Cuba: Day Two

HabanaWe woke up in La Habana. It felt surreal, dreamlike; the way Latin American authors write about magical realism, that which is true, but cannot be. Breakfast was Cuban coffee (distilled and black and delicious even to a heavy tea-drinker like me), a bowl of fresh fruit (bananas and papayas and pineapple, and something else I never quite figured out), and eggs with a slice of cheese, a slice of ham and a slice of tomato.

La Habana
Boxing near San Jose Market

We chatted with the other travelers at the table, and Adele, a British lady was nice enough to give me a stash of PG Tips tea bags. I had not brought any with me (I typically do), as my experience in South America the previous year had taught me to just suck it up and drink coffee. But tea…I could wax poetic about some tea. She gave me one bag for every morning I would be in Cuba.

La Habana
Street art

Liz and Kate stopped by to let us know they were running late on their end. We agreed to a time and place to meet up for lunch. It was novel now, without the use of cell phones, to go back to the days when you had to just agree to a meeting point, believing the other party would honor it and show on time. It was pleasant, really. Somehow less stressful than constantly checking text messages and re-evaluating set plans.

San Jose Market

La Habana
Across the street from the San Jose Market

Heading down to the water to spend our morning at the San Jose Market, we spotted a boxer training. They were under a massive tree, and she shadow boxed in a circle as the man who leaned against the wrought iron railing shouted at her in Spanish. We passed a crumbling but beautiful church, seemingly out of place, across the street from the San Jose Market–a huge concrete building the size of two Super Wal-Marts squished together. This is not a place that does much business in glass windows, so the large archways along the side had a few bars for structural integrity, and open airways to let the breeze glide through.

La Habana
Church across the street from the San Jose Market

Walking in, we were overwhelmed by the sheer number of paintings. Good paintings. There were rows upon rows of canvases hung by binder clips, each aisle guarded by a shopkeeper, ready to chat you up with as much English as they had. (Typically not much). The work was clearly better than any tourist trap I’ve seen in America. These artists had studied the classics, and created their own Cuban rift on the styles of Monet, Dali, Renoir, and even Mary Cassatt.

La Habana
Beer with lunch on a hot day is a special heaven

I’m sure our mouths were hanging open, and we spent our hours just wandering through, not buying anything, just looking, until it was time to meet up at the restaurant. It was hot enough by then that meeting up at Carlos’ restaurant, a cold beer seemed like a great idea. Vacation is vacation, right?

The Ferry

La Habana
multi-colored steps

The afternoon ahead of us, we took the ferry across the harbor to Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro, or Castle Morro. But first! You must use the ferry, walk up multi-colored stairs, wind around to the big giant Jesus. If we hadn’t been with Art Majors, I never would have realized that this particular statue had the wrong sized head on him. Sure enough, when I looked at the head, it did seem a bit small.

La Habana
Big Jesus

Across the street was Che Guevara’s house. The tell-tale sign was the neon red signature “Che” splashed across the building. For 6 CUCs, we could explore the empty house and grounds. We opted not to, despite the fact that we heard a goat nearby.

La Cabana

La Habana
Soviet weaponry

It wasn’t too hot, so we walked along the road towards Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña, or La Cabana. Outside the full-on moated castle, Soviet missiles, old Spanish cannons, and other assorted weaponry were on display. This castle was originally built after a British overland invasion of the OTHER castle, Castle Morro, in 1762. Then they were like, oh crap, we need another castle.

La Habana
La Cabana

So La Cabana was born! Fun fact: La Cabana has been used as a torture prison under the Castros. Che ran the place for the first five months after the revolution, using the space as a location for political prisoners, the tribunals, and ultimately, the executions afterwards.

But every evening at 9 pm, they shoot off a cannon. We were told it is the only thing in Cuba that is done on time.

La Habana
Cannons!

We left La Cabana, and during our walk to Castle Morro, we encountered a four man painting crew. They had scaffolding, and the task was to paint the lampposts that lined the roadway a shiny black color. The scaffolding was needed for the height of the posts, but it was cumbersome and took time to set up and take down. Walking next to the already painted lampposts, we thought it was interesting that despite the crumbling of Old Havana, these lampposts were given priority. And then we came upon a lamppost that had fallen over. It was freshly painted, with a small piece of cardboard keeping it off the grass, so as not to get grass stuck against the fresh paint. I guess when the government says Paint the Lampposts, you better paint ALL the lampposts.

