July 20, 2015 by vivalafiona
I spoke too soon about internet access. Thanks to the US Governments announcement about restoring relations with Cuba there has been a rush of tourists, wanting to visit before the Americans arrive. (Actually ten’s of thousands of US Citizens have been wilfully defying the naïve/evil and vindictive policies of some of their politicians and a few powerful lobby groups by visiting Cuba for years). As a result there have been shortages of hire cars, popular tourist foods like cheese, butter and chicken, bottled water, and for over a week now no internet cards. (The internet café’s here require that you buy a card that gives you either a half hour or an hour of internet usage. No card, no internet access.)
Amazingly after 2.5 years here I still find myself reduced to frustrated tears when I can’t send off a birthday letter, or photo’s to friends, or a reply. There are days when I can open my mail, but can’t reply, which are the good ones because I can at least respond using our mobile phone email account firstname.lastname@example.org unless of course it is a message on facebook, which can be difficult to respond to even on near perfect days in the internet café, and impossible on my mobile phone. Thankfully Casa Los Mangos has been very busy with friends, and friends of friends and people just passing who noticed our lovely garden and all those mangos hanging from the trees, and thought it would be a nice place to stay, away from the hustle and bustle of the town centre. Trip Adviser is also helped us enormously, so a big thank you to those who have helped us to almost make it into the Top 20 Casas in Trinidad.
I managed to escape Trinidad twice this month, and toured Havana with 3 wilful Americans and 2 Aussies. Old Havana through new eyes is always fun and I get to visit my favourite haunts and discover some new ones. The chocolate museum was a big hit with my visitors as was the Austrian Beer House with its portable 2-3 litre beer tap. And the ice cream seller in Plaza Vieja who wanted to know how to get an Australian visa. He served delicious ice cream in a coconut shell which you ate with a small wooden paddle (remember those?) and wasn’t put off by the fact that you had to apply in Mexico as Australia still doesn’t have an embassy, or consulate in Cuba.
We ate out most nights in a little district behind the Inglesia del Santo Angel Custodio. European style cafes taking advantage of the small narrow streets, which inhibit even bicycle taxi’s to enter. I noticed many things on the menu here not listed in Trinidad like octopus, Mexican tortillas, a vegetarian mousaakka, Greek salad and mozarrella cheese. We could have been in Barcelona or Melbourne on a hot summers night. My new favourite restaurant is Castropol on the Malecon.
The Bay of Pigs was included on the drive to Trinidad with a quick dip in a cenote. Playa Giron as it is known to Cubans has undergone major transformation since I last visited. A small town of new casa particulars/B&B cottages has sprung up, to satisfy growing interest in this region. The Viazul bus passes through here now on its way to Cienfuegos and Trinidad.
Seems the whole world is suffering with faulty products made in China. Is there no quality control in that country? Cuban shops are full of it. My favourite recent purchase was the glass salt shaker with a metal top specially designed for use as a weapon of personal destruction. The metal edges are razor sharp. I wonder how many Cuban housewifes and restaurant staff have found their hands covered in blood after cleaning, as I did. That tops the 100% cotton sheets that are in fact polyester and the stainless steel scourers that rust after the first use because they are made of tin perhaps. As for the Chinese cars, let’s just say that Cubans should consider themselves very fortunate they only ever had access to the US and Russian car market, before the special period.
A friend wrote recently to say they hadn’t received a blog for a while. I did in fact start this one quite some time ago. It was March when I went to Havana. Now it’s June but I do have a good excuse. A few in fact.
Firstly we have been very busy here at Casa Los Mango, with almost full occupancy in April and May. I got to play tour guide on more than a few occasions, up into the mountains and to the valley outside Trinidad where the restoration of my favourite historical site San Isidro continues to impress me. As does the young English speaking guide who works there. She teaches me something new about local history, the sugar plantations and Cuba’s slave trade every time I visit.
Secondly I have been hard at work organising Visas for Ossiel and Erika to join me on a long overdue visit to Australia, and this has been no small task. Rather a mammoth one.
Thirdly Mango season came early and we have been busy conserving as much of a bumper crop as we could. Our new freezer is full, there are jars of mango and lime jam in the cupboard and mango chutney in the fridge.
