People are constantly telling me, ‘you are so far from home’. I guess geographically they kind of have a point. But even though my heart lies waiting over the foam, (in a sentimental QANTAS ad kind of way), I have managed to find many ‘homes’ through my travels. One specifically being a ‘Casa Particular’ in Old Havana, or Hostel “El Alquimista”, owned by Frank, the friendliest and most welcoming Cuban I know, and his amazing wife Marilis (who is an extremely hard-working brain surgeon by day and loving hostess by dinnertime).
Now, I must admit, this was not the Casa Particular that I stayed at during my time in Cuba’s fascinating capital. But once I met my friend Alex, who invited me to have breakfast at his Casa, I was back every day.
Frank is a chef who used to work in restaurants in the city, now his magnificent culinary skills are reserved for the lucky travellers that stay in his home. After recently moving to not-so-tropical Iceland I was craving tropical fruits and every day Frank would serve me enough pineapple, mango, papaya and anonymous other fruits to feed a small army. (I fell in love with one specific anonymous fruit that Alex insisted calling the ‘sweet avocado’. I recently discovered is called ‘Pantin’. It’s orange and delicious and you should definitely try it.). Frank would even make a fresh fruit smoothie as a side to my fruit. He would also serve omelettes, fresh bread, and amazing hot cuban coffee to whoever was dining in the morning.
The first time I experienced one of Franks King-sized breakfasts was the day before mothers day. Frank seemed to have been up all night slow-roasting some magnificent beast that would soon be in the bellies of his guests. I was immediately invited. Alex was heading to Vinyales that day so I no longer had the excuse of popping by to visit him, but Frank insisted that I still come along for the feast, Marilis reassuring me that ‘mi casa es su casa’.
I arrived on time (which is early in Cuba) and bothered Frank in the kitchen, asking him questions about his country while he fed me tastings of the meal. I even dared to ask if he knew where Fidel was. He seriously pointed to his chest. “In the heart of all Cubans” he responded before breaking out in a cheeky grin.
Eventually I was surrounded by a big family of friendly Columbians. Even though I couldn’t follow the dominating Spanish conversations around the meal, everyone made an effort to continue serving me food and wine, filling me in on the debates in the foreign conversation. The food was incredible, and I left with a tummy full of fine Cuban cuisine, and a heart full of gratitude for the kindness of strangers.
I returned every day. I must admit, leaving the casa of Frank and Marilis felt like leaving home. I had found comfort in this Cuban casa that has stayed in my heart long after that last bite of sweet avocado.
Are you going to Havana? Stay with Frank. The food and atmosphere in this house alone is worth visiting Cuba for. (Even if you must do is illegally due to a certain embargo, that forbids a certain group of people, (that I am a member of), from visiting the country. But that’s another story…)
PS The pre-revolution elevator can be a bit of a scary journey up to level five…
Hostel El Alquimista
Conslato No. 9, apto. 5 (izq.)
e/ Prado y Genios, Colon,
H. Vieja, La Habana, Cuba
Cell: (+53) 5 315 1924
Tel: (+53 7) 861 8352