Castle Morro

La Habana
Castle Morro

The guardian of the port was huge! We played on the fortifications, stopped for a refreshing drink nearby, and then walked around the castle that guards La Habana bay. I even found a little lizard.

La Habana
Andy at the lighthouse

The shadows were starting to lengthen, so we walked back to the big giant Jesus statue with the tiny head, and headed back to the ferry. Crossing back over was even better because we got a good view of the water and the city this time.

La Habana
Tiny Habana lizard!

Dinner was at a very small, single-table place called “The Machine.” The shingle hung above the door was in the shape of a Singer sewing machine. They had one table, and while we had some miscommunications, I ended up with a meal that I loved. When we had thrown a Cuban party a year ago, I had learned how to make tostones, so I was happy to have some in Cuba.

La Habana
Tostones rellenos

Tostones are plantains that are sliced, mashed into either a cup shape or flat, then fried with a little salt. My tostones rellenos were cup-shaped plantains filled with melted cheese and ham. It was served with a sweet red sauce.

Evening with Papa

La Habana
Me and Papa Hemingway

We split off from the group and checked out some local music. First on the list was La Floridita, a tourist trap and one of Hemingway’s favorite bars. They’ve even erected a bronze drinking buddy to keep you company while you have a daiquiri. Supposedly, this was also where it was invented. I samba-ed with the bouncer on the way out.

La Habana
Atmosphere everywhere

La Floridita was so crowded, we moved to a smaller, open air bar that had been recommended. The music was great, the mojitos were cold, the atmosphere was exactly as I had hoped to find in La Habana.

Joy(us)Adventure: day 15

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Nicole said he wasn't poisonous, so that's something
Nicole said he wasn’t poisonous, so that’s something

The morning began with a visitor.  An unwelcome one.  We had left the window open during the night because it was so stuffy in our room, and despite the air being thick with wood smoke, it had been quite comfortable.  Apparently, also for the spider who came to bid us welcome to his island.

The craftsmanship on Chiloé Island is second to none.  We spent the day in Castro, the capital city of the Island, and saw some spectacular woodworking.  I know, I know, how does an adventure blog get onto the topic of woodworking?  Well, if you had gone, you would have been impressed, too.  But let me start at the beginning, with the stilt houses.

House on stilts
House on stilts

So, there’s these crazy stilt houses.  When the tide is out, they look like spindly birds out on the mudflats. However, since the only part of the house that is actually on land is the threshold of the front door, the houses are the purview of the Chilean Navy.  Most of them are fairly old, and definitely not to any particular building code.  As Caro is explaining all of this to us, Nicole decides to hop out of the bus and go knock on some doors, so we can see what the fuss is about with these stilt houses.

This guy was very nice, and very concerned about the turn of American politics
This guy was very nice, and very concerned about the turn of American politics

Part of the island’s reputation is friendliness, and Nicole is sure someone will let us in.  “Hey, I’ve got 16 gringos on a bus, can we show them your house?”

But the first door she knocked on, he let us in.  He is a marble carver for tombstones, and he lives with his mother.  He has three brothers, two live off-island.

kitchen
kitchen

The house was built in the fifties, they think, but this gentleman is working on his own improvements.  All of his work looks precise and clean. Nicole and Caro translate our questions, and after a moment, he said that it was now his turn to ask us a question:  “Are you guys really going to elect Trump?” he asked.

living room, with picture of late father and husband
living room, with picture of late father and husband

As a group, we all shifted our feet, and looked away, muttering our negatives.  Not one of us wanted to talk politics.  Especially not primary politics, but, as Nicole explained later, the world watches the US very closely.  The economies of many countries depend on ours.  So even this marble tombstone carver on Chiloé Island knows what we debate back in the States.

His house felt quite close, as the ceilings were very low.  As we shuffled back out through the narrow hallway, he pointed out the picture of his father, who had passed away over a decade ago.  His mother pointed to my eyes, and then to the picture, once again pointing out my blue eyes, like his father’s. It surprised me again, though the European influence on the island seemed much less than on the mainland.

typical market fare
typical market fare

We left the stilt house, thanking him and his mother profusely for letting us in, and headed to the markets.  Nicole had a little game for us to play.  She gave each team money (not much), and a piece of paper with a name of an item on it.  We had to go buy it, and not show anyone the paper.  (“Team 2, on the move!”)

