Under The Custard Apple Tree.


Haven't written for a week. I've been busy and discombobulated. 

Do you know how difficult it is to organise stuff here in Havana, especially with Musicians? Hmmmm?

Anyway, I'll touch on that later. Lets get back to New Years Eve in Lajas

Like I said, I rocked my self into a groggy slumber in that old rocking chair.

The first one up on this New Year 's Eve morning was Luciana, then the grandmother. Luciana made me coffee.

Then, one by one the rest of the family plopped out of their airless rooms. 

Like an army drill, like Reveille, the CD player was turned on, and at full volume with distortion, the 3 foot high speaker cabinets blasted the family and party back to life. It was on again!!! These people were unstoppable and mad. And It was only 7 a.m.

Sunlight crept into the house and highlighted a fine dust that floated through the still air inside. As the intense heat of the morning grew stronger, the morning mist outside evaporated and  gobbled up. 

I  decided to bathe again and freshen up. I felt like I hadn't slept for days, like I'd been purposely sleep deprived and tortured by unwitting, well meaning captors in conspiracy with malevolent mosquitoes and ants. I had to find a room somewhere close by or else, as I re- iterated to Yovany, I would sorrowfully have to high-tale it back to Havana with my tale between my legs. It was NYE and I didn't like my chances of finding a room or of getting back to Havana easily. I felt trapped and bothered. 

The previous night Alexis had promised to pick me up at 9 a.m, to help me find a room. At  9.10 he arrived, bright and cheerful.  He's the most punctual Cuban I've met so far. We walked into town. The Main Street was already buzzing and noisy. As we walked, Alexis would stop every couple of metres to greet people he knew and in passing, he'd ask if they knew of a "casa particular" in which I could lodge for a few nights. Half an hour later, I ( he ) scored a great "penthouse" room with running water, double bed, kitchen, lots of sunlight, windows,air and a view of the town. I now had my own patio under the shade of a Custard Apple Tree which was starting to fruit. 

For the next three nights this was home and I came and went as I pleased. The guy who owned the house was a sweet little man who's name was Angel. He lived downstairs with his wife. He gave me my keys, said that I could come and go through his house, and use the front door and that he was always there, anytime, night and day. He made me coffee in the mornings and kept things of mine in his fridge if I needed. I was set.

Alexis and I then spent the day walking around town, sat and watched life in Lajas, drank a few Rons, a few beers, talked and joked with people he knew, and I watched him hustle a bit as well. At about 3 p.m I went home and slept for a couple of hours, played my guitar and then at about 6.30 Alexis came over and we walked back to Luciana's house where the NYE party was already under way.

When Yovany saw me he was very upset and berated me and Alexis for not having told him that I was safe and sound. Actually he was more upset with Alexis. He said that I was his responsibility here in Lajas, that he had invited me and that he, his brother and father had been very worried. I apologised and said that I didn't even realise that he'd be worried and justified that, because things were so informal here in Cuba re time etc, that I assumed all was ok. After about 15 minutes of somewhat heated discussion, explanation  and reasoning between Alexis, Yovany his brother, father and my self, they calmed down and all was fine again. Yovany told me that from now on, here in his town I was answerable only to him and not to Alexis, who he said, was irresponsible. I told him that Alexis had done his very best for me and had found me a great room and not to be upset with him, that it was just an oversight.

New Year's Eve at the More House was even more consuming than the night before.

More family and friends from all over Cuba visited the house. The music, dancing, food, love and Ron just kept on flowing....

At 11p.m several of us walked into town and went to a giant, open air disco that pumped loud hip hop. The DJ stood on a large dimly lit stage. The place held about a thousand souls and it was dark. Very, very dark. Dark because there was very little light and dark because everyone was black or mulato ( light black ). The only light that actually allowed any form of relief, emanated from the bar area at the far end of the club. I don't know how anybody recognised anybody there unless they actually bumped into them. Yovany and the rest kept close to me the whole night because I was certain that I'd lose them in this Cuban human black bean. soup 

We all got hammered and danced like fools. At the stroke of midnight we hugged and kissed with brotherly affection and then drank and danced till dawn. This is how I spent the final night of 2013. Who could've guessed.

