Cuban Coffee Chronicles – Day 6

After a very brief afternoon of rest at the Varadero resort, day 6 we had a full agenda. Our day began visiting a community art center in Matanzas where African roots of Cuban culture are nurtured.  Again we see how art serves to sustain and build a shared history. The installation of heads below was my favorite piece.

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Lunch was one of my favorites at Ajiaco, named after a traditional delicious soup. The stew of corn, beans and vegetables, was served in a clay pot, bubbling hot and flavorful. The coffee was prepared the old way, simply strained through a long  fabric filter. At the end of lunch, we were introduced to everyone who helped make the meal: the head chef, the baker, the waitstaff and the coffee maker. I really like being able to put faces on the effort we were tasting.

After lunch, we arrived at Cojimar and Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s home. Not surprisingly there were books everywhere. Loved his secluded writing tower. His dining room decorated with his game hunting trophies not my favorite.

As we returned to the bus ready to head to our last stop of the day at Christopher Columbus Cemetery in Havana, we realized that we left our backpack WITH our passports at the paladar where we had lunch. So, instead of the cemetery, we head back to our lunch place with the help of super guide Tracy in an un-airconditioned old Russian car that had exposed wiring throughout and wooden door parts that wouldn’t open on one side. The car had personality and years.  Recovering the backpack felt like an adventure. Once there, the staff there had taken good care of it. Nothing was lost or stolen. We were so grateful. I can’t say with confidence that we would’ve gotten the backpack back either in the U.S. or in Bangladesh. That was raw people to people contact.

We met back up with our group at the Melia Cohiba Hotel in Havana. Wow. Havana really felt like a giant city after our days in small town and mid-town Cuba. There were “new” 1990s portions, old and restored portions and old and crumbling portions.  There was also more affluent suburbs with big houses reserved for foreigners and embassy employees, as well as Soviet-style housing areas. Everywhere there is evidence of the Soviet influence and pull-out. Most dangerously in the “three-laned” highways, where they abruptly stopped construction having built one side of a six lane highway. Cuba was courted and abandoned multiple times. No wonder there is distrust and also a deep effort to build national self-pride.

My most favorite meal in Cuba was at a paladar named: Atelier, near our hotel. I had the national dish of ropa vieja, a shredded beef dish. It was delicious. The atmosphere was dark wood and fine art elegant. Each table had different cutlery and dinnerware as if a different family heirloom was used for each table. There was live house music.  Just a magical dining experience. I loved it so much that I asked to meet the chef, chef Michel.  So good..food pictures would not do justice….wistful sigh.

The after dinner coffee in cat cups was perfect!

The famed Tropicana cabaret show where dancers wear lit chandeliers, palm trees and more as their head pieces. It  was flashy, touristy and quite a spectacle worth seeing. Only once for me. The show with all its glitz and glamor was very different than the humble and  uncontrived Cuba we had been touring during the week. Day 6 ended with us escaping the dance party after midnight hoping to find our cab drivers waiting for us. Gratefully they were. Another wonderful day.

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