Our good news is that we finally have a home phone, +53 41 901554, which cost US$550.00 on the black market (they are very scarce, like cars) and only took 2 months to install (an Australian guest, Chairman of best Australian publisher, thought that could put TELESTRA to shame); dial up internet access in the house (which could also be included in the bad news section below because it is doing my head in); Australian tourist visas for Ossiel and Erika, a no Vacancy sign almost permanently attached to the front gate, Trip Adviser now rates us 22 out of 200 casas in Trinidad, we have had the best crop of mangos I have ever eaten and, after 5 months of searching, we found a freezer to store them in. The rains have come which is really good news for the plants and the local fauna.
The bad news is that Ossiel and Erika were refused Canadian transit visas. They required them to change flights in Toronto, from one Air Canada flight to another, en route to Sydney. A transit of 5 hours. As a result we were unable to attend a very old and dear friend’s wedding in Brisbane where Ossiel was going to perform the English language song he has been practicing for 6 months, think Elvis, amongst his Spanish and Italian language repertoire. A few days after receiving the refusal we lost our brave little guard dog and my constant, loyal and affectionate companion, Bunyip, who got out through a hole in the fence and didn’t notice the tractor coming.
The hole in the fence came about because we were trying to do a good deed for the local community. Trinidad’s government, in its infinite wisdom, closed down the fresh produce market that has been operating across the road from us for years, the only one in our suburb. It also sold rice, pulses and pork. The stalls were a popular tourist destination because of the tropical fruits and vegetables they stocked and on the weekends many people from town shopped here too. The market owners approached us and asked if we could rent them a corner of our land so they could continue to operate in the neighbourhood and naturally we said yes. The market is very convenient for us too and of interest to our guests. As is it is with all things in Cuba, licencing, construction and the reopening has taken much longer than we had all hoped. Our well established bougainvillea fence was removed to make way for the stalls and a new fence was made out of cactus and palings. Both our dogs, who would never leave by the front gates even if they were opened wide all day long, didn’t think the same rules applied to the new fence and found ways to knock over the cactus, in Bunyip’s case once too often.
The visa saga some of you will get to hear about face to face because we have given up on the Canadian embassy for now and rebooked on Lan Chile and QANTAS and will be downunder not long after you read this. Suffice it to say that after hours and hours and hours of trying to submit a 2nd application on line and receiving error codes, the 1st being refused because the Immigration officer was not satisfied that Erika and Ossiel would leave Canada, we gave up and travelled to Havana to lodge a paper application, the contents of which included 48 pages of documents and forms. Today we received this note from Online Services: The technical issue that you have experienced has been resolved. You may retry to continue your application.
The paper application did not include biometric information because up until now Ossiel has not been asked to provide it, but he could be. Was a time when the only people that were obliged to give up this information were criminals. Apparently now tourists, from developing countries, fit into this category. They’ll be wanting microchips next. But who are they and do we trust them?
Out of control bureaucracy exists everywhere. In April we hosted a lunch for an amateur Aussie Choir from Sydney who were brought to us by the Australian travel company Cuban Adventures. The MD asked us to organise a few events for the choir whilst they were visiting Trinidad because they wished to perform to Cubans in a public place and connect with local musicians. We were very excited about this and Ossiel was full of ideas. He has numerous friends who work in the museums here, the local radio and in the local music scene, and so we talked to them. Everyone was very excited and the general consensus was that the Museum of History would be the perfect venue.
Ossiel went to speak to Trinidad’s Minister for Culture. On his first visit he arrived in shorts, so he was sent home to change into long pants. Men must wear long pants when entering government offices and it is illegal to be shirtless in the streets. Women are not allowed to wear short shorts in government offices. His second attempt was successful and the minister showed interest. After 2 more visits the minister assured him he would arrange everything. A day before the choir arrived in town and after a week of public announcements over the local radio we were told that the Director of the History Museum had no idea she was about to host such an event. The minister had forgotten to brief her. Not only that, he had forgotten to seek permission from the Cultural Ministry in Havana. We were then informed by another local government head that even though she personally would be thrilled to hear this choir, it could not perform in any public place in Trinidad because permission had to be sought from the Cuban Embassy in Australia beforehand.
So they sang in our garden instead. The neighbours loved it, as did our staff assisting with the lunch for 50, and the Cuban musicians we had invited to play were completely blown away. I loved seeing the young Cuban band members take out their mobile phones to video the choir. The Aussies sang all kinds of popular English songs and the Cubans joined in when they sang Chan Chan, Compay Segundo’s famous song. When I get home I will post some videos on www.facebook.com/casalosmangos (impossible with dial up internet). My favourite is of Ossiel singing Dos Gardenias with the choir director -the later incredulous when he hears Ossiel’s voice. I shed quite a few tears when they sang Love is in the Air. Just a tad homesick am I.