The ladies at the stalls were nice about our lack of Spanish skills
The ladies at the stalls were nice about our lack of Spanish skills

Our goal was chorito ahumados, whatever that was.  Nicole gave 2000 pesos for our trouble, and off we went.  The market was very cool.  The fresh seafood section was extensive.  We wandered through, and I got distracted looking at the candy, until Erich got tired of my candy fixation and went to searching without me.  My Spanish pronunciation is probably terrible, but they ladies in the stalls seemed to understand me.  Unfortunately, I was at a different stall than the rest of Team 2 (Jan, Erich, Mary Joy and me).

After I went to help broker our deal to obtain our chorito ahumados, I returned to this lady I was chatting with to buy a few bags of this delicious Chilean spice called merkén.

choritos ahumados
choritos ahumados, from wikimedia

It’s like a smoky paprika, that has an edge of heat to it.  I had asked this lady what exactly these chorito ahumados  were, and she confirmed what I thought they were–smoked mussels strung together. I didn’t take a picture, but here’s a great photo from wikimedia commons for you to get the picture.

Mary Joy and I present Nicole with our two strings of mussels, and Caro and Nicole asked us what we thought it was.  I held back, as Mary Joy had not been privy to my conversation with the vendor.  So Mary Joy, having the curious nature she has, begins to peel back the layers of one of the mussels.  Please picture that.  About a half a second later, we all bust out laughing, even Mary Joy.  Standing in this market, on this island off the southern coast of Chile, giving a quite thorough exam of a mussel.  Hilarious.

Peanuts in a candy shell!  I brought some home for Andy, too.
Peanuts in a candy shell! I brought some home for Andy, too.

We wandered the market more, and I bought some candy.  Once again, the ladies at the stalls commented on my eyes and my hair.  I was surprised–I hadn’t had so many comments since I was in rural Japan years ago.

Cathedral in Castro
Cathedral in Castro

After the market, we took a quick walking tour of Castro, including the cathedral in town.

Apparently, the builders had sent off to Europe for some blueprints on a good church.  When the blueprints came back, the materials called for stone.  Well, there isn’t a quarry on Chiloé Island, and there aren’t very many stones.

interior of the yellow church
interior of the yellow church

So they decided to follow the instructions, but use wood instead.  The result is a gorgeously warm feeling church.  The outside is lined with zinc panels and painted bright yellow, with purple steeples.  The place feels incongruous from the insides to the outsides, but isn’t that how we all feel sometimes?  Like our insides and our outsides don’t match?

downtown Castro
downtown Castro

The day was again beautiful, with blue skies and a nice heavy, warm sun.  We headed to Dalcahue for the markets there.

This lady was awesome.
This lady was awesome.

We headed into the cafeteria area for some lunch and ate the best empanadas I have ever eaten in my entire life.  They offered beef, cheese, or abalone.  We had to order small empanadas in sixes, so Mary Joy and I split an order, 3 abalone for her, 2 beef and 1 cheese for me.  We watched the four women crammed into a five foot by five foot area churn through order after order, making these empanadas by hand.  It was an impressive machine to watch.

market in Dalcahue
market in Dalcahue

Afterwards, we walked the markets and I helped in my limited translator capacity as Mary Joy bought a beautifully made alpaca sweater.  The sweater was so soft, it was like a wearable security blanket.  The town isn’t large, so we managed to pick up more fellow travelers as we walked the few blocks to the church, decidedly less flamboyant than the one in Castro.

Nicole rallies us for the penguins
Nicole rallies us for the penguins

The afternoon was reserved for penguins.  Dead serious.  No one thinks of penguins being in Chile, but Mary Joy and I had seen penguins in the Galapagos, and this was just the Southern end of their migration.  There were fewer penguins hanging out than normal, as the migration North had already begun for the season.  Most of the Humboldt penguins had already taken off for the Galapagos, but the Magellanic penguins were still hanging around.

The mechanism of delivering us to the boat.
The mechanism of delivering us to the boat.

