Lest you think that all I do in Cuba is sit on the beach and drink pina coladas, well the truth is that I do. See I lived there from 1988 to 1991 while I was a child, and I could not imagine a more perfect place to grow up. My father was working there on an oil pipeline at the time, and I was partially homeschooled, partially attended a local school and in general ran totally wild. My parents allowed us to have the kind of childhood that is now spoken of nostalgically with fast bike rides all over town, climbing crumbling buildings to build a fort on the roof, midnight stealth missions to the beach to see if we can spot a manta ray, and hours and hours outside unsupervised, playing, coming in only to eat supper and do chores.
But eventually that part of life ended, my parents emigrated to Canada and life went on in a different direction. I didn’t return to Cuba until I was seventeen on my first real solo vacation and I fell in love all over again. Spanish tried to return to my brain with mild success, the people were how I remembered them, and our old hotel where we lived was much smaller than I remembered it, as anyone who has ever returned to childhood stomping grounds can attest to. I have since been back a half dozen times, often with family who love Cuba as much as I do. We generally fly all inclusive because no one wants to be a burdensome house guest twice a year, and also because plane tickets alone cost almost as much as a hotel stay. The town where we lived, Matanzas, is quite close to Varadero so it’s easier to visit with friends.
One of the things I love when traveling is seeing how people live in other countries. It’s always a deep thrill for me to step outside the same-ness of a hotel room and visit someone’s house. If that visit includes a home cooked meal all the better. In that spirit I wanted to give you a glimpse into the house of our friends in Matanzas. Theirs is a rather wealthy house by Cuban standards, they are a mixed couple with Domingo being a native Cuban, a former military officer and a journalist, and Oksana hailing from the Ukraine. They met when he was overseas in university and returned to Cuba to make a life. Since she still has plenty of family in Lviv, they are financially much more secure than she would have been otherwise.
So without further ado, here is a tour of house on an island just off Florida.
The streets of Matanzas
Socialist slogans are everywhere
A neighbors’ motorcycle
The house from the outside
A happy puppy playing with my uncle
A tiny garden in the front of the house – bonus poins if you recognize any of the plants
The inner courtyard
Milk cooling on the steps
Mango tree laden with unripe fruit
An outdoor prep kitchen (behind the blue tarp in the photo above). Notice almost everything is homemade – shelves, doors.
Tiny ‘apple’ bananas – the flavor is out of this world
An inside patio at the back of the house
The living room
The small but well used kitchen. All the appliances are miniature versions of North American. The stove is about half as large as our standard one, and the fridge is tiny also. Perhaps New York Apartment dwellers would find it familiar.
The spread – amazing – green salad, arroz con frijoles, lobster, yucca root and more.
If you also find homes fascinating, share the neat features of dwellings you’ve seen and what made them memorable. I for one, adore the intermixing of the outdoors that is evident in many Cuban homes. The climate allows for a minimum of walls the ease with which indoors and outdoors intermingle is wonderful to me, since I live in a climate where protection from the elements is paramount and where an open patio door in the summer is as close as we get. I also love the way the mango tree grows right outside the kitchen door and as the house was expanded (the outdoor kitchen was added well after the main structure was built), the house simply wrapped itself around it allowing it to grow and fruit. It’s like a reverse treehouse and the kid in me thrills at the possibilities.