Hanging Out at Fidel Castro’s House in Cuba
I have so much to say about how speaking Spanish with a Puerto Rican accent affected my trip to Cuba and I plan to write a separate blog post about it, but this experience deserved it’s own post.
Let’s talk about that one time I went to Fidel Castro’s house.
I only had about 7 hours to explore in Santiago de Cuba, so I decided to suck it up and get on the tour bus provided by Fathom Travel. Normally, I hate these general group tours, but I had a very limited amount of time in Santiago. Fathom had a very informative talk on the boat before our arrival and I felt that they had organized the tour in a way that I would see a lot more than if I went solo.
During one of our stops, we were told we had 30 minutes to explore on our own. Within seconds, a local guy pointed to his arms, then to mine, gave me a thumbs up and said something like “tattoo, I like” in broken English. I laughed and greeted him in Spanish. As soon as he heard my Puerto Rican accent, he perked up and started chatting with me. I explained I would love to chat, but only had 30 minutes and wanted to see as much as I could. He kicked it into high gear and designated himself my tour guide.
As we speed walked around, he explained that he was a history professor at a nearby university and we chatted a bit about Cuba and Puerto Rico’s shared histories. He took me past the oldest house in the town, a famous staircase, and showed me the view of the port, pointing out the boat I had sailed in on. I snapped photos quickly and even got a rare photo of myself that wasn’t a selfie, thanks to my local guide.
For Caribbean eyes only
After the famous staircase, my friend leaned in close and told me he had something to show me that he guaranteed no one else on my tour would see. Sure, this sounded mad sketch, but it also sounded super exciting, so we jogged up a hill and arrived at this adorable pink and yellow house. He told me to stand in front of it for a picture and as he snapped the photo he said “Welcome to Fidel’s old home.”
I thought we were finished, but he started yelling at the house next door. You see, in Puerto Rico, and apparently also in Cuba, no one has doorbells and they often have gates that block you from knocking on their door. So, when you want someone to come out of their house, you just stand in the street and yell for them. It’s something I find both incredibly strange yet oddly charming about Caribbean life. When a fragile old lady shuffled to the door, I assumed he just wanted to say hello to her, but then he waved me over and introduced me as his new Puerto Rican friend. She was delighted to meet someone from another Caribbean island, and agreed to get “The photo” that my friend was asking her to share with me.
Museum moment on the streets of Cuba
The pride with which this old woman held this photo was palpable. She explained that she was one of the young girls on the porch in the photo, reaching down to great Fidel Castro himself, who can be seen on the lower left corner of the photo.
Years later, I was standing in the same spot, shaking this woman’s hand. I thanked her for sharing the photo with me, and asked if I could also take a photo of her on her porch.
My friend smiled and said “show that photo to your tour group. I guarantee you, no one got a photo that great. That’s just for our Caribbean cousins, like you.”
I may not actually have Puerto Rican blood, but on that day, my accent lead me to Fidel Castro’s house and got me access to a pretty sweet piece of history, so I’d call that day a win.