We spent one more day in Havana Vieja and then we moved on to our host family. The last evening in Havana Vieja was a lot of fun. We went into town early to listen to music. I started talking to a street musician and before I knew it I got his guitar pressed into my hands and we played songs for each other. Then we head off to the bars to listen to more bands. At the second terrace where we sat, we started talking to the band and before we knew it Erik was playing along and I jammed with the other guitarist and percussionist before they started teaching me the chan chan haha. It was a very nice evening and mojitos kept on coming. After a little too much mojitos we finally ended up in a dark bar with a man in a dress (?) Whaha. Where we had an interesting conversation with some students who were not afraid to talk about the situation in Cuba. What a night!
The following morning we left after a very short night with an er .. little hangover to our host family. Cuba is very safe by the way. You can safely walk on the street at night and even as a woman alone . Our host family was in a different neighborhood (Vedado). A more modern part of Havana. The house was close to Hotel Cuba Libre, the hotel where Fidel Castro had his headquarters for a while and what then changed from the Hilton to Hotel Cuba Libre. And near the Malecon. The host family consisted of a couple the same age as our parents. They lived in a large house but had a small apartment in it, which consisted of a petty small living room, kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms, one was ours. We got a warm welcome from our hostess Odilia. Her husband Barry came in later. By the way, it was a true Cuban experience living there. All day long people came in for a chat. It was always a surprise who was sitting at the dinner table again. And Odilia and Barry, what a lovely couple they were! They had baptized themselves our Mama and Papa Cubana. Our room was more like a bed than a room, I believe I have never slept in such a large bed, I think it can easily accommodate a family of four. The room had an old-fashioned air conditioner and luckily a fan against the mosquitoes. (Yet I often couldn’t sleep at night because it was just too hot to sleep without air conditioning, but the air conditioning made too much noise to sleep through) Furthermore, a TV that was more modern than we have at home. A window with those flowery curtains and blankets so that you had the feeling that you were staying with grandma hihi. Odilia cooked the most delicious food for us every day. Then the entire table was full of bowls and plates. First we had a salad, then a bean or lentil soup and then some vegetable dishes, rice and fried bananas. At first they did not know we only eat vegetarian food, but that was not a problem and when we carefully indicated that at home we also did not eat dairy products, even vegan was cooked for us. Despite that the stomach ache persisted with me and Erik also occasionally suffered from it. Maybe it was just “too different” or the heat.
That first day we walked a little round on our last strength to see Hotel Cuba Libre and rolled into a deep sleep after dinner. The following days we followed our course. In the morning we had Spanish language lessons from 8:30 AM to 12:00 PM, and in the afternoon we had music lessons. The language lesson was in our own bedroom because another woman got language lessons in the living room. After breakfast, which consisted of a huge fruit salad, a sandwich and nice coffee, we converted the room and our teacher Martha, a very small, charming lady in her sixties came to our room. What a nice person that was, really a sweetheart. She was very intelligent and told us everything about Cuba and life in Cuba itself, I thought that was really an added value. We had very long conversations with her about the trade embargo and Trump’s influence on the situation in Cuba. The lessons were all in Spanish but very easy to follow. We really enjoyed it and our Spanish improved quickly. There were also no other students so it goes a lot faster. We had booked the course through Studytravel. An organization where I had previously followed a Spanish course / surf lessons in San Sebastian. And that went very well. Everything was neatly arranged and they were even easily accessible from Havana for problems.
In the afternoon we had music lessons together from Romano, an enthusiastic, somewhat older man with very few teeth. He himself was the band leader of an eight-member band. This too was entirely in Spanish and explaining was sometimes difficult. If we didn’t quite understand the rhythm, for example, he would just “pa pa pa” a little bit louder haha. But we always figured it out. Of course we learned the Chan chan (though I already learned it on the street). The “guantanamera”, “dos gardenias para ti”, “Che comandante” and “besa mi mucho”. Enough to keep us busy for a while. For us Westerners the Cuban rhythm cannot always be followed, he counts down with the Cuban son (tres, quatro, y), after which apparently no one keeps the rhythm.