The first day of the year I got up late but surprisingly spritely. I had breakfast in town..the usual, coffee and Pan con Tortilla. Alexis met up with me, we walked around town looking for a place to buy a new memory card for my camera. No luck. Of course, most businesses were shut. We rocked round to the house at about 6 p.m and guess what? The party was on again. Most likely at had never stopped. Even from the end of the dirt road I could discern the music coming from the More house. As we entered the house everyone, including all the children and teenagers came to hug and kiss me and shake my hand and high five me "happy new year".

Needless to say, the celebrations careered into the night and onto the next morning.

The menu didn't change. Pork, rice, beans and salad and Ron Ron, Ron.

The next day Yovany,Juan Carlos, Yordalis, his wife Adeles, their 1 year old, Yovalandy and I took a trip to the main city of Cienfuegos to sight see. We left Lajas at about 10a.m in a gorgeous, old, violet Oldsmobile from 1954. 

Adeles helped me look for a memory card in Cienfuegos, but they only had cards of 8 gigs and I needed a larger card.

We didn't sight see much, but I got a feel for the place. Unlike old Havana, it was quite clean and organised. The people of Cienfuegos are considered snobs by the rest of the country. I didn't get a sense of that in my short time there. Everyone I met were simpatico.

We spent most of the day very relaxed, sitting in a beer garden, drinking, eating, laughing and dancing. At 4p.m we left because Yovalandy wanted to take us to his family farmhouse  on the outskirts of Cienfuegos. I now forget the name of the pueblo. I took photos of us around the statue of Benny More on the Prado.

After a bit of haggling with the driver of a rickety old Audi we piled in and drove to to the farm. On the way there, as we merrily drove by fields of cane and cows, a dog ran out in front of the car. It's owners, an old man and a young boy looked on in horror. The driver tried to break and swerve, and just as we all thought that we were clear of the dog, it confusedly decided to turn and run in the opposite direction. 

We ran it over. The sound of the bump and crunch was sickening and sad. Yovany told the driver to keep going, not to stop, and that there was nothing we could now do. We drove on in silence and some shame. But it was an accident, and not our fault.

When we arrived at the farm giant, generous, and jolly Eloy, Yovalandy's father, was there tour great us. So was his his handsome brother Miguel. Eloy was so happy to see me and gave me an enormous bear hug. He'd just come back from working in his fields all day. He wore a farmer's hat of straw.. He was sweaty and covered in dirt, but he was vibrant and radiating a vigorous energetic happiness. 

His yard was filled with old farm machinery. An old horse stood zombie-like, munching at a tuft of grass amidst the muddy surrounds. An excited dog ran around wagging it's tail in delight.  We all hugged and kissed again and he asked his wife to make me something to eat. Pork, beans and rice in a beautiful oily sauce. It was freaking delicious. The bottle of Ron came out. I ate with gusto. The bottle was passed around. Such hospitality is hard to find in our world today. Here in Cuba it's in their blood.

Eloy's teenage daughter was learning double bass at school, and so she brought it out, Eloy brought out his Tres and it was all on again. We all sang, played and danced for about an hour. The tired sun was setting now and a splendid crimson halo surrounded us.

The driver of our car had been waiting all this time and it was time to leave. So we began to say our goodbyes. Yovany was now very wasted. And we all waited for another 15 mins for him to finally get in the car. Goodbyes are lengthy ordeals and hard here in Cuba. People find it hard to tear away from loved ones.

We finally got away. We arrived back at the house in Lajas at about 7p.m and I said my goodbyes to Luciana and the rest of the family. I told them that I was now going home to sleep because I was leaving the next morning and I needed to sleep. No more partying for me. Yovany, Juan Carlos and Hendry, his father would come and get me in the morning, early. 

