9:30 a.m., Jan. 23)
El gato mas suerte en Cuba – The luckiest
cat in Cuba
By Fred Sherwin
The Orléans Star
story I am about to tell you is 100 per cent true and involves
two couples who were absolute strangers before they met;
the Maître d’ at the oldest restaurant in Trinidad, Cuba;
and a cat who owes both couples and the Maître d’ at least
one of his nine lives.
When my friend
Chantal and I decided to take a last minute vacation to
Cuba the last thing on our minds was rescuing a kitten
from the streets of Havana, but that is exactly what happened
as I am about to tell the story about the luckiest cat
inquisitive “Havana” checks out his new digs
after being rescued from the Malecón in Havana,
Cuba. Fred Sherwin/Photo
and I had barely arrived in Havana when we decided to
go to La Bodeguita de Habana in Old Havana to drink a
prerequisite mojito at the bar frequented by Ernest Hemingway.
we left the bar, Chantal noticed a young woman wearing
a hoodie with the word “Canada” emblazoned across the
front of it – but more importantly the young woman was
carrying a small kitten in her arms.
those of you who have never been to Cuba, that’s a rare
sight in itself. Kittens, and cats in general, are not
treated like they are here in Canada. Most cats are strays
that are left to scavenge and survive on their own. There
is no such thing as house cats, especially in Havana.
is very much a cat person and was drawn to the kitten
right away. I myself am a closet cat person, which is
to say I will never admit to being a cat person unless
forced to do so, or have to write about one in an article
about the luckiest cat in Cuba.
the young woman, whose name was Erica, was from Columbia,
not Canada, but her boyfriend, Brent, was from Edmonton,
thus the hoodie. They met two years ago at a university
in the South American country where he was studying and
she was tutoring foreign students in Spanish, as well
as teaching salsa lessons, or at least that’s what I understood
during our brief 10 minute encounter on the streets of
pair had found the kitten shivering and alone on the Malecón,
which is a wide boulevard that runs along Havana’s sea
wall, and were looking for a place to leave it.
must admit that I was a little reticent to take the kitten
off their hands, seeing that it was our first day in Cuba,
but Chantal insisted that she should take over guardianship
of said kitten, much to the relief of Brent who shot me
a look that had “She all yours baby” in his eyes.
with his new foster owner Rodrigo on the final
day of his miraculous journey from Havana
to Trinidad, Cuba. Fred Sherwin/Photo
so that’s how the story of the luckiest cat in Cuba began.
immediately nicknamed him “Havana” – we discovered later
that she was, in fact, a he – and took him back to our
Airbnb. The poor thing was total listless and on death’s
door when we got him.
had brought a large bag of Temptations cat treats with
her to feed the strays so we at least had that and there
was a restaurant a couple of doors down from our Airbnb
where we ordered Cafe con leche with the leche on the
side. We also saved some of our meal for him as there
is no such thing as cat food in Cuba.
efforts to find a home for the cat in Havana proved fruitless.
The best we could do was an old building that had several
boxes outside which housed several strays that were occasionally
fed by an old woman whenever she had a few scraps. That
would definitely not do for our little Havana, so we concocted
a plan to bring him with us to Cienfuegos, a small colonial
town on the south side of the island about four and a
half hours drive from Havana.
aren’t allowed on buses in Cuba so we smuggled him on
board in a beach bag and we sat at the very back. Unbelievably,
Havana didn’t make a peep the entire trip and barely moved
we arrived in Cienfuegos, we stayed at another “Pet Friendly”
Airbnb owned by a wonderful couple who fed the neighbourhood
strays their table scraps every night.
seemed like the perfect spot to leave Havana, or so I
thought. For one it was a lot safer than the streets of
Havana, and for another they got at least one meal a day,
but Chantal thought otherwise. She was still hopeful that
we could find Havana a real home, and we almost did.
young artists in the market already had a cat, but they
were just in the process of trying to find a new place
to live and didn’t want to be burdened with a second cat.
And so off we went to our next stop in Trinidad, with
Havana in tow.
our Airbnb in Trinidad was two doors down from the only
vet in town. It was the vet who determined that Havana
was only eight weeks old. He gave her some drops to kill
the fleas that had infested her and we fed Havana some
tuna from a giant can we had purchased in Cienfuegos for
$10US. Keep in mind that the average monthly salary in
Cuba is about $20US.
that night, we went to the Sol y Son restaurant to have
dinner. I had visited the same restaurant with my boys
last May and got to know the Maître d’ / head waiter /
night manager, Rodrigo, who used to work as a translator
and speaks perfect English and French. He also owns a
cat. Eureka! It took a minimal amount of convincing for
Rodrigo to take Havana, who he nicknamed Ñoño.
to right) Fred, Chantal, Erica and Brent pose
for a family reunion photo with Havana the
kitten in Trinidad, Cuba. Fred Sherwin/Photo
now for the rest of the story. The next night, Chantal
and I went to the Casa de musica in Trinidad, which is
an outdoor music venue in the Plaza Mayor.
band had played three songs when I noticed a young man
who looked strikingly like Brent, the guy we got the cat
from in Havana. At about the same time, Chantal recognized
Erica. As hard as it is to believe, the pair had traveled
to Trinidad that very same day. Now, keep in mind that
Cuba is a big country, and Trinidad is nearly a six and
a half hour drive from Havana.
keep in mind that Trinidad is not exactly a small town
and Chantal and I were scheduled to leave the next day.
Add to that, the fact that within five minutes of us meeting
up again, the skies opened up and a torrential downpour
started that continued unabated for the next 12 hours.
odds of the four of us seeing each other again were a
billion to one, if not higher. We gave Brent and Erica
the complete run down of our journey with Havana and told
them that we had found him an excellent home in Trinidad.
were thrilled and couldn’t wait to see him again. On the
walk back to our room, Erica and Brent told us that when
they found Havana in the middle of the Malecón, six tourists
were standing around him afraid to pick him up for fear
of catching some sort of disease. Erica, whose family
has six dogs back in Columbia, immediately scooped him
up and carried him to safety.
were in the midst of looking for a place to leave him
when they ran into Chantal and I in the streets of Old
Havana. The reunion in our Airbnb room was pretty special
and one which none of us will soon forget. Havana was
just as excited to see Erica and Brent as they were to
took a ton of pictures together and recorded the whole
thing on our video camera.
next day Chantal and I left Havana with his new foster
parent and bid the two of them a tearful farewell.
arriving back in Canada, we called Rodrigo and he assured
us that Havana is healthy, happy and doing well. He even
shot a video of him which he shared with us on Facebook.
prologue to this story has yet to be written as I am in
the process of trying to find a way to adopt Havana and
bring him to Ottawa, in which case the luckiest cat in
Cuba will be the luckiest cat in Canada. Stay tuned.
story was made possible thanks to the generous support
of our local business partners.)