Happy New Year: breakfast treats from Cuba

I greeted the new year at the other side of the world – in the beautiful town of Trinidad, Cuba. I sent off the old one and embraced the new one in a very special place. So as a “Happy New Year”, Menada’s way, I packed some of the sunshine in my camera and brought it back to The Hague.

And I brought back breakfasts! Why? Because we always stayed in the so-called “casas particulares”, privately-owned homes that rent out rooms to travellers (in our case via Airbnb), and so we took advantage of the home-made breakfasts everywhere we went. A few snapshots of what winter looks like on this Caribbean island.

First stop, Havana. And a beautiful rooftop terrace from which to greet the sun and to indulge in morning rituals.

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Everywhere we had breakfast, we had plenty of fruit. Now, most of it I know, pineapple, bananas, papaya (though, it might have been the first time I tasted it).

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But the guava was for me absolutely new. This pink-meat, seedy fruit was everywhere. But we did not become friends. For me it had a strange, bitter taste that I just could not get used to. The smell did not help much, either.

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My friend Vesela did actually like it so it was our companion throughout the trip. In fact, we would start to trade – my guavas and some of my pineapple, for her bread or scrambled eggs.

Our next stop was Cienfuegos, on the southern coast. After an exhausting (and full of exhaust fumes, for that matter) 5-hour journey through the countryside, with our luggages on top of a “taxi collectivo”, together with those of another six people, we arrived in the most beautiful house and the best casa particular of our trip.

We had our own patio where breakfast would be served every morning by our gracious host.

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Coffee was never late to arrive and each morning we were treated with a refill – always brought in thermos cans, always fresh.

Here we had the best breakfast, too. And some oranges as well. Every morning, the fruits would be arranged in a different way. On the last morning before we left, the fruity face came sad… how very sweet.

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Cienfuegos had been badly hit by hurricane Irma. And it was winter. And there was a cap on the price of produce at the market. So it was extremely difficult to find much fruit, let alone vegetables. I will never forget having to buy contraband pineapples and green peppers from obscure women in run-down, almost entirely empty market halls (the only exception being onions and yucca root, also known as cassava). Thankfully, our host made the rounds of the black market on our second day and found enough fruit for the duration of our stay (my friend is allergic to gluten and dairy so it was really necessary).

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Here our eggs were boiled and delicious! And we also had ham and cheese. And warm fresh milk! Guess what…

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I had hot milk cocoa and cake for dessert! This milk… it smelled like the milk from our childhood. And actually had taste. Later on, we would see people on the street carrying those same sealed see-through plastic bags with milk that our parents were buying in the 90s. To say this was like time-travel is an understatement. We peeked into the life of our own parents back in the socialist/communist days. But even if there was very little, there was real milk!

Next stop, our beloved Trinidad. Here we were welcomed warmly and immediately invited to a new year’s eve celebration with the whole family – the abuela (our host Teresa), her three daughters with partners, and their children. These people prepared wonderfully, shared their table and food with us (total strangers), danced with us under Cuban rhythms, right in the middle of the living room, and gave us a glimpse of how their country works. And I am forever grateful for this.

The breakfast was pretty good, too. But what made it great, was the setting. Another rooftop terrace, but just for us. And Havana Club rum! No… not for breakfast at least. 🙂

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The coffee was especially strong here. My stomach rebelled against it. And I listened.

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The sandwiches were toasted and made for a good snack later on at the beach. Don’t let me get started on the beaches there…

Here it is, our morning ritual in its full glory.

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Cuba was nothing like I ever imagined. It was so much more and in so many ways. It triggered a whole spectrum of emotions and thoughts. If people ask me now if I liked it, I can never say it was perfect, or fantastic, or wonderful. But it was truly impressive, educational and most certainly unforgettable.

***

In Trinidad, I asked our hosts, “What should I tell my students about Cuba when I go back?”

“What you feel,” they said.

Feliz año nuevo, amigos!

 

 

 


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