Friday, December 10, 2010


Yesterday, we went up to Cuba. Yahhhhhhssss. Cuba. We've been going to Cuba for years, or rather we did until we actually bought a place in New Mexico, in the East Mountain area. And then we didn't go to Cuba any more. There were so many things to do getting the house restored and livable, and after it was at least habitable, there were so many things that still had to be done that going to Cuba was something there just wasn't time for.

So we didn't. Until yesterday. The trip was an eye-opener, I'll say that. So many things have changed along the way -- a way we haven't traveled in quite a while -- that it almost seemed like we were entering a different country than the one we'd known before. We went along the usual route, but things were very different. The roads had deteriorated somewhat, but towns along the way showed a good deal of prosperity, a good deal more prosperity than we expected given conditions east of the Sandias, where prosperity is not the rule. Bernalillo, in fact, appeared to be thriving, almost overwhelmingly so, and even little San Ysidro was in better shape than I remember it. Cuba itself, while not exactly thriving, looks pretty damned prosperous all things considered.

For those who don't know, Cuba is a little town in the northwest quadrant of New Mexico on the way to the Chaco Canyon ruins. It's in a high mountain valley on the Rio Puerco and it is closely affiliated with Regina ("reh-heen-na") and La Jara ("la har-ra") to the north and east. Cuba is sort of the big city of the three, but it is tiny. Cuba's claim to fame, if you will, is a restaurant, El Bruno's, that is run by Hazel and Bruno Herrera, both local people who have been in the restaurant business for more than 30 years. About 5 1/2 years ago, their restaurant burned down. It was a very sad incident, and much that the Herrera family had worked for was lost. It was my understanding they had no insurance. For a time, it was thought that their restaurant -- famed throughout New Mexico and much of the region -- was no more, but Hazel insisted it would open again, and within a few months, she and her staff had taken over the abandoned Foster's Freeze across the street and opened a tiny stripped down version of El Bruno's. I stopped there once, soon after the re-opening and was delighted with the food and service. But I didn't have a chance to go back.

In the interim, the Herreras had acquired most of the property on that side of the road and had expanded from the Foster's Freeze -- which is now the kitchen -- by remodeling the house on the property and enclosing the space between the house and the Foster's Freeze to become the main dining room.

It's beautiful, very much in keeping with Hazel's vision of the now abandoned ruin across the street, but in many ways it's even better. The food was outstanding, every bite, and the flavors, unique to El Bruno's, were the same as I remember.

We sat with Hazel for a bit and chatted. She's a truly remarkable person who we've felt close to almost since our first encounter. She's been through some real trauma, but she's shown incredible resiliance and spirit. Cuba could not be the place it is without her and without El Bruno's.

It was great to be back.

And Hazel let us know how grateful she is just to still be standing. Bless her heart!

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