Gloria and Jesús Castro (no relation to Fidel), are the owners of a second floor apartment on Calle Compostela in Old Havana with 5 bedrooms, high cielings, balconies, and antique Italian tiles. Jesús still works his day job at a state hardware store, but the couple spend much of their time dedicated to the business of hosting visitors to their historic city. They rent out two private rooms, but they do so much more. Gloria cooks meals, calls taxis, makes local recommendations, and gets in long conversations with guests, and Jesús keeps everything running — water, electricity, air conditioning, and gas for cooking — (which in Cuba is more difficult than you can possibly imagine). The have a had success with their business thanks to their location and good reviews, but their success has been thanks faith in a big idea and a ton of physical hard work.
A few years ago, Gloria and Jesús lived in a different apartment in Old Havana just a few blocks away. They had lived there for many years, raising two sons: Jesús(ito), a neurosurgeon, and Javier, an artist. Private property was just being legalized in Cuba, and people were beginning to officially buy homes, and room rentals (which had also been legalized some years back) looked like a reliable business to get into. Javier was just graduating from art school and through several exhibitions and sales of his art, the family was able to finance a bold and risky move: sell a perfectly good home to purchase a floor of cement rooms, practically in ruins, to then renovate and turn into a new home with more space.
The painstaking process took over a year to complete — the family lived out of one room until a second was habita and habitable, expanding slowly in their new rustic dwelling. Walls and cielings had to be rebuilt, wooden doors and windows had to be refurbished, everything needed paint, and electricity and plumbing had to be completely redesigned. On top of this, two rooms had to be outfitted with new bathrooms for guests, and the task of collecting everything needed to put together a bathroom in Cuba can take months.
With the brut physical efforts of the brothers, the art and design background of Javier and his mother (who always infused art into their home and encouraged him to be artistic), and the technical know how of Jesús the elder, they pieced together the house, and began renting in 2015.
Just around this time, the U.S. began allowing more visitors to explore Cuba, and the business took off. But even so, it’s taken a couple years to begin making upgrades and start on a third guest room. In the meantime, Gloria has filled the house with art, Jesús has the plumbing down to a science, and Jesúsito has gotten married and had a baby girl. Javier now lives between Havana and Miami, and is hoping to move to New York to continue pursuing art.
If you’d like to reserve a room to experience Casa Jesús y Gloria and the streets of Old Havana beyond, you can find the links to their Airbnb page here.
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