We took a boat out, cruising around watching them dive into the water and then dry off as they climbed out.  There were some great birds too, the red-footed cormorant, and the flightless steamer duck.  img_3380 img_3381 img_3382 img_3383

We had dinner at a restaurant right on the beach, overlooking the penguins, who undoubtedly also dined.  We drank some Liquor de oro, which another Team had procured from the marketplace that morning.  And then they served abalone empanada.

I spoke up this time, and they made me a cheese one.  And then they served hake.  But I got a pork chop, which was very kind of them, and of Nicole, for asking them on my behalf, to do something different.

Truth be told, by this time, I really could have used a day off from eating in general.

spiral staircase
spiral staircase

 

When we got back to the hotel, Mary Joy and I ordered a glass of carmenere wine and headed up this cool spiral staircase to watch the sunset from a massive picture window.  We talked more about everything–our group, El Trauco, the mussels, our family, her work, my writing–everything.

Another stunning sunset--and another gorgeous picture by Paul Stark
Another stunning sunset–and another gorgeous picture by Paul Stark

What a comfort to have this kind of support, and while I felt lucky the day before for where I was and what I was doing, how lucky was I to have the family I had?

Magic!
Thanks!

Not just Mary Joy, but everyone who bolsters me along everyday that I am unable to bolster myself?

Cheers to that, and cheers to those of you who are the unknowing supports of the friends and family around you.  The work you do is magic.

 

Joy(us)Adventure: Day 14

img_3363Today was the first truly gray day, and after two weeks of nothing but beautiful, sunny skies, I ain’t even mad.

Heading into Pargua's community center
Heading into Pargua’s community center

We packed up our stuff and left Puerto Varas, and headed South towards Chiloé Island.  Before we got there, however, we stopped at a small community called Pargua.

OAT, the company, is run by former teachers.  Part of their big thing is supporting specific schools in all of these remote parts of the world.  They ask us to bring supplies with us, if we so choose, to help out the schools.  It was a Sunday when we passed through Pargua, so we didn’t see the kids, and only the outside of the school.  However, three ladies from the community met us at their new community center, offering us tea and cakes and this fabulous type of local honey called ulmo honey.

modeling the red buff she knitted
modeling the red buff she knitted

The morning was cool, and the building had a tiny wood stove in the far corner.  When the ladies came around with the hot water, we were all grateful. They talked about their families and community, and we got a small glimpse of the racism still apparent in even these small communities.  Two of the women were sisters, and clearly of European descent, perhaps with some mixing with the native population.  The other, Maria, was clearly native, with hair so black it seemed to absorb the light around.  Other dark hair may glint red or blue in the sun, but not hers.  Apparently the elders don’t really go gray, either, they have this charcoal black hair forever–truly stunning.  But Maria didn’t want to own to the heritage.  She shrugged and said probably she was native.  Interesting, because I don’t think any of us travelers made a value judgement based on whether or not she was native, but clearly she did.

The ladies held a raffle for us–they had knitted some items and we put in 1000 pesos (like a dollar) and they pulled numbers out of a hat. Patty won the red knitted buff, which was poetic, as she was constantly cold.

Heading into the homestead
Heading into the homestead

We continued on to have a big lunch at another local family’s homestead.  The Andrades family had a potato farm and livestock, and the mother-in-law was a sister to the two sisters at the community center.  They graciously set up a Curanto to share with us.  So a curanto is like a barbecue in that it feeds a bunch of people and takes a long time.  Other than that, no similarities.

Readying the embers
Readying the embers

The idea is that you dig a hole in the ground and light a fire with rocks in it.  You let the fire die down until there are just embers and hot rocks (some of the rocks cracked from the heat).  You line the shallow hole with brush, so dirt doesn’t get on your food, then pour as many mussels as you can dig up over the rocks.

More food. Always more food.
More food. Always more food.

You lay another layer of brush and then add some sausage, some raw chicken, and some potato pancakes on top.  You cover the heaping mound with plastic and then go do something else for an hour and a half.

img_2757Meanwhile, we had yet another Pisco Sour to toast with the family. After fourteen days, it seemed like we had Pisco daily.  It would continue to seem that way.

making potato pancakes, and I'm asking questions (surprise).
making potato pancakes, and I’m asking questions (surprise).

 

The women of the house had us help them make more potato pancakes to be made in the oven, and then another helped us make a salsa that I swear is darn near identical to the pico de gallo I make at home.

