August 18, 2014 by vivalafiona
Our first guests were 2 gorgeous young Aussies from Perth who are currently travelling in Mexico and decided to pop over to Cuba for 10 days. There are daily flights from Cancun, on the Yucatan Peninsula with all its lovely Mayan pyramids, where Cuban tourist visa’s can be conveniently organised at check-in. Both girls are architexts and they were keen to visit many of the local museums which are housed in 19th Century Sugar Baron mansions around the main square. I am always keen to keep tabs on local tourist attractions so their visit gave me an opportunity to give them a guided walking tour of my favourite streets in Trinidad and finally visit the Romantic Museum which was restored for the 500th Anniversary. This museum was once the home of the richest of all the Sugar Barons and the local conservation society has done the most wonderful job of restoring the house and locating some of the best pieces of decorative art in Cuba, I think. Exquisite carved beds, marble tables, clocks, bone china, silver, writing desks, Bohemian crystal most of which was originally imported from Europe. The Museum is set out as if the family Brunet were in residence and about to host a large dinner party. All the doors and windows are open to take advantage of the sea breezes with a view of Trinidads rooftops and the sea beyond. Like many of the rich homes it has a lookout on the roof to spot any pirates on the horizon.
It just happened that we had also been talking to a local historian, and friend of Osiels, about hiring him for a tour of the Valle de Los Ingenious (Sugar Mill Valley) so we could visit some of the old plantations and learn more about the local history from an expert. Our Aussie visitors and Erika, who is still on school holidays, joined us and we travelled in style in our friends red and white 1954 Chevrolet. The tour included a visit to an amazing archeological site, the ruins of a mansion, a rum distillery and the slave quarters of the family Malibran, friends and neighbours of Brunet. Their mansion in Trinidad has also been lovingly restored with one of the most elaborately decorated timber ceilings in Trinidad and the ground floor is now a restaurant with a 1950’s jukebox. The old country residence and distillery complete with slave quarters for 500 slaves is now being restored. Although the house is in very poor state its former magnificence is evident. The huge doors made of Mahogony, a timber now extinct in Cuba, with their unique knotted metal hinges are still standing and some of the frescoes on the walls are still visible despite there being no roof.
The ruins of the distillery are in good condition as are the slave quarters – stone houses with only one small door opening in which slaves slept like sardines in a can. Now most of the area is shaded by huge mamoncillo trees ( kind of lychee) but I am not sure this was the case in the nineteenth century. The slave tower, minus its bell, is the one structure still in almost perfect condition. The bell, which has sadly disappeared, was rung at 6.00am and 6.00pm for the start and finish of the slaves day.
The best preserved of the sugar plantations owned by the family Manaca-Iznaga, boasts the tallest slave tower in the Caribbean. It also has a huge sugar cane press that was operated by hand or by mule and was built in the USA. As this is one of the destinations of the tourist steam or diesel train it attracts a lot of local artisans selling their wares and quite a few others with novel ways of making a $CUC. Hand embroidered table clothes predominate but there are also fabric dolls in the image of female slaves and when inverted fashionable white ladies. Jose, our guide, told me this doll design was imported from the USA and was a popular toy for girls early last century.
Jose has very kindly provided me with digital copies of old photo’s of Trinidad that I may use to decorate our walls. I will attach some for you to see.
We have been in drought for the past few months, in fact I believe some other parts of the Caribbean and Central America are suffering the same fate. We were rather fortunate then to see one of our tiny Zun Zun hummingbirds enjoying a bath one morning during a brief sun shower. It is perhaps one of the few times that this bird is actually still. Its wings normally flap like crazy and make photograhing it almost impossible. Now that our garden is full of flowers – sunflowers and wild daisies – the hummingbirds are a regular sight.
Internet access or not has been the question on our lips for a few weeks. We almost missed out on having our first guests because an email sent from Mexico did not arrive in my ‘smartish phone’s in box. Neither did any others sent in July. They arrived a week ago. I am however happy to report that you can now contact us at email@example.com
Decorating the guest rooms, verandah, house and garden is our new occupation, when not entertaining guests, and as I want to support local artisans we have recently discovered an elderly craftsman who makes the most beautiful Inlaid wood picture frames. Osiel is most envious of his workshop which includes old and new tools, some of which have been brought into Cuba by Japanese friends. Sadly he has not passed on his skills to his sons or anyone else in Trinidad. We have also located a young potter who is currently making us a water filter, platters for serving food and garden pots. There are in fact many potters in town, with both state and privately run workshops training artisans in traditional and modern techniques. The local cocktail, Canchanchara, (rum, honey and lime juice on ice) is served in a small pottery cup.
We have acquired a new handwoven hammock, which resembles the local fishing nets, complete with its own metal stand so it can be placed in the garden under the shade of the avocado trees when they are not in season. We wouldn’t want one of those dropping on a guests head. Despite the drought we have enough avocadoes on the trees to see us through to Christmas. Our Italian guests were very pleased to find guacomole on the menu and their Cuban chauffeur became a convert. Cubans usually serve avocado on the side of their plate along with the rice, bean, fried pork and banana.
I m now baking banana bread, but sadly don’t have the usual suspects to share it with. Cubans bake something they call pancaik which is a loaf made of flour, sugar and eggs and sometimes dipped in black coffee. As sultanas, dessicated coconut or nuts are rarely available it is quite bland and for some reason Cubans never thought to include ripe fruit or vegetables in their cakes as most of our grandparents or great grandparents did. So like guacomole this is another new introduction to the ‘cuban cuisine’at Casa Los Mangos.