Sunday, 10 May 2015
On Sunday we began the day with a self-guided walk to El Cafetal Buena Vista. Built in 1801 by French refugees from Haiti, this is reputed to be the oldest coffee plantation in Cuba. The walk from Hotel Moka was 5 km in each direction. We were on the road by 8 a.m. to beat the worst of the heat.
The walk was pleasant and scenic, and the sky was overcast on the way there. Nevertheless I was dripping with sweat by the time we had ascended the steep hill on the approach to the coffee plantation. There was a beautifully restored stone house with various trappings of 19th-century French coffee plantations, including terraces for drying coffee, a vast timber grindstone, and the ruins of quarters that once housed 126 slaves.
We had a cool drink before descending the hill. It was somewhat sunnier and therefore hotter on our return to the hotel. When we arrived, we packed up our luggage and asked the staff to store it until 4 p.m. when our taxi was due. We had booked a ride with Señor Rosada, the friendly driver who had ferried us to and from the village of San Juan. We planned to travel from Las Terrazas to José Marti International Airport to meet our daughter Clare, who had recently finished a semester as an exchange student in the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Miami.
We went to a local café that served excellent locally-grown coffee, and then sat on a bench outside and observed the antics of the local chooks and dogs. For lunch, we had a Cuban sandwich in the bar Dos Hermanos. At about 3 p.m. the heavens opened and a tropical storm blasted through the hotel lobby. The staff at reception scrambled as receipts flew around like confetti and furniture was drenched. In a brief lull we transferred our bags to the taxi stand, hoping that Señor Rosada would keep to his agreement despite the storm. He appeared right on time.
For the first half of the drive back towards Havana, the taxi ploughed through torrential rain. When it eased off, the sky transformed itself into spectacular cloudscapes. We took our leave of Señor Rosada at the arrivals terminal. Clare’s plane had apparently landed. Unbeknownst to us, she had been spot-checked for health insurance and forced to purchase a policy as a condition of entry into Cuba. This was a stressful experience for her because she did not have enough money to pay for the policy. It was also unnecessary because she was covered by our travel insurance. The officials accepted what payment she could make and gave her a certificate and let her through.
There was a teary but joyful reunion in the lobby at the arrivals terminal. We had not seen Clare since she departed Sydney in January . Due to the ongoing standoff between the USA and Cuba, it was impossible to travel directly from Miami to Cuba; so Clare had flown to Cancún in Mexico and then on to Havana.
We caught a taxi back into Havana with Susie and Clare talking at 1000 words per minute in the back seat. We arrived back at casa Alberto y Melba, but getting inside the building posed a challenge. We were locked out and we were besieged by jineteros. Eventually we got behind the brown metal door and met Alberto in the lobby. He took us upstairs. After the introductions we went for a walk along the Malecón to the mouth of the harbour, where Clare got her first glimpse of the old city. We chatted briefly with some fishermen and then headed to Prado 12 for a mojito.
After soaking up some rum and atmosphere we headed into the Old City and located the Plaza de Catedral. We were again unsuccessful in our attempt to secure a table at paladar Doña Eutemia, but we booked a table for Susie’s birthday the following day at 12:30 p.m. We settled for the restaurant outside the cathedral where we had eaten with Glynis and Johnny. The food was okay and the service adequate if desultory; but the atmosphere and the view of the cathedral next door more than made up for these shortcomings.
The best part of the day was catching up with Clare. We had five months to fill in. Her semester as an exchange student in Miami had been a great experience for her. She did not seem changed in any obvious way—she was still her lovely, affable self; but the wheels of independence had clearly turned. As she spoke of her plans to move out of home in 2016, I tried not to wince. It’s hard to imagine living without her after 20 years of her serene presence in our daily life.
We walked back to casa Alberto y Melba the usual way: up Obispo, across Parque Central, then along Neptuno, dodging taxis and toxic looking puddles. We all turned in soon as we got back, shortly after midnight.