Two and a half weeks is never enough time to give a place a decent $.02 worth, but…
From memory Cuba is the one place where I have traveled and spent so much of the travel time digesting what we had seen that day and then falling asleep just as confused as the first day I landed.
We started our journey off in the corazon de Cuba, Habana.
Here is a city with style and finesse, but rough around the edges like an old cricket ball.
A city of old colonial buildings crumbling into cobblestone streets, 1950’s yank tanks that will take you anywhere in Cuba for a somewhat negotiable rate, places to eat from between $0.04 and $25 a meal, and bars where you can dance the night away salsa style well into the morning.
But let me cut to the chase.
The minute we hit the streets of Habana we were befriended by folks who we eventually learned to be known as jineteros – hustlers.
These guys were nice enough. Patient with our awkward level of the Spanish language, full of info, and they knew a guy in the next street who has space for us to sleep in his casa particular (more on that soon). And most of the time these guys would leave you alone as you politely expressed “no gracias”.
The problem was we never really escaped it except for the time out on the eastern edge of Cuba in a great little town called Baracoa.
Whilst it seemed that most folks in the bigger cities of Santiago del Cuba and Habana were keen to befriend us, help us lighten our wallets and leave us talking about jineteros for the rest of the day, there were other places and people that were indeed the lovely type that you would really have enjoyed getting to know better, places like Baracoa & Santa Clara.
Looking back at the trip we have all decided that Cuba is probably best spent far from the bigger cities, out in a village surrounded by less entrepreneurial types.
Ok I’ll stop whinging.
In the moments we got over the jineteros we did meet some nice folks, like Roman & Amelia who were a son & mum combo running their casa particular in Habana.
We spent a few days of new year’s eve with them and had a blast. Roman gave us all some salsa lessons and educated us on the history of Cuban music. These guys were so fantastic and friendly. One night we were fortunate enough to get Amelia talking about her life and times in Cuba. Basically she said that she was tired, and hadn’t ever experienced a different way of life, and was extremely sad that her son and husband were living in Italy and that she it would be extremely difficult for her to visit them. When we tried to give her money for the new years day lunch she threw, she politely said “some things are more important”.
We bicycled around and checked out the limestone peaks of Viñales.
Then we took a convertible taxi east to Santa Clara to see Che Guevara’s statue & sample a $.04 hamburger.
A slow bus journey took us down to Trinidad for more dancing and partying in caves.
Along the coast we dropped into Santiago de Cuba for …. hmmm not sure really, an old fortress and a nice view.
But then we found Baracoa, a beautiful little town (the first capital of Cuba and was where Christopher Columbus landed) on the eastern tip of Cuba, full of friendly people and a somewhat different look & feel to what we had experienced over the previous 2 weeks.
To me Baracoa was a taste of what everyone could have been like in Cuba if we didn’t stand out as foreigners with dollar signs floating above our heads. And we even managed to find ourselves out amongst the nature of Baracoa on top of the table top hill “El Yunque”.
And managed to do this whilst using both the CUC & CUP money systems (what a feat!).
Everything in Cuba pretty much seems very old, and recycled. I met one truck driver whose truck dated back from 1954. He said his Dad had given him the truck 20 years ago, and his father’s father 20 years before that. And the old truck keeps on running (on a slightly more efficient diesel engine).
The poverty in Cuba is blatant and is an obvious explanation for the plethora of entrepreneurs. Perhaps it is all to do with the sanctions imposed by the US back in the day, or maybe Fidel’s plan of self sustainability just didn’t work out or wasn’t completely well thought out. Perhaps I should read a book about it all.
So, yeah i get it, should you go there (because you value my travel opinions so strongly of course) ?
YES! A big fat YES! I mean NO! I mean… work it out for yourself!
We’ve met way too many people with such positive views on their experiences in Cuba that it really must be awesome. We went in fairly unprepared and had to learn the ropes as we went, and especially after our chill time in Mexico we were really just not ready.
(photos coming soon)