Why do people “run away” to islands? In some cases, it’s simply for a vacation. Other people are running away from a set of circumstances back home, while still others go for a new business venture or a job. Italian traveler and photographer Francesco Guietti was just visiting Cuba when he met a very special person. Her name was Damarys, and eventually, their fates would intertwine. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we have a genuine Island Runaways love story!
(The colonial city of Trinidad in Cuba. Photo (c) Francesco Guietti.)
These days, Francesco lives part-time in Cuba, and with his girlfriend Damarys has made the island dream into his own reality. Like many dreams, the actual process of transforming their vision into “real life” has required a lot of hard work. But they are both thrilled to be running their own Bed & Breakfast, Casa Damarys, and sharing the beauty of Cuba with other travelers. I recently interviewed Francesco by email about their story and their “Casa Particular.”
(Beautiful Playa Ancon in Cuba. Photo (c) Francesco Guietti.)
Island Runaways: How did you and Damarys meet each other, and when did you decide to spend part of each year in Cuba?
Francesco: We met in December 2008. I was traveling in Cuba with friends and we gave Damarys a lift while she was on her way east to visit a family member. In Cuba it is a widespread custom to give people a ride in exchange for getting directions on the road. In 2012, after several years of hardship, we decided to spend our lives together and make a living by building a bed and breakfast in Trinidad, Cuba.
(Francesco and Damarys.)
Island Runaways: What has it been like, adjusting to life on this Caribbean island?
Francesco: Certainly not easy. Damarys was very good at making me feel at home and I am so thankful for this. My biggest obstacle was to adapt to the Cuban rhythms. They are quiet people who live hand-to-mouth. They never hurry. We Europeans live thinking of the future and our work is our main reason for living.
Some tourists go to Cuba with money and think that this makes them better than Cubans. I wasn’t like that. But you have to earn their trust, and I am still working on this.
Basically it is a dream that gradually is becoming a reality!
(The entrance to Casa Damarys, their B & B. Photo (c) Francesco Guietti.)
Island Runaways: How and why did you and Damarys decide to open a Bed & Breakfast (or “Casa Particular” in Spanish) together?
The idea of the Bed and Breakfast was a challenge that fascinated me: to create something from nothing, and by doing so, to highlight and celebrate the local culture. Combining what Italy has taught me with what I’ve learned in Cuba has resulted in something very positive. This has been a winning move for us. We visited almost all Cuban cities. Trinidad was and is the city that has remained in my heart, because of its colonial origins and the way it reflects the island’s history. I'm sure this is just the beginning of our adventure.
Island Runaways: Tell me a little about the city of Trinidad, Cuba. What makes it a special place?
Francesco: Trinidad, as I said before, is a fascinating city. It seems to live in history, the history of the Spanish conquistadors. It’s a vibrant city with a good nightlife, close to the sea and with a good influx of tourists. The city is ideal not only for a bed and breakfast, but it’s also starting to engage in other business activities, including agriculture and catering.
(Inside Casa Damarys, their Casa Particular. Photo (c) Franceso Guietti.)
Island Runaways: What kind of experience can guests expect at Casa Damarys?
Francesco: Our house is “the home of the colors” since it is very colorful. We want to convey joy, and give travelers good advice about what to do and see in Trinidad and throughout Cuba. Damarys and I want to make people feel like they are in their own home.
Our house, our kitchen, and the services we offer are constantly evolving because we want to keep building on what we’ve accomplished. Ours is not just a job; both of us hope to excite tourists about Cuba and keep in touch with them when they returned to their country.
(The colors of Casa Damarys. Photo (c) Francesco Guietti.)
Island Runaways: Many of our readers are American. We all have heard the news that some U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba may be relaxed. Do you hope to see American guests at your B & B in the near future?
Francesco: I hope that these restrictions are eliminated. I hope that there are more and more Americans who can travel to Cuba because they can give a lot to this island. In my opinion, if you want to experience the real Cuba, you should stay at a "Casa Particular," or what is called in English a Bed & Breakfast. (The only difference being that in Cuba they also serve lunch, dinner and cocktails – not just breakfast!) I hope that more Americans can experience the culture of Cuba in a "Casa Particular.” I’m sure you will love it!
Thank you, Francesco and Damarys, for sharing your story with us. Your enthusiasm for Cuba is contagious. We certainly hope that more and more travelers can visit from the United States, and that we have the opportunity to stay at Casa Damarys someday…very soon! To learn more about Casa Damarys, visit their Facebook page or their website.