Krizia Bajos

Return to Roots - May 23

Holy crap. We just came back from a mini catamaran ride in ocean that looks like pool water. So many beautiful little fish came over to us and surrounded us as we fed them bread. It reminded me of the times I spent with Belo in Puerto Rico, feeding the silver fish on a yellow raft. They pecked on our fingers, it was so cute. We swam like crazy and had a professional photographer come by halfway in and take great underwater photos of us. We had to meet him at 5 pm at the casa. Now we're off to the beach party. What a great start to the day already!

I finally look more Cuban with this tan directly from Varadero! The beach party was almost two hours late, and although the music wasn't exciting, (it wasn't Cuban music) it was entertaining to people watch. 

We got back to our casa a little before 5pm to meet with the photographer of the excursion from this morning. We ate again at Super Machi but they ran out of Pollo al Carbon and Pierna Asada. It was crazy busy today. The pictures came out great, it looks like we were photoshopped in. After we left, we stuck around our casita, enjoying the lush breeze in the patio directly in front of our room. J figured we could call Miami from the phone Estrella lent us so he called his parents and then I spoke to them. They can't wait to see pictures and hear stories. Next, we called Aramisito and he was hilarious as usual. He told us that they would be by to pick us up tomorrow around noon/1pm. We told them we miss them and he said 'te queremos mucho' - so sweet. After that call, I called Abi and Belo and they thought I was calling them from Miami, when they heard I was still in Cuba it's like they couldn't contain themselves with questions and comments. I said we were in Varadero now and they mentioned they had a house here and if we could check it out. Calle 33 y Avenida de la Playa - Casa Balerdi. So after hanging up with them we went straight there. Hopped in an Almendron and got dropped off right before the intersection. We took pictures of all 4 corners in case something looked familiar to them. The sun was starting to set and the sky looked magical with pinks and purples all over. It was breathtaking. We decided to walk back to our casa (calle 17) on the beach. I'm so glad we did. It was beautiful to walk along the shore, chasing the sunset. You couldn't take a bad picture with this backdrop. Also, you could walk way past the shore in the water and the sea level barely reached your knee. That was awesome, it's like walking on water. Plus, it was so warm and the air was breezy. I could have walked for miles. The sun finally went mimise and before we knew it, we were back on our street. As I looked up shore, I was saddened at the amount of garbage left from the party earlier before. It took me back a bit, I had never seen so many bottles and cans and crap sprawled all over paradise like that. I wanted to badly to find garbage bags and start cleaning but I did see people start to clean them up and I hope they start putting more garbage cans around so a beautiful place like this doesn't get ruined by inconsiderate jerks. 

We again ate at Salsa Suarez and called it a night shortly after. I had to take 2 benadryl to calm my itching feet who had been mauled by tiny mosquitos - or gegens (sp?)

Out like a light. 

Return to Roots - May 19

May 19 2015

Woke up pretty late. It was a long, full day yesterday, and I'm a sleeper... need my 8 hours! I did forget to mention being in Tito and Grisel's house yesterday. They were very excited to show it and also lots of pictures on their computer. Pictures of their beach vacations from all parts of Cuba. I noticed that they had a lot of knick-knacks. Alicia and Raul's place had those too. Little items scattered all over the house. I guess when you don't have much you save everything. It was interesting to me. 

We're back in Tito's car after treasure hunting. We were able to go into my grandfather's first house on San Carlos St and my Tio Juanito's house next door. We found them after asking many locals for directions. The entire neighborhood was... heart wrenching. These were huge beautiful homes, sometimes mansions, that were forgotten for decades. We found #14 and #16. My grandfather's place (#14) was locked but #16 (Tio Juanito) had inhabitants. Miguel came out, we explained our cause and they graciously let us in. They being the house owner, Dora, a sweet, very old lady, whose 93 year-old husband lay dying on the couch in another room. She said he was by her side all her life so how could she abandon him now. I cried. Miguel and Dora showed us the entire home. They showed us the original parts and the modifications. There was an incredible rooftop area where we saw the entire Havana. They restored it as much as possible but most was original marble and other materials. They created rooms in several parts of the house to rent them out. Dora and Miguel treated us like family. She said "Aqui tienes familia y no me llores" ((You will always have family here, and don't cry anymore)) I loved that. As we were leaving and taking pictures of Belo's house, a man came out. A bit more reserved but he let us take pictures of his place too. It must have been so beautiful back in the day. Huge marble columns and original tiled floor. After that, we went to the house in Nuevo Vedado. This is where my Mom and Tivivi lived and the last house they all had as a family before finally leaving Cuba. Again, we hit the jackpot and a sweet girl came out named Maria Carla, and she opened her home to us. I explained why we were there and she happily showed us around. We really hit the lottery. No way would people open their homes like this in the US.

Hotel Nacional. Basically what Cuba was 50 years ago. Abi and Belo would stay there for sure. Absolutely beautiful but not real Cuba. Great drinks. 

