Casa Irma y Roly: If you want to sample what life is like in old Havana then stay in a casa particular, a private family house in Cuba. I stayed with Roly and Irma and their extended family over the Christmas period of 2010 and into the new year of 2011. It was a great time and they are a lovely family, very welcoming and we had a lot of fun. I went to lots of places around Havana with extended members of the family and friends that I would have never seen without that kind of local knowledge. We had a street party on New Year’s eve where everyone comes onto the street and drinks, dances and talks. At midnight people throw water onto the street to symbolise out with the old, I think.
When you stay in a casa particular you will probably meet other people that are fairly like minded in that they want to experience the real Cuba. At casa Roly y Irma I met people from America, Ukraine, France and Spain amongst others all with stories to tell. It’s nice sitting around a house with new faces arriving on a regular basis. I stayed with Roly and Irma for around three weeks because I liked Havana so much, so by the end of it I was treated like kind of extended family and introduced to new guests as such.
If you want to improve your Spanish a casa particular is probably a really good place to do it. Roly, Irma and their family speak mainly Spanish, but enough English to get by. I could barely speak Spanish when I arrived in the middle of the night and was having trouble explaining to the taxi-driver where to go. I could speak quite a bit of Spanish by the time I left Cuba and Roly, Irma and the family and friends were very patient with my efforts. It’s always good to laugh at yourself.
Irma and her sister are fantastic cooks and every morning you will be eating fresh exotic fruits and a choice of other good food. Some of which is bought from the local markets which Roly cycles to or from Roly’s vegetable and fruit allotment. You can also have sweet and strong Cuban coffee if you have a taste for it and fresh fruit juices. If you want to eat at night at the casa that’s fine too and Irma cooks this one dish with black beans and pork that is incredible, but all of her cooking is delicious. It is especially good with Cuban beer like Bucanero or Cristal, maybe followed by some of Roly’s brandy and in the background Rumba and Salsa music from the street.
Casa Roly y Irma is very traditional, which adds to its charm. It is a family house with pictures of everyone in the family and a big TV set. As an ex-barman Roly also has a well-stocked drinks cabinet and makes his own brandy, which is very good stuff. Roly worked in the famous El Floridita bar on Calle Obispo for many years, from memory about thirty years, and has many stories and photos of himself and celebrities there, including Jack Nicholson.
Casa Roly y Irma is at the heart of old Havana or Habana Vieja. Roly and Irma’s casa is on Compostela, one of the older streets in Havana and about one hundred metres from Calle Obispo or Obisco Street. Obispo is the main walking and shopping street with bars and restaurants and people promenading and socialising. If you want to feel some of the spirit of Havana this is a good place to take it in.
Roly and Irma’s place is really well located for seeing Havana. You can see it all with bus trips around Havana running regularly that take you around the city’s sites including up the Malecón, near the Hotel National de Cuba, Miramar and Plaza de la Revolución. Go to the Casa de la Musica, one in Havana Vieja and one in Miramar, Cubans love to dance and you can see Salsa bands, the atmosphere is charged, it’s great.
If you have time take a trip to Cojimar and go to La Terraza, one of Ernest Hemmingway’s favourite haunts. There are also lots of beaches around Havana and you can get a bus to them cheaply and have coconuts with Cuban rum in them on the beach and listen to Salsa in the sun.
Best wishes Roly and Irma
Steven Hipwell Lichfield UK