The liberation of Santa Clara and me.

Her name is Aliet. An unusual name, so I look up how to spell it. The website says Aliet means “a woman of noble stature”.  This Aliet manages the small hostal we are staying at in Santa Clara so I doubt that she is noble but she certainly has a commanding presence and is someone not to be messed with. And right now two French couples are doing just that. They are questioning their bill.  It costs $30 per room per night and the breakfasts are $5 per person. What on earth can be the problem?

The discussion is taking place in the delightful garden of the hostal

We are having our breakfast at one of the tables, and the argument is being conducted right next to us. Aliet is holding a small basket of breads that she was about to deliver to our table when the French confronted her.  Aliet gives me a look, rolls her eyes and lets me know that normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. Or in this case when the French settle their bill.

Aliet speaks English well, but the four being French refuse to make any attempt at English and try to conduct the discussion in French. Aliet has an expression on her face that could curdle the blood of most people, but the French are a different breed. It seems they feel they have been charged for two drinks they didn’t consume and that Aliet should be able to settle the discussion in French.

Aliet is unmoved by their French pleas and again rolls her eyes at me.  The French are getting quite worked up, but they are doing so in French which is wasted on Aliet. But even if they were complaining in English the outcome of the argument was never in question.

The French eventually concede but with little grace.

Aliet gives me a little smile. But we still don’t get the basket of bread. She is not moving until they pay. At this point they are discussing among themselves who had which drink and how much each couple should be paying towards the total.

Sadly we too have a little problem we want to discuss with Aliet. The hostal has just 5 rooms. When we were shown ours the previous evening we were quite happy. By Cuban standards it is a nice room and its antique furniture and artwork add considerably to the ambiance. Up until now, ambiance has been lacking.

We were in fact both so happy to see a room with charm that we didn’t notice the smell of damp. When we eventually retired the smell seemed overwhelming. The bedding was really damp, the sheets almost wet.  We shivered through the night. I had washed a pair of shorts in the sink and hung them in the bathroom to dry. In the morning they seemed wetter than ever and I could actually wring water out of them.

Meanwhile we had bonded with Aliet, so she was upset to hear we weren’t happy with our room and moved us to another room where my shorts eventually dried.

The hostal is owned by a Cuban couple who I would guess are around 50. They seem to do nothing to help Aliet.  The wife is impeccably dressed in an elegant suit, white blouse and colourful chiffon scarf artfully thrown across her shoulders. She makes the occasional appearance, walking gracefully through the garden, waves condescendingly to her paying guests and moves on without saying a word. The husband  wears rumpled chinos and a T shirt. He can be friendly but would rather not be. They leave the role of the gracious host to their 18 year old son, which he seems to enjoy.  He chats amiably to all the guests while sporting a deep tan, long carefully groomed hair and a white tank top and white shorts that match his perfect white teeth. Everyone seems very happy to talk with him. He should go far in life.

Our attention is torn between the charming son and the amazing collection of valuable antiques that are on display in the living room

Some of the glassware is spectacular

as are the lamps

Aliet tells us that the husband has been a collector for years and only buys the best. We suspect he must rummage through the many crumbling mansions in Cuba, offering a pittance for really good pieces, knowing that the owners are in dire need of cash.

Santa Clara is the least touristy place we have visited, probably because it lacks some of the charm of other towns, but it has a place in every Cuban heart because it was liberated by  Che Guevara in December 1958.  This marked the end of the Batista regime, and the beginning of the legend of Che Guevara.

We are making our way to the central square, attracted by the sound of great Cuban music. It is 4pm on Sunday afternoon and the Plaza is full. In the entrance way to one derelict building a party is going on. A small area has been roped off for the band

probably to protect them from the over enthusiastic dancers. The crowd seems to be made up mainly of septuagenarians and octogenarians,

but they are not letting their age stop them. In fact quite the opposite. Some of the women are really ready to party

There is a palpable energy in the air – and it is without doubt sexual. The women are hot, and the men know it. They make their move

The energy level is amazing, and the dancing continues for two hours. A few drift away but most keep going. And the longer they go the hotter it gets

Everyone is having fun and it is infectious. I watch for the entire two hours, taking dozens of photos. The dancers love that they are being photographed and often invite me to join them. I tell them I am too young!!!!! I love it and so does the Fabulosity Meter.

The next morning I am sitting on a bench in the park. The grinding lady above spots me and remembers me. She sits down on the bench, just a little too close, and starts talking rapidly in Spanish. I do my best to keep up. She tells me her husband is ill and throwing up all the time. She couldn’t wait to get out of the house yesterday and the dance party was just what she needed. Today she is supposed to be doing the laundry but every joint and every muscle hurts and she is having a hard time getting anything done.

Mind you, she is not complaining. She is laughing as she tells me this ………. and flirting. I am wearing shorts, and after a few minutes her hand lands on my knee.  Then her fingers start caressing my knee. She tells me that she still has some energy left and gives me the most lascivious look I have ever received from a septuagenarian.

Where is Che Guevara?

I need liberating

Welcome to Cuba




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4 Responses to The liberation of Santa Clara and me.

  1. James says:

    Another fabulous blog, each entry on your Cuban adventure, a delight to read. But, Cuba has been a challenge. Reading these as a Canadian, I have been surprised to the point of anger at what you, two, have encountered. “Angered” because, the reality of Cuba that you have seen and reported is not the Cuba we have been “sold -” unacceptable poverty, generally, and “apartheid or enclave tourism” in guarded resort areas. With endless foreign interference from the Spanish Conquest to The Monroe Doctrine, to Batista and the American mafia, then Kennedy, Russia, and the final betrayal, Castro, with impossible promises, Cubans deserve so much more. I said in an earlier blog comment that Cuba needs more Andrews and Gordons and foreign exchange – investment and tourism – which will bring regime change – the spirit is obviously there. Thank you, Andrew and Gordon. Continued safe travels and adventures.

  2. andrew says:

    Thanks James! So glad you are enjoying the blog and I totally agree with your comments. Cuba is a wonderful island and there is so much to see and enjoy. If only the US would make it more accessible there would be more people like us traveling there and more tourists would help the economy so much. But Cuba needs to realise this and make the island more accessible too.
    When you talk to the people, you find they are desperate for change and desperate for more tourism. They are so surprised to learn that we are Americans and so happy that we have made it to Cuba outside of a tour group. They are all hoping a new regime will bring better times. Let’s hope so

  3. BAZ says:

    I have to say that your hostal is in a different league to the hotel I stayed in which was in the main square and so sleazy that I couldn’t bring myself to walk barefoot in my room. And as for damp, my room was on the ninth floor and I found a frog in my bathroom! However, the dancing in the square was never to be forgotten and your blog has brought the joy and energy of that back to me. I loved your plea to Che Guevara to come and liberate you.

    • andrew says:

      Baz, we know your hotel well, but only from the outside – a 60’s monstrosity, painted a nasty shade of bright green, completely out of keeping with the square and the town. We commented on how ugly it was and wondered who on earth had built it. Little did we know the rich and famous had stayed there!

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