4am again. We were talking en la sala with Estrella and Aramisito after coming back from a jazz outing at the Jazz Cafe. Great freaking band yet again. So after Hotel Nacional we went to grab a bite at Rum Rum* in Old Havana. Great Ropa Vieja, run by a guy Tito and Grisel knew named Morro. Awesome dude. We walked back to the car where I saw an epic beard, finally! It was long and white and his mouth inhabited the biggest cigar I've seen yet. I had to have him take a picture with Jay, so we have documentation of that. Afterwards, we visited Aramis and Tito's mom and dad. She hadn't seen Jay since he was a baby. They were very sweet. Their dad is a famous author (Arnaldo Correa)  and he gave us a packet he wrote explaining one of his books. He showed us some of his published copies. Impressive stuff, he was so full of energy in wanting us to hear about them and his mark on the world. She gave us a partying gift, two mugs with Cuban art on them. So sweet. Claudia was there too, and she had one of her prints (she loves photography) rolled up and she dedicated one of them for us to take back home. I just loved all of that. Memories to cherish for years. Family is so important and everyone has their story to tell. From there, we ventured to my grandfather Bito's house. Where my Dad was born and where they all lived until shortly after the Revolution. This was really cool because my family was still there! Enrique Iñigo Bajos lives there with his family. I called him to alert him that I was coming and off I went. They were so awesome and inviting. Actually, I would use those adjectives to describe almost everyone so far. This guy definitely looked like he belongs in my Dad's family. He looked like his younger brother! He showed us around along with his lovely wife, Anais and his daughter, Amanda. We sat for hours trying to understand our family tree while looking at older pictures and finding Tita and Bito's faces in some of them. Anais made us lemonade while Amanda kept trying to get our attention. Enrique loves racquetball- so does my Dad! Tennis too. It was so cool to actually share with family I had no idea I had in Cuba until a couple of weeks ago. Blows my mind. I can't wait to show my Dad and aunts, and hopefully Tita can understand a little. 

Aramis made us delicious lobster dinner tonight. This family is so hospitable. So genuine and giving and honest and loving... just because. It's really refreshing. I wish we had a longer trip here. 

 

** Rum Rum Cafe: Calle Empedrado No. 256 Entre Cuba y Aguiar, Havana 10100, Cuba

Return to Roots - May 17

May 17 2015

I can't believe we're actually going to Cuba. I'm on the plane now and we're preparing to land. It still doesn't feel real. Today was an emotional day. I can't fully comprehend why I feel the way I do. The only way I can describe it is: my Roots. My history that always felt like it was stuck in a dusty book, is finally coming alive! Abi and Belo came to the airport to send us off with a map of their homes and the place where they first met and I left them with several tears shared. I felt... so overwhelmed with whatever they were feeling. They said they longed to go with me and wished they could share this experience together. That makes my heart ache. Even writing this, gives me a runny nose and wet eyes/ I just looked out the window and there it is!

((Insert from Jay)) We just landed. The entire plane clapped. I expected nothing less.

Return to Roots - Prep for the Journey

Since Cuba is not a trip you can plan as easily as say, Hawaii, there are steps that you need to take to obtain a ticket and visa, you also need to know certain rules to enter/exit this mysterious island. 

Ticket and Visa: I used the Travel Agency DMC/ Destination Management Consultants and dealt with Sheyla Diaz, a very helpful agent based in Miami, FL. Contact Info: 1850 SW 8th Street, Suite 204-A, Miami, FL 33135 // 305.443.0417 // sheyla@dmcandtravel.com. We flew through Marazul Charter which are either American Airlines, Delta, or JetBlue planes. I paid $400 round trip and Marazul includes the exit tax ($25) in that price.

Should your charter not include the exit tax, please keep 25 CUC handy at the end of your stay so you can leave the island! Also, cash is the only method of payment in Cuba, no credit cards, travelers checks, or anything else is accepted there. 

Our Tourist Visa was $95 a person. We used the addresses of family members and were not asked anything else. If you don't have family there, just ask Sheyla which would be your best option. Like I said, she was very helpful. 

Tips: Your phone will not work over there. There is only wifi in the hotels, should you stay in one (I highly recommend staying at a Casa Particular, more on those below). You're able to rent one through DMC but I loved being off the grid for a week.

Bring medications (prescriptions and over the counter), sunscreen, hair products and anything else you may need as these items are difficult to find there and you don't want to waste time trying to find them.

I recommend rummaging through your closet and packing clothes that you may not have worn in a while and don't mind leaving to the beautiful people there. I brought outfits and shoes that I knew I could easily part with at the end of my stay. Even if you don't have family in Cuba, there is always someone who will know what to do with that thoughtful care package. Clothes and shoes are not easy to find or cheap for them, so this is something special you can leave behind as a token of gratitude.

Casa Particular: My intention for this trip was to see Cuba from the realest POV possible, and that would definitely omit staying in a hotel. Casas Particulares are plentiful in Cuba. We stayed with family in Havana but in Varadero we secured a wonderful little Casa for three days. Roberto & Martha's home was a 1 minute walk from the legendary beach, a short stroll to local Artisanal shops, and a quick taxi/Almendron/horse carriage ride to plenty of delicious restaurants. Roberto charge 30 CUC a night because we were in an off peak time. it's 35 CUC if you're there during the peak months. Contact information: Street 17 #102A, 1st and 2nd Ave, Varadero, Cuba. // +53.45.612958 mobile +53.52.775806 contact@bbinnvinales.com

Bonus: If you also have Cuban roots, I highly recommend trying to locate the homes of your family. My grandfather made a map for me before I left and he circled the home where he grew up and lived until he was 17. He also showed me the home where my mother and aunt lived until they fled Cuba in 1961. He asked me to take pictures of them if I could. My aunt on my dad's side gave me the address where we have a cousin I never met. He still lives in the home where my dad was born and most of his family lived. These were very special landmarks for me and created a powerful adventure which I detailed in my travel diary.