In the end I spent five nights in Trinindad. Although very touristy in Cuban terms it's a lovely little town but in my opinion it has nothing on Havana. I spent a happy few days pottering around in the mornings and (when it wasn't raining) going to the beach in the afternoons. My time there wasn't quite as fruitful as I'd hoped as I found it surprisingly difficult to paint. The winding, wonky cobbled streets tend to be quite wide and the rows of coloured houses quite low. I found it very difficult to make good compositions from this particularly as I was rarely blessed with good light. Of the paintings I attempted I think two were passable, one of a sunlit street in the early morning and the other of a street near my casa covered by a very ominous looking black cloud. I enjoyed painting them both enormously. During the first I was hardly interrupted (Cubans appear to be quite relaxed about mornings) apart from a man who serenaded me with an improvised song about El Pintar Inglasa! The other painting I did on a gloomy day when I spent the morning wishing I'd prolonged my conversation with the rugged New Zealander in the queue for the Internet and dreaming about the welcome I was going to get from the dogs when I finally got home. Needless to say loneliness was creeping in so it was an even greater than usual to have such a lovely team of spectators. Luis and Francisco took it upon themselves to position themselves in various poses in my painting and Ramon insisted I include his freshly polished motorbike. Lucilla caught me trying to capture her peeling vegetables in her doorway but hid, pointing out the mole on her chin. Not only was I far too far away to see it but I showed her that the mole on my chin was in fact far superior to hers.
On my first day I rented a bike to go to the beach which was apparently only twenty minutes away. The bicycle Miguel (my host) presented me with might've been the oldest in Cuba. I think it used to be red beneath the layers of rust, it had no gears and no brakes not that it needed any. The journey took almost an hour in the midday heat and would've probably been quicker if I'd walked. I started out feeling sympathetic to Cubans that this was what they had to deal with before being overtaken by other tourists on souped up mountain bikes. The ride there left me extremely hot and bothered but the ride back, uphill and in hot muggy rain left me positively furious! I was ready to give Miguel a piece of my mind until I saw him and Alicia eagerly waiting for me in their doorway concerned about where I'd got to and so keen to know whether I'd enjoyed myself. When they saw me Alicia burst out laughing and said I looked like a tomato!
My next stop was Varadero where I planned to put down my paints and lie on the beach for two days doing absolutely nothing. I'd been slightly concerned that it would be a horrible soulless resort. Luckily where my casa was was just a slow, relaxed part of town on the peninsular stretched along a perfect white beach with clear turquoise sea. Day one was slow, quiet and very relaxing. By day two I was feeling pretty fidgety. After twenty minutes of walking along the beach I realised what I'd like to be doing most was painting it so that's just what I did. You can imagine my surprise when there I was painting away minding my own business only to hear 'Ali?!' I turned around to find my cousin Sam, what are the chances - TWO Boggis-Rolfes in Cuba?!
What seemed like an interminable day of 'doing nothing' had turned into trying to cram painting, sunbathing and socialising in (I know, SO stressful!) and my return to Havana planned for the next day suddenly seemed premature.
Despite this I relished my return to the the dusky, musky, intoxicating capital. With only three days left of the adventure of a lifetime I wanted to fill it with as much painting as possible. Unfortunately this wish was not granted and I was struck down with a horrible ear infection, leaving me feeling too rubbish to paint one day. My sweet hosts, Enrique and Ana were very keen to get me to hospital but that was the last thing I wanted to be doing. I was ambushed instead at breakfast by a pharmacist and a doctor who they had called to the house! By this time I was actually very grateful as it was extremely painful and I was pretty worried about my impending flight. My casa owners' daughter spent a whole afternoon traipsing around pharmacies in order to get the right antibiotics and drops. Just another example of the unending Cuban kindness and generosity that I have been lucky enough to experience. Enrique was meticulous in making sure I was taking the pills every six hours on the dot and Ana took to frequently hugging me into her enormous bosoms and showering me with kisses.
On my very last morning I felt much better and was able to do a final painting of the street outside my lodgings. At the start passers by kept pointing up at the sky and gabbling away at me in Spanish and I finally realised they were warning me that the lovely crumbling colonial building stretching above me would probably crumble on my head. That would be a sorry way to go on my last day!
And so here I am sitting on the plane home, and the last three months suddenly seemed to have gone very very quickly indeed. I'm left with flashes of memories, pages and pages of diary entries and I think seventy eight paintings. I'd often imagined this moment before I left and expected to be a changed woman, or to be quite honest I thought I'd probably be dead by now. But Rather disappointingly I'm exactly as I left only slightly larger, and I think hopefully a slightly better painter.
The journey is not quite over. As some of you may know I was due to take up the position of Artist in Residence at the Gallmann foundation in Kenya for the next two months. Unfortunately the state of affairs in Kenya has rapidly worsened and we decided to postpone until a safer time. Devastatingly I read this week that Kuki Gallmann has been shot, the conservancy raided and the retreat they run torched. We can only pray that the situation improves for them.
I will instead be spending a month in Nepal, volunteering in a school and hopefully painting alongside. Watch this space!