Luciana looked me in the eyes, held my hands tightly and said " Georgito, when you come back to Cuba this year, come back here, and this time promise me you won't leave so soon. Next time stay for ten days."

 I promised I would try but secretly wondered whether I could handle that.

It was an emotional goodbye. As Yovany, Juan Carlos, Yovalandy  and Yordalis escorted me me back to my room we bumped into a lot of people, more old friends and family. One of these was Jose, an old handsome man of 74, who used to be a skin diver. He reminded me of my father Dan who used to get under my skin a lot. Upon being introduced to him he took my face in his hands, wished me a happy and healthy new yearand kissed each of my cheeks. Then he blessed me with the sign of the cross upon my forehead and whispered into my ear that I was special and that I had the grace of Jesus.

He made me cry. Juan Carlos looked on in dismay as I my eyes welled with tears and then turned to Yordalis, and said  " look at Georgito, I've never seen him like this".

We kept on walking.

I arranged for Yovany to collect me a 7.30 the following morning. That night at about 1a.m I  was awoken by the sound of little pebbles hitting my bedroom windows. I could here the deep voice of someone calling out my name, over and over. At first I thought I was dreaming it all. When I finally got up to peer outside, I saw Yovany and his brother standing in the street below. I wrapped my sarong around me and sleepily went downstairs to the backyard to speak to them through the iron gate. They then informed me that they'd be coming to get me at 6a.m sharp and to be all ready to leave at six. 6am.m sharp.? Was there such a thing as " sharp " in this timeless land? Ok,  so I'd have to get up at 5a.m in order to shower, dress and pack. 

I went back upstairs to sleep. I set the alarm on my iPhone.

At 5a.m I awoke. At 5.30 a.m I was ready and had awakened Angel. He made me my coffee.I paid him for the Three nights 

At 6.m....no Yovany. I waited on my patio, under the Custard Apple tree. At 6.30a.m...no Yovany. The sun was now rising and the silhouette of the town looked pretty. People were starting to walk to work. The cocks were crowing to eachother in relay, all over town.

I waited under the Custard Apple tree some more. At 6.45a.m...Yovany and his brother arrived. We walked to the bus stop, about a kilometre away, where Hendry waited for us. We waited for the Camion, ( the truck/ bus ). It arrived at 7.30. We piled in and off we went.

The trip back to Havana in one of these Camions is no lovely excursion. It's nothing like a luxury Cuban Trans Tour or  Greyhound bus. It's a bus where you sit, on long steel benches. If you're one of the first 70 people on the bus, you're one of the lucky ones who gets a seat. Otherwise you stand. It was a rocky ride that took 5 and a half hours to finally reach The terminal in Havana with only one pee stop. 

That day was cold and rainy. I couldn't believe that I was in Cuba. It was actually cold!

Because the bus had  only large open slats to look out from, and no closeable windows as such, I froze for the entire trip. And my arse was sore. The bus was full for most of the ride, with about 90 people, rocking and rolling on this hell trip. Thank god, it's the closest I'll ever get to riding in one of those trucks that carry sheep to slaughter. Hendry got off a stop early and I didn't notice so I didn't have a chance to say goodbye and thank you.

I arrived in Havana, cold, thirsty, hungry and exhausted. When I'd asked Yovany if the terminal was close to my house and if was a walkable distance he had said "YES..VERY CLOSE".  I was losing my patience which in Cuba is a very important asset. It wasn't and I was losing my patience, which in Cuba is a very important asset. So we hailed a Taxi...and I got ripped off by the driver but....I was back home, in my room, cosy and warm at Neida's house. I couldn't wait for a nice hot shower.

I said goodbye to Yovany and his brother and told them to give my love to Hendry.

Now to organise and work with Cuban musicians.....heaven and hell.

Nothing is lost here in Cuba except perhaps Time.!

But I'm having the time of my life!