Three weeks ago we were leaving Cuba after this little adventure. It was our second visit, having explored the ‘top’ end last year I was quite smitten, and wanted to see more. Below is a tale of our trip to the other end which proved quite challenging as catching a bus in Cuba is complicated but it’s like a distant memory in the shadow of what’s going on in the world today
Although the Cubans are really struggling at this time – one tanker of oil is delivered every fifteen days from Russia for the entire population of more than eleven million – it was the country that accepted the ‘coronavirus cruise ship’ which had been refused entry by other Caribbean countries. The passengers were given medical care where appropriate and then flown home. It’s an extraordinary country, crippled by sanctions but perhaps compassion comes easier when people are used to having less? Perhaps that’s what we all have to gain whilst the world on pause. I’m fascinated by this country which survives on so little yet has so much – education and medical care for everyone, enough to eat (even though it’s no culinary hotspot) and most importantly time for each other .
So here’s where I was last month!
Baracoa, in Guantanamo province, is the oldest and most remote town in Cuba. At the very easterly tip of the country it’s the most Irish of Cuban towns. Add on twenty degrees and you could be home. The weather changes constantly, clouds rolling in dumping rain, the wind from the sea and then sunshine- you never know what you’re going to get. This of course means that it is green. Very green, lush with vegetation and jungle.
We travelled there from Santiago de Cuba crawling along on a bus that winds up and down the densely wooded mountains on a concrete seamed road. It’s the kind of ride where the gears grind and you know that you are doomed if the brakes fail as the bus climbs higher and higher and the jungle turns to Pine trees.
The bus arrives at a tiny bus station beside the bluest sea with the town stretching back a few blocks all higgeldy piggeldy, it’s still recovering from Hurricane Mathew which made a good attempt at levelling the town. The houses are single storey and colourful with the obligatory verandas where families sit and everyone shouts and laughs with the neighbours.
In the centre of the town is the Plaza Independencia with a church on one end, the post office, telephone centre and bars all around the tree shaded centre where the benches are full of people trying to get an Internet connection and there is music and dancing at night.
The fridges in the bars are empty bar water and rum. The embargoes are really hitting this small town perhaps because it the last on the delivery route but the rum is good and there’s ice for the mojitos.
We stayed in a casa particulare, a Cuban bed and breakfast which is the best bet for breakfast and dinner. Our host Leonardo let me into his kitchen so that I could watch him prepare this dish for our dinner.
It’s a traditional recipe from Baracoa, a ‘Lechita’ which is fish cooked in a coconut sauce. He made the coconut milk from fresh coconuts and cooked the fish for one hour in the sauce which had me pretty horrified as that’s a long time to cook fish. It tasted fine but the texture became a bit like meat. Personally I’d cook the fish for far less time but that is optional. One of the ingredients is achiote, which is the ground up seeds from an indigenous plant that grows in Cuba and Mexico. It gives colour and a little earthy taste.
Lechita de Pescado
1 can coconut milk + half can water
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped