26 March 2011 | Santa Lucia
Beth / 90's
We were up bright and early to go to the Saturday market in Santa Lucia. We had been told by Suncast and Talisa, and also by the doctor that it was a must see, and it was. I think we were the only foreigners there that day, and I know we had the only car parked along the road by the market square - all the rest of the spaces were taken up by horses and carts. What a culture difference!
Jackie and I got into the swing of things quickly - buying rustic woven market baskets first thing - for about 35 pesos. (Everything was in national pesos here - it was a local market). There were trucks and carts and tables loaded with vegetables of all kinds. We saw two men refilling butane lighters, and bought coffee from a woman pouring the dark liquid from an old fashioned kettle into glasses. It cost about a peso per inch. There are virtually no takeaway containers here. People stand at the counters using glasses that are washed and used again, or else they bring pop or water bottles to fill. Food is served on a bit of paper or a napkin if you are lucky. (We learned to carry not only toilet paper in our pockets but also paper towels or kleenex, and a bottle of hand sanitizer wasn't a bad idea either.) We ate more of those delicious little pork buns too. The man cut generous slices from the roast on his table, cut open the white rolls and laid in the pork, sprinkled it with salt and pepper and handed it over. Yum!
Despite knowing I was going on a road trip the next day, I couldn't resist buying a few things. A bowl full of green peppers that were wonderfully crisp, tomatoes - some ripe and ready to eat, and some that would ripen while we were away, a big bunch of beets - all for a few pesos. Dr. Rolando had told us that the market is a good place for Cubans to buy their food, and I can see why. It is not only much fresher - just like at the markets at home - but (unlike at most of our markets) much cheaper too. There were peppers of many sizes and colours, onions, garlic, yucca, cassava, and another similar looking root that I never did figure out. Eggs were sold in flats of 30. Plantains and bananas were available in abundance, along with pineapples and papayas.
The meat tables were something to behold. A long line of butchers stood with their machetes flying - chopping up roasts and chops. Pork and chicken are standard. Beef is not available to Cubans - it is reserved for high end tourist restaurants (and we had only one taste of beef all the time we were there - in Camiguey as a chef’s special). The ever present stray dogs wandered around under the tables hoping for scraps and were shooed away by the vendors when they got too close.
A display of fresh flowers and beautiful garden plants was doing a brisk business. I wished I had room for a pot of flowers on Madcap - but that was purely wishful thinking.
We got there about 7:30 (an hour later would have been early enough) and were ready to leave when we spotted a band setting up on a nearby stage so of course we waited. Soon enough, the sounds of son Cubana - the most frequently heard music around here - swelled out over the field and we listened for a while before heading back to the car.
We changed some CUC's into pesos at the cadeca nearby (40 CUC worth seemed to give us lots for the next couple of weeks) and, at the stand across the street, tried a drink of sugar cane juice mixed with yucca. Hmmm .... interesting ... but once was enough. It was bright green and tasted sweet and grassy. The stand was doing a brisk business, but I had to discretely dump part of my glass behind a bush. We then went driving around the area until lunch time. Out by the beach, we found what looked like a cottage area and surmised that it might be vacation housing for workers in the collectives from the Soviet era. The cottages didn't look like tourist housing and were not permanently occupied. We'll have to find out some more about that.
By lunch time, we were back in Santa Lucia and upstairs at la Tulipen near the Cadeca. It was one of the paladars - restaurants in private homes - that we had heard about and were determined to try. These are often the best places to eat - lots of well prepared food. This one was no exception, but we were sure newbies!
When offered selections of fish, chicken, pork, crab, shrimp along with rice and salad, we said yes to everything! Our intention was to sample a variety of items, but when platter after platter arrived on the table, we realized our mistake. There was far too much food for the 4 of us, and take away was not an option. When John asked for a take away container, he was handed a plastic shopping bag! That just wouldn't do the trick so we left the remainders of the platters, hoping the family would be able to make good use of the food. We ended up spending 30 CUC's for the four of us when we could have had lots to eat for 10 CUC's. Oh well - live and learn!
Back at the boats, we napped and planned. Our big road trip was on for the next day!
Everything is going perfectly so far. We are seeing and doing as much as we can because we like to do that! The marina is also a good place to relax and visit neighbouring boats. Snorkelling trips are offered through the marina, and giant catamarans go out every morning loaded with tourists from the local resorts. The bar serves good food - and the beers are cold. The guards keep the boats safe and are unintrusive - and appreciate a cold beer or cola now and then. Tina and Ali are absolute gems for information and advice.