Culture / Travel

Cuba with Erin Cluley and Tearlach Hutcheson

BY // 06.22.15

Dallas gallery owner Erin Cluley and partner Tearlach Hutcheson recently jetted off to Cuba for a week of artistic exploration: attending the Havana Biennial, meandering through Ernest Hemingway’s abode, sampling cigars and relaxing at the beautiful Hotel Nacional. Take a peek into their vibrant travel diary.

In your suitcase.
Erin: Light summer dresses, multiple pairs of sunglasses to choose from based on my mood and my artsy canvas tote to throw things in as I wandered through the Havana Art Biennial.
Tearlach: My Bondi Beach Akubra straw hat, lots of linen trousers and shirts, my Nikon D5000 camera and lens, Cigar Aficionado Cuba edition and cardboard tubes to bring art home in.

Carry-on must-haves.
Erin: My laptop, Kiehl’s lip balm, the recent issue of National Geographic Travel and whole raw cashews.
Tearlach: iPad for movies, chocolate-covered blueberries and a change of clothes in the event of unexpected changes in travel.

Living quarters.
Erin: We stayed at the Hotel Nacional, the historic luxury hotel located in Havana along the Malecón (the long seawall that stretches eight miles along the northern coast of Cuba). The Hotel Nacional has had a long list of interesting (and some infamous) guests through the years, including Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, John Wayne, Winston Churchill and others (Annie Leibovitz was spotted in the hotel during our stay). The large outdoor portico bar was our favorite spot to have a cold mojito in the afternoon. With the ocean breeze and the scent of Cuban cigars, we would relax listening to music and watching the beautiful peacocks stroll by.

Erin: We had a beautiful meal at the Paladar Doña Eutimia in Old Havana off the Plaza de la Catedral. After climbing a rather tight spiral staircase to the second floor, we started with frutas de malangas fritters served with honey and stewed chickpeas spiced with Spanish paprika. We opted for seafood for our main courses: butterflied lobster and shrimp sautéed in garlic wine sauce. Black beans and white rice are staples in Cuban cuisine and served alongside most meals. Flan and café con leche were always a must to end the meal.

Erin: Plaza de Armas is the perfect place to pick up unique souvenirs. The square attracts vendors of Revolution-era books, vintage jewelry and beautifully designed and screen-printed Cuban movie posters. After we picked up a few gifts, we made a friend who played music for us while we sat in the shade.
Tearlach: As a cigar lover, my favorite cigar stores are the ones at the Partagás Cigar Factory and the one next to the El Aljibe restaurant. These cigar shops stand out because they carry a wide selection of singles so I can mix and match. The staff is more than willing to spend time and discuss what are currently the best cigars being produced. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, they will throw in a few freebies to try.

Erin: Since we planned our trip to Cuba in conjunction with the 12th Havana Biennial, much of our wandering around was art related. We had private studio visits with exciting up-and-coming Cuban artists as well as established and well-respected artists like Santiago Rodriguez Olazabal. One of our favorite non-biennial adventures was visiting the home of Ernest Hemingway. Just outside of Havana, this is the house that Hemingway called home from 1940 until his death in 1961. The property is covered in beautiful vines and flowers, and the interior made us want to run home and redecorate! Hemingway had great style that was the perfect mix of Cuba and Old Hollywood.

Memorable moments.
Erin: We had a fleet of classic convertibles come and pick us up from the hotel on our last night in Havana. Our driver had the Cuban music playing loud as he drove us up and down the Malecón before we reached our destination at the historic paladar La Guarida for dinner. As we walked up the staircase to the restaurant, I recalled the photos of others who had come before me — Beyoncé, for one.
Tearlach: Following the footsteps of Hemingway and enjoying daiquiris at El Floridita, walking the streets of Old Havana and introducing a group of old and new friends to everything I love about Cuba.

Giving back.
Erin: One special moment we had was on our visit to Barrio Habana — a community project in Havana that supports an elderly center. The government supports centers like these, but unfortunately, as in many other places around the world, it’s not enough. Our Dallas group brought art-supply donations and met the elderly folks who come there each day for meals and comfort. Pavel Garcia, a young Cuban lawyer with a heart of gold, has made it his mission to improve the center and the lives of these people. Garcia has partnered with a local school so that when the children come to visit, they not only bring their youth and energy to the center, but they also benefit from the wisdom of their elders. It was touching for our group to experience this. For more info, visit Barrio Habana’s Facebook page.

Would you return?
Erin: Absolutely. This was my first trip to Cuba, and though it truly is like going back in time, I could sense the changes that are happening in the country. I would love to visit again soon before the beauty of an untouched city begins to fade.
Tearlach: Most definitely. This was my fifth trip to Cuba. I started going in 2010 for the Havana Film Festival and also attended the last Biennial. I rarely visit somewhere twice but this country keeps calling me back.

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