We knocked at the tall wooden doors at number 28 in Central Havana. The street was dark, really dark. All the other streets were too. No one answered so we rang the bell. Our driver made noises, he didn't speak any English and I could tell he wondered if we knew where we were suppose to be. I showed him the phone number, he called the house and finally Luisa opened the door- unfortunately we could tell she was not expecting us. Her husband Luis came and spoke to us, I showed him our name on his reservation book and we figured out he had mistakenly expected us the next night.
"It's no problem!" We would hear this over and over again. People here seem to expect the unexpected and just deal with it.
Cubans are allowed to rent out rooms in their house to tourists in order to make money if they get the proper license and pay special taxes. Luis handed each of us each a plastic drinking cup, poured us a glass of Havana Club and invited us to sit in the living room while they made up our room. We were to pay $25 per night and would be living in the family's home for 8 days. For $4 each we could have breakfast in the morning.
Ice in hand we headed back to the casa around 3:30- fashionably late even in a 3rd world country. Luis and Luisa greeted us, graciously took the rum and made room in the freezer for our ice. The house was full of friends and relatives, the courtyard decorated with balloons and streamers. There was a huge table loaded with homemade tamales, croquettes, potato salad, rice, beans and roasted pork! The leg from last night was now center stage at the party. Luisa served us up on large Styrofoam trays like you find under your supermarket poultry and meat. You could tell they were very proud to be able to provide all this.
As Dayne mixed up martini's for everyone, Luis passed out plastic drinking cups and I passed out ginger snap cookies that my mother in law had sent along for us. The cookies were good and gobbled up but the gin martini's were a BIG hit! From then on out every day we came home from sightseeing Luis would call out "Dayne, my friend! Is it time for martini's?"
Everyone at the party was having a blast drinking and dancing. One of Luis' friends gave both Forest and me a salsa lesson and as the day turned to night everyone did the Electric Slide! We felt really lucky to be invited to see such a "real" slice of Cuban life (the other renters in the house were not invited).
Since we do have a tradition of having aperos before going out at night while on vacation and we knew that snack foods were going to be scarce we all packed some things and brought them with us. We purchased a set of 6 glasses (real glass!) for $5 (quite a splurge for your average Cuban) and each night as Dayne mixed gin, French vermouth and bitters Forest and I laid out snacks that we found in town or in our suitcases - pepperoni sticks, canned almonds, Goldfish crackers, Pringles, cheese & crackers, etc. We invited Luis and Luisa to join us and we chatted about the day, their life, happenings in the neighborhood, etc.
On New Years eve we gathered as usual and invited the family to share champagne with us. Our friends Matt & Violaine had brought a few bottles of Veuve Clicquot (as well as plastic champagne flutes) and I had brought a California sparkling from J Vineyards. Luisa especially enjoyed the champagne and was asking me about the different bottles. I'll bet these are on display in their house now.
And finally on our last night at Casa Luis and Luisa we came home from our daily outings to find the family in the kitchen, singing to songs being played on the computer and drinking beers out of the plastic flutes we had left them after new years eve. Immediately they hugged and kissed us, handed us cold beers and introduced us to their friend who was visiting from Canada, he was also Cuban. We all laughed at the mix of Cuban, French and American that stood in the kitchen.
When we checked out we gave them the glasses we had bought, Tupperware we had brought, a bag of things like Advil, toothpaste, toothbrushes, crayons, newspapers, etc. I would be lying if I said I didn't feel a bit sad as I hugged them both goodbye. They are very nice people.
Salud to you Luis, Luisa and your family! Thanks for letting us into your home and into your lives, even if it was just for a week. And if you ever get the chance to have Luisa's homemade tamales you will count yourself lucky as they were so good Forest and I talked about them the entire time in Havana.