Chopping up all the good stuff.
Chopping up all the good stuff.

Same everything, except she used a pepper she just called a green pepper, but in my grocery store at home looks like a wax pepper.  And instead of sugar, she uses vegetable oil in hers. I don’t know why that would be an exchange, but it tastes the same. Other than the pepper type and the whole vegetable oil bit, I make an identical salsa.

The littlest helping out. So adorable.
The littlest helping out. So adorable.

Since the Andrades are potato farmers, we went out to the field and harvested some potatoes with them.  But really, every time we went outside, I played with these two puppies.  How can you resist TWO puppies?

One of the older dogs, also a constant playmate for me.
One of the older dogs, also a constant playmate for me.

I had to rewash my hands multiple times because just when I thought I was done with the puppies, oh no, MORE puppy time.

Eventually, we reaped what we had sown in the curanto.  Nicole said the mussels were best straight from the curanto, and because I didn’t want to be rude and not eat the seafood, I choked down four mussels right then and there.  We came back inside, and I ate the chicken and the sausage.

Reaping the curanto
Reaping the curanto

The potato pancakes from the oven were pretty good, but the ones from the curanto were very rubbery.  The salsa was, of course, excellent, and they served red and white wine.  The white wine being more like a local applejack than wine.  Still, tasty.

Mother and son
Mother and son

After dinner was over, they sang a song for us, including the men who inexplicably came from nowhere once the food was ready to be eaten.  Then the boy and his mother danced a traditional dance for us.  They seemed to be having fun, if they weren’t a little embarrassed for being on display for a bunch of gringos like us.

We said our goodbyes and gave our hugs, and I played with the puppies one last time.

The farm
The farm
img_2773
Back of the boat.

We headed South again, to Chiloé Island, which one can only get to by ferry.  All of the vehicles drove onto the back of the ferry, and once on, we could get out and walk around.  As we crossed the Chacao Strait, I spotted the sea lions in the wake of the ferry, gobbling up whatever got churned to the surface by the engines.

We arrived on the island, and got to know some of the mythology from the place.  Specifically this super creepy figure who lives in the forest, said to be a dwarf who has only stumps for feet, and rapes young virgin girls when they go off wandering by themselves.  There are many icky stories from around the world, but this one goes too far.  The name is El Trauco, and if there is an unwed mother, they will actually put Trauco’s name on the birth certificate.  Just…ick.  What a way to normalize rape.  I suppose you could try to look at the story in a different way, in a way that a young woman’s sexuality is not looked upon as being her “fault,” that she has done something bad, but then again, why take away her agency?

water, water everywhere...
water, water everywhere…

To be fair, there is also a mad, older woman, Fiura, who lures men in for days at a time, until she has her sexual appetites satisfied.  Apparently this takes a long time.

Mary Joy and I discussed these myths.  In some ways, we could see Trauco as being a defense for unwed mothers in the face of the Catholic church.  It relieves the burden of shame for them and the child out of wedlock.  At the same time, it also is permissive for men of the island to rape young women, and gives the idea of “it is expected” for a woman to be raped if she should leave her home without an escort.

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From our hotel

The island itself, mythology aside, is beautiful, with the salty air from the ocean, and brightly colored houses in every village.  There was an old military fort just below our hotel, with cannons in situ, watching the sun go down.  The island heats with wood, so the air was thick with wood smoke from cooking dinner.

Dinner at the hotel that night was Hake, another type of fish, with an appetizer of abalone salad.  I ate the five potatoes on my plate, and I was completely okay with the meager dinner, as the four mussels I ate earlier in the day was definitely influencing my nausea.  Mary Joy thinks I may be allergic to fish–possibly.  I don’t know if I am or not, but I tell you what, I got a little more vocal after that day about meal choices.  I hate being a picky person, and I would rather go hungry than make a big deal, but my nausea levels were going through the roof.

The military outpost with cannons.
The military outpost with cannons.

Fortunately there was ice cream for dessert, so I didn’t feel underfed, even on that day.

We had another clear view of the Southern Cross that night, from the patio of the hotel.  It was a lovely view, and another reason to kick myself into remembering how lucky I was to be on Chiloé Island, to be with Mary Joy, and to be able to learn about another culture, even if the whole rape vibe thing seriously creeps me out.

Seriously great sunset
Seriously great sunset