Food, Water and the Hotel

The Ambos Mundos Hotel was at dead center of Old Havana and close to the cruise ship docks. I generally do not tread tourist paths and would rather have been away from them after the second day. I had an outside room on the fourth floor I so did not hear the lobby piano that echoed up the airshaft and my fourth floor balcony hung over a secondary street. I heard voices and horse clops from the street during the day along with whatever construction noises came from the surrounding rehabilitation projects. At night, every restaurant had its own Cuban ensemble that played until 11 or 12, and their music rattled off the walls. I had to remind myself how fortunate I was to be able to hear it so easily. Surrounded by Cuban music. Wow. But when all I could hear was the clack, clack of the wooden claves banging out the shave-and-a-haircut rhythm, I didn’t feel so lucky. The days there were no ships in port, there was less music.

Ambos Mundos Hotel Lobby

Breakfast in the hotel was the same every day, lots of delicious local fruit, sweet oranges, pineapple and papaya, and scrambled eggs with leftovers from dinner, which worked fine for me. I did raise an eyebrow to the waiters the morning some left over chocolate cake with pink icing sat next to the usual morning offerings. Dinner was a buffet if there were a lot of people, and usually was pretty good; two hot choices and a number of cold side dishes. If fewer people were expected for dinner, the waiters offered us two choices, and one would be pork. One day, they were both pork, one being the smoked pork that was popular. It reminded me of Canadian bacon. Treating pork in that manner may have been a good idea if refrigeration was questionable though I don’t know that that was the case. The fish was the best, but only after we asked several times did it appear regularly. We heard one rumor that fish was considered food for the poor, since it was so easy to obtain, so it was the beef and pork that were offered to tourists, esteemed by the Cubans as the preferred meat.

One day on the street, I passed trucks unloading flat boxes marked, “chicken, keep frozen”. The pile was already ten deep on the hot sidewalks. A supply ship had arrived and every restaurant offered chicken that night. I trust it got eaten soon after defrosting. Within days, there was no more chicken on the menu.

One problem in Old Havana is that there was no working water system. A metal fence in the street near our hotel protects a section of the sixteenth century aqueduct. Curious tourists can look into two holes in the cobblestone street to see dry, wooden pipes used when fewer people needed to be served and buildings were shorter. Now, all water to the oldest part of the city is brought in by tanker trucks and pumped up to holding tanks on the top of the buildings. The sound of the water pumps echoes down the streets most of the day. And as someone said, you never know what might be up there in that tank with the water so keep your mouth shut while showering. We were advised to drink bottled water, readily available and used by Cubans as well.

Roof Cafe

Several times I saw a young man pulling a wheeled platform loaded with sloshing five gallon buckets of water. These were for their families living in the surrounding low rent buildings that had no tank on the roof or if there was one, they couldn’t afford to hire the pumper trucks. Someone hangs from a balcony and hauls up the water one bucket at a time for the occupants’ use. People can’t move from these places even if they could afford it because their monthly rations are tied to their address.