Cuban Food, Cigars and Coffee

Cuba lies 90 miles south of Key West, FL, between the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, to the west of Haiti, east of Mexico and northwest of Jamaica.  Now I have been to each island mentioned above, except Haiti.  (hmm… Haiti)

Although this was my first time to Cuba, it was the 30th times for our team.  Year after year they showered compassion to the Cuban people providing the Cuban churches with generous material and spiritual support long before the lift of embargo. Each year new members were added to the Cuba team, we were so privileged to be part of this wonderful group.

Each year the team experienced a bit differently than the year before.  This time we stayed at the two beautiful guesthouses.

Barbara was the hostess of one guesthouse, and also our cook for breakfast. Each day breakfast began with a plate of fresh fruits of papaya, banana, guava and pineapple slices. Toasts were served with butter and home-made pineapple marmalade, the best I’ve ever had! Eggs were either fried or scrambled; probably because of our language barrier, Barbara thought “sunny side up” meant “natural” or raw egg.   Huh… no… I didn’t want to swallow a raw egg in the morning. 🙂

Barbara also served us deliciously home-made juice, such as papaya, guava or pineapple, and coffee. A word for Cuban coffee, it was STRONG! A little cup of the Cuban coffee would keep me going for a whole day! Coffee was served black, with sugar and/or heated whole milk. By the end of the week, I grew addicted to Cuban coffee.

Lunch at church was usually a simple sandwich with ham and cheese. Naturally we opted for lunch from street vendors in downtown Havana. This fried chicken (three pieces) costed only two dollars, juicy and full of flavor.

We had lunch out once at Matanzas. Great pork!

For something to munch on while scrolling the street, you might pick a bag of Churros for half a dollar or Corn on the cob with mayonnaise or a sprinkle of salt.

In Cuba, we used bottled water for drinking as well as for brushing teeth. The rule for shower in our guesthouse was to turn off the water whenever you were not ACTIVELY rinsing; otherwise you would suffer the consequence of running out of hot water.  I am speaking from my personal experience.  Also check whether you had water in the tank BEFORE you used the commode, otherwise you might risk have nothing to flush with.  Again, my personal experience. 🙂

Rice and Beans was Cuban’s staple dish.  We had rice and beans almost every night at church.  In my opinion, New Orleans had the best rice and beans, Cuban version came very close as the runner up. Our chefs knew how to make delicious Chicken and pork; we were told that beef and seafood were not readily available/affordable for common people.

Our last dinner was at a Chinese restaurant “Tien Tan 天璮饭店” in China town. If you missed seeing the archway at the entrance to Chinatown, you would not have guessed you were in China town. There were very few Chinese people and the structures of the many buildings resembled anything but China town. My hubby and I were the only Chinese we saw. 🙂

Finally, a few words about gifts.  Cuban cigars and coffee were the gifts we brought back home, they were easily available in Old Havana. Since the ease of travel to Cuba,  US customs lifts the import limits on Cuban cigars. If you are new to Cuban cigars, “Romeo y Julieta” and “Cohiba” are two popular brands. Also the coffee we purchased at the Old Havana tourist area was the identical price as in local market.

The Idyllic Cuban Countryside

While we were in Cuba we took a day trip to Matanzas to visit Dolce, an 87-year old retired missionary.  Matanzas was about 60 miles south of Havana, the bus ride was beautiful. Our eyes had a feast on the idyllic countryside of Cuba, so lay-back yet poetic.  Almost as pretty as my old Kentucky home.

City of Matanzas is referred to as the “Venice of Cuba”, there are 17 bridges crossing the rivers in the city, as Matanzas is also called the “City of Bridges”.  We didn’t visit bridges though, instead we spent most of our time in the city shopping for Dolcie. The team only saw her once a year, this was our only chance to stock up food and grocery items for her.

We took Dolce out to lunch at Rancho Gaviota. Rancho Gaviota located a couple of miles outside of city with beautiful surrounding. It was a popular tourist place for lunch as it was included as part of Jeep Safari tour.

After saying goodbye to Dolce, we took a detour to beach before heading back to Havana. Although this beach was not as well-known and spacious as the beaches in the resort town Varadero, we had fun getting wet and kicking the water. kbic4957

However briefly, I felt overwhelmingly satisfied dipping my toes in this side of water! Same Atlantic ocean, with almost the same temperature as that in Key West, only 90 miles away!   Can you understand my psychic? 🙂

 

 

Old Havana (La Habana Vieja), the Antique Cars and Beyond

I just came back from a week-long missionary trip in Havana, Cuba. I have fell in love with the people there, our hostess, interpreter, cooks, drivers, many young people and adorable children. Havana is much more than just antique cars.

Although the antique cars in Havana were truly amazing! On our last day, we rode a 1950 Chevrolet Convertible.  Her owner was an Italian, he boasted that every part of the car was original.  And the ride was absolutely smooth!  I couldn’t believe the car was 67 years old! If you want to ride an antique car, it is easy to pick up one in Old Havana, near the Capitolio, or around the Revolution Square (Plaza de la Revolucion).

However if you want to experience like a local, simply walk a few blocks outside of the tourist areas, away from the route of HabanaBusTour, you would discover the real Havana.

Old Havana is UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is definitely a giant mix of old and new, rich and poor. Strolling along the streets of Havana, you would find the city blended with two extremes and many gray areas in between. On one side, we saw the majestic Capitolio, the Grand Theater, many beautiful hotels and fancy antique cars cruising along El Malecon and 23rd Street (Calle 23).

On the other side of the inner city, we saw many rundowns.  I could imagine what these streets used to look like in their prime time, a glimpse of her glorious past. This faded part reminded me of the New Orleans after Katrina and gave me the grieve.

Perhaps the best part of Havana was her people. Friendly and outgoing, I found that people in Havana were trustworthy and easily to trust others. We saw many hitch hikers on the street, many times cars were waved down and passengers were picked up from the street. If there was an extra seat in the car, the driver would offer the ride to the person in need.

In the West, our children are taught to not accept things from a stranger, nor get into a stranger’s car because it is not safe, even dangerous. In Cuba children and adult alike openly accepted our gifts with smiles and “Gracias”. They are the most cheerful gift receivers.

I made friends with two adorable little boys in Baptist Church (Iglesia Bautista). They showed me how to climb up to the roof top, so I could take sunset pictures. Their little hearts were made of gold. They showed me life’s simple pleasure, in a small toy and a piece of candy, still exist in this uncontaminated island. I found myself drawn to them and loving them with all my heart.