Varadero isn’t Cuba,” countless people told us. It’s just for tourists. You can’t see the real Cuba there. When we got to Havana I had to agree. Havana seemed like a different world from the famous beaches, performances, and posh hotels catering to foreigners of the lauded beach town.
But when we left Havana it was the same. Everyone told us Havana wasn’t the real Cuba. So what is the real Cuba? Cuba isn’t one country. Every city and place I visited was completely different from every other place. Havana: the post-apocalyptic Cartagena and most photogenic city I have ever visited. But less than an hour away, the sleepy little town of Jaimanitas, is ideologically a world apart.
Cien Fuegos: a charming well-ordered town with a Peruvian feel to its downtown. On the Southern coast, it was never built up for the visiting American jetsetters in the 40s and 50s so it doesn’t have the feel of an abandoned once-great city. No, everything is clean and seems like it runs quite well. Well, most things. Internet access and the marina not having a shower were the two things that really hurt. Internet access may be painfully slow and expensive in Havana and Varadero but it is possible. It wasn’t even possible at the posh hotels in Cien Fuegos when I visited. Like stepping back in time.
Speaking of stepping back in time, about an hour’s drive from Cien Fuegos lies Trinidad, Cuba’s oldest city and a UNESCO world heritage site. Weavers, artists, and other artisans with purses made out of coke can tops and every other recycled product set up their stalls along the narrow cobblestone streets. Trinidad is a tourist trap, but the history, culture and the feel of the place make it delightful anyway.
Trinidad was charming, but I was almost more surprised by the countryside. It is something entirely different entirely. Truly like stepping back in time. People ride horses, use oxen to pull carts. More often than not the buses are wagons drawn by horses. Men cut down high grass with sickles on the roadside. This wasn’t going back to the 50s. This was going back several centuries.
The Cuban government doesn’t want tourists visiting the countryside. Well, to be fair it isn’t really geared towards tourism. Buses don’t go there, there aren’t tourist accommodations in the smaller towns. My visit to a home in the country was a trip to a yachtie’s boxing instructor’s house. I visited a yachtie’s boxing instructor’s home. unfinished cinderblock home reminded me of some of the country homes I had seen in Zambia. Nothing that I had seen in my travels in South America, but the house was according to the yachtie, far and away nicer than what it had been just a few months before. He had built it himself and was inexorably proud of the place. Surrounded by banana trees, it was nice that he had fresh fruit so close.
The country life, according to an expat yachtie, who had lived at Marina Hemmingway on and off for 7 years, was the real Cuba. The Cuba that tourists didn’t see. But I am not sure that I could define any one part of Cuba I saw as the real Cuba. Everywhere is so incredibly different from everywhere else. I would love to see more of the countryside, to visit the tobacco plantations, and explore the mountains. Maybe even discover the “real” Cuba. There is always next time.
Not that salmon has much to do with Cuba, other than that I made this delicious dish while Umineko was in a marina in Cuba with frozen fillets we had bought in the United States. To be perfectly honest I didn’t even see salmon on a menu while I was there, but this dish is too tasty not to put up.
Sloop Soba Salmon
- 1 T ginger paste
- 2 Cloves garlic, minced
- ⅓ c mirin
- ⅓ soy
- 2 T sake
- 2 T sugar
- 1 T sesame oil
- 4 salmon fillets
- 400 g soba
- Boil soba about 5 minutes
- Drain and run cold water to stop cooking, set aside
- Mix sake, soy, sugar, and ginger paste in small bowl stirring until sugar is dissolved, set aside
- Fry garlic in sesame oil in large skillet about 3 min over med heat
- Cook salmon fillets in oil, 2 minutes per side, just enough to brown
- Place salmon on plate
- Pour sauce into skillet and cook until mixture comes to a boil and starts to thicken
- Return salmon to pan and cook 2 minutes more on each side, sauce will reduce to glaze
- Serve over soba noodles