Reynier – Soroa
Reynier is my favourite guy in Cuba – we met him in Soroa, a natural settlement and mountain resort lying 95km south west of Havana. Soroa is known as the ‘Rainbow of Cuba.’
It is not as common a tourist destination as Vinales which lies further west but the scenery is magnificent, so it’s worth a stop. We had a room booked at Hotel Villa Soroa, a hotel surrounded by forest with cabins facing a huge swimming pool. The hotel was one big horror story – our cabin was less than basic and crawling with bugs (we moved to a much better cabin the next day on request). Food was included but was worse than the worst street food that I’ve eaten. The pool was green, murky and had not been cleaned so we could not use it. The season had only just started and so we were one of the first guests – other than a few over night tour stop overs. On our last day many more guests arrived and magically the hotel sorted their shit out – the food got better and the pool was cleaned. Not the best introduction to the place so when we met Reynier it was like a breath of fresh air. There are a few small tourist attractions in Soroa that you could manage in a day. One of these is a short walk to a waterfall. It cost us $3 CUC each to access the path leading down to the fall.
Half way down we passed a small group of natural pools and waterfalls and a cute little bar. The barman greeted us when we passed and asked us where we were from, making small talk. Usually you pass these little bars and food carts and the owners just shout ‘SANDWICH!!’ or ‘PINA COLADA, CUBA LIBRE, MOJITO!!’ at you. It gets annoying after a while so this was a sweet change. The barman, Reynier, points us in the direction of the waterfall. We walk past a restaurant style table with small chairs positioned in front of the bar and small pools. I want to have a drink here when we get back. The waterfall is beautiful and we hang out by it for a while. When we return Reynier greets us again with a great beaming smile. We take a seat by the bar next to a bunch of hanging bananas and enjoy a lovingly prepared Mojito. We couldn’t have asked for a more idyllic setting.
Reynier beckons us over to the bar. His eyes dart from left to right, he tilts his head and lowers his voice. “Hey, hey” he says, “I can do for you something veeery special. Come.” Shit, I think, I get the sinking feeling he’s about to offer us drugs. “I make for you a veeery cheap, traditional Cuban meal…is better than the hotel and only $4 CUC per person.” His voice lowers to a whisper “only you need to tell me day before so I can prepare.”
I was sold. The food in the hotel was so awful I welcomed any alternative. We explained that we were staying for another 2 days and that on either of those days, depending on availability, we would be hiking in the Sierra Del Rosario – an area 17 km away that is reported as having some of the best hikes in Cuba – depending on how long that took and if we could find a guide, we couldn’t make any promises. The deal was we had to let him know before 5pm a day in advance so he could prepare the food, and he explained that to waive the entrance fee to the waterfall, we could walk about half a km further down the road and climb through the gate into the forest, down a path and cross the stream which led directly to his bar.
The next day we hike and make it back just in time to tell Reynier that we would love to have lunch at his bar the following day. We take the secret trail – an easy adventure – and arrive at his bar where he has set up the table for us. Whilst Reynier waits for his friend to arrive with the food we order drinks and sit by the water’s edge.
We have bananas for starters, followed by salad with a marinade Reynier prepared at the bar using lime and rum. We enjoy rice and the freshest tasting, tenderest chicken I have had in a loooong time. So fresh I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been killed the previous day just for us. We order more drinks. Tourists pass by with no intention of stopping. Most tourists here are here as part of a coach tour, with limited time and there don’t seem to be any independent travellers around these parts which is sad for local business men like Reynier who rely on tourism.
As we chat with him potential clients pass us by and I can see he’s missing valuable opportunities so I back off. In a desperate bid to lure them in he lists out loud what’s available at the bar “Mojito, Cuba Libre, Cerveza…” and turns to us imitating a desperate puppy, making fun of himself. Although it’s not really funny – I can see it’s tough and he seems a bit embarrassed.
After we have eaten he talks with us about the future improvements he’s planning on making to his bar and asks us about our travel around Cuba. He offers us a place to stay and guided tours to areas off the beaten track. I tell him that we won’t have time to return unfortunately but that I will promote his bar and his casa on trip advisor, and that I will be sure to mention him in my blog. He jumps on it, asking for pictures to be taken of his bar, and scribbles down his contact details. I can see that not many opportunities for promoting his business come along often.
He’s so so happy – I can sense a million thoughts buzzing around in his head. He mentions something about a son and I ask him if he means his son. He jumps behind the bar and pulls out a full photo album of his baby boy, Bryan. Instantly I have this guy figured. Here’s a man who is proud of his business, constantly striving to do better and jumping on any opportunity with this relentless positivity. He is sad he didn’t know sooner that Seamus is a carpenter, as he is planning on building more tables with fancy umbrellas to make the place more inviting for people. He has big plans for his little bar. He is always thinking ahead. I can imagine him dreaming everything up in bed at night and then trying his hardest every day to make these things happen. He is a hard worker and loves his family.
To me, Reynier is an unsung hero – I’m so glad to have met him as from him I’ve learned that every opportunity in life, no matter how small is worth seizing – it’s the small things in life, and love and family that makes you happy. I think that Reynier is the happiest man I’ve ever met.
Check out my highlights and travel tips for everywhere I travelled to in the world: Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands, Argentina, LA, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Japan.