Painted snails, cocoa and vegan pioneers: Exploring Baracoa, the real old Cuba

As Cuba opens back up to international tourists from 15 November, Claire Boobbyer champions this lesser-known eastern gem

Friday 19 November 2021 13:49
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<p>Baracoa is a world away from the hustle of Havana</p>

Baracoa is a world away from the hustle of Havana

“I had a girlfriend at 21 who taught me how to eat vegetarian food and have sex,” Aristides Smith confesses as I watch him flutter petals and lettuce under the roof he patched together using homes wrecked by 2016’s Hurricane Matthew.

Smith, now a lean 65, and father of seven, is keen to woo me with his honed flirting, but I’d come to his kitchen table for one thing only: his food. A construction technician-turned-chef, he runs Cuba’s only vegan restaurant in Baracoa.

Here, on the rain-lashed Atlantic coast, the country’s oldest settlement grips, weather exposed, to its easternmost ledge. Daily life, squeezed to the coastline by cool water rivers and coconut palms, rolls under the shadow of a table-top mountain jungled with rare trees. Baracoans are especially proud, being the first town founded by the Spaniards in Cuba. Years of isolation from the rest of Cuba have nurtured glorious fables and fairytales.

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