the orchids, ferns, geraniums and begonias seem not to mind the difference.
I finally succumbed and bought a TV. It was just before Mothers Day and there were sales on so that the $480 16 inch flat screen analogue TV’s (digital like the internet is rare) was reduced to $320. From where I sit 10% sales tax is a dream. Not only was the price outrageous for such outdated technology it didn’t include an internal or external antenna and I should have known that it would be impossible for us to tune into the local channels without an antenna, despite the fact there is a huge signal tower on the hill behind Trinidad. We should have an antenna installed in time to be glued to the World Cup, now that we have located an excellent electrician and electronic handyman
Another addition to the household ‘toys’ is an electric (battery powered) motorbike – metallic blue with a white square design which reminds me of an Australian police bike minus the grunt. It does a maximum of 60 km’s on the flat and is a very silent machine. So much so that it is essential to use the horn frequently to alert pedestrians, cyclists and bicitaxi’s of your approach. I have very mixed feelings about it as although it is very convenient for getting around town collecting supplies and getting Osiel and I and one of the kids out to beach it does mean we spend less time on our bikes and hence less time exercising. We found out the hard way that taking the word of a motorbike salesmen is not wise when it comes to road and traffic laws. Osiel received a fine from the police, who usually hide out the front of our house catching unlicenced taxi’s, drunk drivers etc returning from the beach, for not having a motorbike licence. I too will need to set a test to gain a Cuban motorbike licence.
I have hiked up to the television tower a few times recently and discovered a web of trails on the other side that are probably tracks made by the cows, horses and goats that graze amongst the stumpy palm trees. Some may also be man-made leading down into the Valley of the Windmills or back toward the Las Cuevas (Caves) Hotel on the opposite hill. Due to bushfires in the dry season (winter) the trails are now easy to locate and fun to explore because there is always a breeze coming from the mountains or the sea. I have found a few scenic picnic spots and as I am one of the few ‘locals’ that walk up there it is almost certain they will be secluded ones. I am guessing you can probaly walk all the way to the Mirador (lookout) outside of Trinidad which offers a spectacular view of the former sugar cane plantations and the village of Pastora. The small palm trees here are used for roofing and the thorn covered bush that has taken over much of the now fallow sugar fields is used for making charcoal, hence the bushfires.
We visited out architext, a young man who is distantly related to Osiel, to take a look at the house plans he has been working on for some months which also feature our ideas for stage 2 and 3 of Casa de Los Mangos. These include two bungalows, a swimming pool and a large open plan cabana style bar and eating area with billard table (Osiels idea), a childs playground and parking area. He is the third architect we have worked with, the others made lots of promises but never delivered and yes I know you are meant to have the plans before you start construction but in Cuba things often happen ass around. It was a real surprise to find he had produced very professional computer generated plans offering all kinds of dimensional views of what we could become. He frequently talked about the spaces he had designed in terms of how much money they could generate for us, not only as a casa particular but as a venue for weddings, parties and anything and I felt a slight trepidation that we were about to launch into something much bigger than I or we could handle. But later the excitement kicked in because there is nothing like a challenge in front of you. Hopefully this one won’t be quite as uncomfortable as climbing a mountain although having to exist amongst tonnes of concrete dust comes pretty close.