December 4, 2014 by vivalafiona
We went to Havana at the end of October to buy an air conditioner, make and renew contact with Casa owners and celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary. It became a marathon of visiting shops in search of a) items for the business b) shoes for Erika and c) some of you will be amused to hear, shirts for Osiel. It rained a lot so we utilised the collectivos, private owned classic cars (ie 1950’s Chevrolets, Fords, etc) which take you between Old Havana and Vedado for 10 pesos (50 cents). Mostly we had one to ourselves but they will take up to 7 passengers. A very cheap, although slightly precarious way to get around the city. It is remarkable feat of human ingenuity that some of these old jeolopies can still actually get from A to B.
Old Havana continues to be a working project in magical restoration and work on the last and 5th of the old squares, Plaza del Cristo, has begun. I never tire of walking around this city at night marveling at its transformation. In 2002 when I first visited it closely resembled a war zone, full of crumbling buildings, pot holes, and vacant sites overgrown with weeds. Glimpses of interiors through open or broken doorways revealed a birds nest of electrical wires, exposed beams, and dusty marble staircases. Now the ground floor of many buildings houses bars, restaurants, cafe’s, museums, shops or boutique hotels. Calle Obisbo has become a very smart shopping strip selling imported shoes, clothing, electrical goods, china and glassware and toys. Some of my old favourites remain, the open air pet shop, the second hand bookshop with its wonderful selection of Cuban poster art, and the Old Pharmacy.
We returned to a very soggy Trinidad, where it had also rained solidly for 3 days. Schools were closed, primarily because they leak, but also because Cubans don´t like to go out in the rain, and those few children that did make it to school were sent home. We Aussies are clearly made of sterner stuff, and of course our schools are in much better condition, because I don’t remember schools closing for anything be it bush fires, temperatures over 100 degrees or mini cyclones. Even the sacking of a Prime Minister only warranted a few minutes disruption.
Our plants were very happy, the water tanks almost overflowing and we gained 2 Brazilian guests whom we met in Havana. The rain brought winter weather with it and although the sun is still strong in the middle of the day a light cotton blanket is required at night. Dinner has been served in the dining room on quite a few occasions so I am very pleased we invested in the antique dining table with its leather covered chairs.
Our hostal business has been open since July so we have passed the 3 month licence free period and are now paying tax and I am even making contributions to a compulsory retirement fund. The taxation system is fairly simplistic here, particularly in terms of deductions ie: there are almost none. Electricity is counted but any other expenditure or ongoing maintenance of a property is not. About 10% of household expenses are claimable. We have found a very nice retired accountant to help us with our accounts. Like many Cubans he continues to work privately because monthly payments from the retirement funds do not in fact fund retirement.
A cousin of Osiel´s has just returned from a medical mission to Brazil. Thousands of Cuban doctors and other medical staff, are currently working in Latin America, Africa and many other parts of the world, usually in remote areas with impoverished communities. He has some fairly interesting comparisons to make regarding drugs, poverty, violence, lack of education and 3rd world diseases in what is one of world´s richest nations versus Cuba which has struggled for more than 50 years with an economic embargo by the USA, yet manages to keep all of those things to a minimum. Most Cubans have a rather skewed view of Brazil derived from vacuous soap operas, watched each night by almost the entire population, depicting the debauched lifestyles of the rich and infamous in Rio. Reality TV has not yet arrived in Cuba but Steve Irwin has so you can imagine how they view Australia, teeming with deadly creatures.
We were tourists for a day and rode our bikes to a nearby National Park, El Cubano. I am very ashamed to admit that I have never visited this park before and yet it is only 15 minutes away. What a surprise it turned out to be with an undulating 3 km hike which criss-crosses a river several times leading to a pretty waterfall and large natural swimming pool. Along the way we passed thousands of wasp nests clinging to a limestone cliff face, walked through an old guava and citrus orchard and visited the old farmhouse with its wood fired stove and dirt floor which is still home to a park ranger and a white Persian cat. A gorgeous place for a picnic and a swim.
There are mangos on our trees and it is almost winter in Cuba. So for those lucky people visiting us in January we will be serving fresh mango juice in our welcome to Casa Los Mangos daiquiri’s. Mango season normally starts in May-June ie: summer. I believe even Mr Abbott, with help from some powerful foreign friends, now accepts that Global Warming needs some attention.
We are always planting and replanting here and building something new. Osiel just finished a new pergola for outdoor dining which will eventually be covered in passionfruit. Today we added another guava, a mandarin, a lemon and a Super Hi mango (think the size of a melon with a small flat seed). There are 2 local nurseries in Trinidad and we have befriended both owners. One visits us regularly to fumigate our citrus trees which regularly suffer from that horrible black spot and white sticky substance that ants love so much. He also likes grafting out fruit trees. The other has a farm 10 minutes bike ride from here on the road to the beach. It backs on to a lagoon full of cat fish and also has a view of the sea. He has lots of fruit trees and shade loving plants and raises goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens and turkeys. Last Australia Day we swapped one of his old sheep for one we had bought from a local farmer and later discovered was pregnant. It seemed very wrong to put a pregnant sheep on a spit and I am very happy to report that our sheep has just given birth to her second lamb.
I have started exercise classes, held in the Plaza Mayor, 3 mornings a week. The average age of my classmates is in the vicinity of 70 I think. At least one has a walking frame. The classes are free, funded by the government, and the teacher is the niece of the previous owners of our house. It is a small world here in Trinidad. I found out about the classes from a Mexican friend who is married to one of Osiel’s schoolmates. (In fact they had their wedding party in our garden). It is a laugh and though streaks away from soccer training with the wonder coach Russell or my Pilates classes with Linda I get a good work out and actually had a few tender muscles after the first class. Tourists are encouraged to join in as well as take photo’s.
At last visit to the internet café I discovered we are 68 out of over 200 Trinidad Casas on Trip Adviser. So a big thank you to those of you who have said nice things and put up pretty pictures.
A friend in Havana loaded up my USB with movies including a lovely French film, The Untouchables, which made me a tad homesick. Nothing to do with the content of the film, just the quality. Oh to be able to attend a Latin American or Spanish or French film festival in a comfortable cinema, with a chock top and popcorn in hand. They do have such things in Havana, well not the chock tops, but life without a car means that Havana seems almost as far away as Sydney. Cuban television occasionally has very good films but they usually air late at night on Sundays. My Mexican friend Lulu has, however, come to the rescue having loaded her laptop up with all kinds of wonderful Latin films including the best of Almodavar. She makes very good corn tortillas, from corn she grinds herself, and a particularly spicy tomato salsa, which is a bonus.
I am reading The Alchemist, Spanish Edition, a gift from my Spanish teacher in Sydney and am very pleased to report that I don’t need to refer to the dictionary nearly as much as they last time I read it over 2 years ago when still living in Manly. My Spanish is also getting a work out on my lap top as I am now using the Spanish edition of Windows 7. Lack of internet access meant the virus I brought home from the internet café on a USB was not detected and it locked me my out of my computer. That is until I found a very nice technician who managed to retrieve most of my files and load me up with new software. Sadly the i-tunes, Kindle and Kobo apps are a thing of the past as is unwinding with a game of chess or solitaire. The bonus is I have access to Excel and Word again.