Cuba is an amazing country. Truly an experience never to be forgotten. The country where the slaves were last released and they have raised addiction to a higher level. It is the land of coffee, cigars, rum and sugar. We had a lot of fun and learned a lot. Spanish in particular went very well, also because you are in a host family and can therefore practice right away. Because we make music and therefore easily come into contact with local musicians. And because we followed that course from Cuban teachers and stayed at the house with Cuban people, you really come into contact with the Cubans themselves. And that makes it a very authentic experience. For me it also makes me feel sad sometimes. My heart goes out to all those sweet, warm Cubans who are not exactly having an easy time. I wish them so much more. It becomes very painfully clear to you that you are a lucky person, purely and simply because you were born in the Netherlands. The trade embargo with USA is really a problem for these people. A lot of things just aren’t there. For example, healthcare is free, but … When we were there, there was no antibiotics available, no medication for people with diabetes and heart disease. We simply cannot imagine that in the western world. The daughter of our host parents was admitted to the hospital at the time because she had lost a lot of blood (if I understood correctly, due to a fibroids or other problem with her womb) She needed a blood transfusion but on the second day there was no more blood in the hospital. The family was called to donate blood. For tourists, there are other hospitals with all the medicines and facilities. There was also a fuel crisis, accessible to tourists but not always to Cubans. You notice it a bit in the shops and restaurants. We went every day to the same restaurant to get food, they had a vegan sandwich that we liked so we went back the second day for the same sandwich, they didn’t have the ingredients today, we got a pancake. The third day also no sandwich, but a pancake but no box to take away because there were no more, day four no more pancakes but sandwiches again. That’s how it went in the shops with bottled water, water just wasn’t always there (but then in another shop it was). It is what it is and you just have to deal with it. Also everything is recycled and repaired forever. Another example is that the musicians cannot get any material. For example, a clarinetist we met wanted to have Erik’s saxophone mouthpiece. But that was Erik’s only mouthpiece and those things are also quite expensive in the Netherlands, so Erik understandably wanted to keep it himself. The clarinetist was left with tears in his eyes. And we feel sad for him too. Because it is also very understandable from his point of view. It may be his only chance to get such a mouthpiece. In the end we noted his address so maybe we will send something (if that is possible at all). Our percussion eggs and Erik’s clarinet reeds have been left behind because also reeds and guitar strings are not available in Cuba. It’s not even that they don’t have the money for it, it’s just not there. But they don’t really have money either. Even highly educated people earn 25 dollars a month. Tourism is the only sector in which you can make money and so the average taxi driver earns more than a doctor or a scientist. This also has the consequents that highly educated people start working in tourism. I wonder how long this will last, because tourism is growing and will only grow more now that there are no Castro’s anymore. And how does the Cuban economy continue to run? Doctors are also required ..
Eventually we flew home immediately after the course. The idea was to stay a little longer, but the stomach ache and the heat made it really hard for me. After a week of abdominal pain, I was tired of it. Even the tasty food at Odilia and Barry’s did not cause much change. And it was a hopeless situation because what I needed, whole grain bread / pasta / rice, that is not there in Cuba. And probiotics are neither. And the heat was so bad that I couldn’t go outside anymore. If you come back completely overheated after every 10 minutes of walking it is no longer fun at a given moment. The temperature wasn’t even that high. I think about 30 degrees Celsius. But October is the month with the highest humidity and it’s just pretty oppressive. It is also like this all day long, and the heavy showers occasionally gave little relief. You hope that after a rain shower it will be as nice and fresh as in the Netherlands or France. But almost nothing changes. Only in the evening it was a bit more bearable. Sleeping didn’t go well either, it was just too hot for this blonde. Unfortunately .. We would have liked to go to Cienaga de zapata, a swamp and nature reserve with beautiful birds and crocodiles. And we wanted to snorkel. Cuba has one of the most beautiful coral reefs. Here they are not yet so affected and that is partly because no pesticides are used in Cuba. They simply aren’t there. Pesticides often enter the sea via rivers and create “dead zones” along the coasts. But not in Cuba so that the coral reefs are very healthy and even rare species of coral and plants grow. Anyway .. we have seen so many beautiful things. And if there is anything you can learn from Cuba (except Spanish and Music) it is gratitude for what is there, and for what we have seen, and that has been a lot in recent months. We are now back in the Netherlands. Our papa Cubano brought us to the airport in Style. In his 65-year-old Chevrolet. Everything rattled and belts were not in it, of course haha. At the airport we drank one last mojito and made a toast to our fantastic trip around the world. What an adventure! Then we flew via Madrid to Dusseldorf and there my parents picked us up. We stay here for a few days to recover and then we go to the house of friends who are on a holiday in The Hague, until we can go back to our own house. We feel happy, satisfied and grateful that we have been able to make this journey and are full of new ideas.