Stepping off of the plane in Havana felt like stepping back in time. We walked out of the airport into a hoard of people and very old cars waiting for their loved ones. Thanks to Andre, an especially helpful taxi driver, we managed to change our money and arrive safely to our casa. Andre set the tone for our entire trip – the Cuban people we met were kind, hospitable, enterprising, educated, proud of being Cuban and eager to share their culture with us.
And so, we will tell the story of our trip through the people we met, starting with Tania.
Any nervousness we had about our trip to Cuba disappeared when we met Tania, the welcoming hostess at the Airbnb casa particular where we stayed. Tania’s 2nd story apartment is in Centro Habana, a working class neighborhood filled with streets where the kids play soccer barefoot and the seniors do Tai Chi every morning. In this neighborhood you’ll find everything from empty storefronts to modest apartment to gems like La Guarida, a crumbling building and 5-star restaurant featured in an Oscar-nominated movie all rolled into one.
The apartment belonged first to Tania’s father, and now to Tania and her adult daughter Tatiana who run the Airbnb business. Tania is a foodie – she is working creating a Cuban cookbook, and a highlight of our trip was the fresh breakfast we ate in her home each morning. We each enjoyed our own fruit plate of the ripest, juiciest mango (yum), papaya (not our favorite), banana and pineapple. There was fresh bread, butter and honey, along with cheese and ham slices. Each day, Mike had his eggs frito (fried) and I had mine revuelto (scrambled). And, we washed it all down with fresh guava or mango juice and the best coffee known to man.
It rained in the late afternoon each day of our trip. One of those days after an especially heavy rain, we emerged from our room only to find the furniture had been moved, the TV unplugged, and Tania along with our fellow Australian boarders were squeegeeing a profuse amount of water off of the floor. There was a fairly significant flood in the apartment. Things often don’t go smoothly in Cuba, but Cubans will find a way to make it work; the apartment was as good as new by the next morning. If anything, the experience only made me happier that we chose to stay at the casa with Tania and see how real Cubans live.
In the middle of our trip, the key to our casa fell out of Mike’s pocket and was forever lost in the streets of Havana. We went back to our casa and rang the doorbell but no one was home. Having no cell phone service, we went to a nearby restaurant to use the phone. The restaurant was closed, but the painter helped us call Tania and Tatiana. We offered to pay him for his help, but he wouldn’t accept it. We apologized profusely to Tania for losing the key, but she just gave us a gracious, warm smile and said it was no problem. And we felt lucky to have come to a place where the people were so genuine and kind.
Until We Eat Again,
Two Happy Cooks