This year I had worked really hard, so I decided to spend 5 days on the beach relaxing. I chose the Ancon peninsula because it was way less touristy than other spots like Varadero, and probably more beautiful. And for the same reason, I decided to stay in La Boca, a small seaside village, ~5km from Trinidad and ~7km from Ancon beach, instead of the hotels on the actual beach.
When I arrived at La Boca, I quickly learnt that all the official homestays, the only ones authorized to host tourists, were fully booked. So I hang out with my backpack at the small town beach and by the “paladar” (small private restaurant), chatting with all the neighbors. A middle age woman named Manuela offered me lunch and to help me figure out where to stay. She shared some rice with beans, and explained to me how much food each Cuban gets through the ration cards (Short version: not a lot). Then she walked me to meet some young neighbors, Jose and his wife, who agreed to let me stay in the “bohio” (a wooden structure with dry palm tree roof) in the back of their house, for a few dollars. The only condition was I had to be careful getting in and out and not tell anyone where I was staying. The place was as basic as it looks in the picture, but would definitely do.
Jose gave me his old bike, so every morning I could ride the beautiful coastal road, and spend the day on the perfect white sand beach of Ancon. I would stay at the beginning of the beach, far from all the resorts, on an almost private stretch of sand, shared with a handful of locals… and eat a half a dollar pizza from a peddler who was selling it for 24 times more a few meters further. The sun was strong, the water was clear and calmed for swimming, and the palm trees offered some much needed shade. I loved it.
In the evenings, I would hang out at the “paladar” or at Manuela’s home. She told me about how she built her house herself, with the help of some neighbors, and how her son was a doctor working in Venezuela and her daughter was getting a college degree to be a tourist guide. On the New Year’s Eve, she cooked a special dish with pork, a treat in her rice and beans based diet. But she wasn’t sad, not even content about her situation, the situation of so many Cubans. She was genuinely happy and proud that she could maintain herself and that her kids were able to aspire to anything despite their humble origins. Her position was shared by Jose and many others I talked to. Of course they would rather not have oppressive rules like the one forbidding me to pay them to for the homestay, with risk of jail. But their life quality and cultural level was definitely higher than that of any comparable country (aka Haiti not the US). On my last day, I had a hard time saying goodbye. I gave Jose my Spain soccer jersey and Manuela a ton of soaps; they really appreciate these goods that are impossible to find on the island. And I left hoping I could come back one day and share more experiences and ideas with them.