A home from home – with nick nacks

Cuba doesn’t have backpacker accommodation – not as we know it in New Zealand, or we found it in Chile or Peru. Instead the only real alternative to a big, beautiful, expensive, normally government-owned hotel is something called a “casa particulare”, or private house. A B&B, I suppose, with tropical fruit and no bacon. It’s a new concept in Cuba, having been allowed only from 2008 as one of Raúl Castro (Fidel’s brother)’s economic reforms. But it’s one that’s rapidly catching on, as Cubans jump at the chance of earning almost as much for a night’s accommodation as they do for a month’s salary.

As with most things in Cuba, the casa system is highly regulated. All visitors have to be immediately registered with the police, and rooms are vetted for quality. Not in Cuba the hit and miss of private accommodation elsewhere in the world. Instead rooms come with ensuite bathroom, air-con, TV and fridge as standard. If you are lucky you also get your share of the house’s nick nacks – at no extra charge. Cubans are great collectors – of cute stuff. Statuettes of animals and children, wall plates with little pictures, plastic flowers and fruit. If you are particularly lucky, you might get a gnome.

Actually, I realised today this isn’t a new trend – in fact it may be several hundred years old. I went to a museum in Santa Clara that’s basically a Spanish colonial home, furnished with bits collected from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The house itself was beautiful, with lovely furniture in airy rooms around a central courtyard. But it was full of the most hideous (to my taste) nick nacks. Shelves full of ceramic babies, painted vases, cutesy statuettes. All, I assume, collected lovingly and at vast expense, from Europe and America by the house’s owners over the years.

No gnomes though.