Thursday January 30
Last night after our officially sanctioned activities, Abelardo and Delin went out by taxi to try to find her family's city house and his grandfather's home. They found them - in what is known here as a frozen zone. That means military. They were stopped three times by the police on their hour ride, and they had to show their photocopies of their passports. And answer lots of questions.
It must be hard to visit your memories and find them nationalized - and crumbling.
Except for Embassy row - It's not crumbling, it's gorgeous. Wrap-around porches just begging for a porch swing and a book, well tended gardens, orchids dripping from trees. We learn as we head out of town this morning that the government rents out some of the rich people's nationalized homes as embassies. Capitalism alive and well - in the government.
We are headed for Las Terrasas, a biosphere reserve. (Along with half a dozen other buses full of American tourists. Who knew they were here too?) Cuba did not want to turn to organic farming, but after 1990 and the collapse of their fertilizer supplier (read USSR) they had no choice.
When Columbus landed, it was said you could walk from one end of the island to the other and always be in the shade of a tree. The image of Columbus clanking along- in his armor, in the humidity, thru 600 miles of jungle - boggles the mind.
It is said if you want to see the finest Cuban cedar and mahogany...you have to go to Spain. It's in all the grand houses and palaces there.
After the revolution Cuba was 86% deforested; Las Terrases is a response to that. Vegetation is now dense; there are pines and cedars, orchids and tropical ginger blooming below. There is a small hotel (we don't visit), a model coffee shop (Cuban frappucinos, or as Miha puts it, "Coffee! Another reason to drink rum!") It's called carajillo, that coffee with rum, and it must be pretty popular if it's been named. Starbucks, take note.
There is a pre-school with paiper maiche toys (so sad) and a little boy trying to climb the fence.
The despair and sadness in his eyes will haunt me forever. I want to tuck him under my arm and take him home. Even as I write I am teary.
There is an old folks' home we drive around but don't stop to visit. I feel like we are looking at Cubans in a zoo. The old folks must have been acting up?
We visit the home of Polo Montañez, a musician who died in a drunk-driving accident. His drinking, his driving.
And an an artist, Lester Lamas. Polo and Lester have lovely homes on a lake with a fresh breeze.
So different from the shacks we saw along the railroad tracks, so different from the crumbling squatters' abodes in Havana. We ask "How do you get to live here?" and are told you just have to ask. I'm guessing you have know the right person to ask, or be related to that person. And not have demerits from the Committee For The Defense Of The Revolution. I bet fame helps too...
Free enterprise is alive and well here; Lester has paintings and prints and postcards for sale. Have you seen an American artist's studio? With the piles of paint tubes and coffee cans full of brushes?
The embargo affects art supplies too. I have more brushes and paint than he does, and the only thing I paint is the bathroom.
There is zip-lining and a ration line:
Even the dog has to line up. Rations used to include rum, cigars and cigarettes. No more. Rice and beans, sugar, a little meat, and hopefully something for the dog.
We lunch at the edge of a ravine surrounded by birds calling from the trees...
And as this is Cuba and there is music everywhere, Group Polo Montañez plays for us. And has their CD for sale. They were nominated for a grammy in 2003. Like the Buena Vista Social Club only younger and more hip-hoppy. More on the Buena Vista SC later...
Did I mention every street and rest-stop band has a CD for sale? We buy lots of CDs. Come over this summer for Mojitos and Music.
CDs are one of the only things you can bring back from Cuba. No t-shirts, nothing manufactured. Music and art and handicrafts are okay. What weird foreign policy gets down to the shopping level?
Tonight Delin, Wally, Judy and John, Miha and Robert and I are going to see what remains of the Buena Vista Social Club. But that really is a whole 'nother Oprah. Next post, I promise. It's worthy.