To the island of salseros, cigarros and mojitos!
Trip Start Apr 10, 2006
65Trip End Ongoing
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Things started interestingly enough - Cuban customs officials are not exactly the friendliest and so after facing questions from three different immigration officers upon my arrival, I had to unpack all 3 of my bags into which I had only JUST managed to sardinesquash all my stuff before leaving Guatemala! I was clearly wearing my "Iīm so damn dodgy, search me!" t-shirt that day because they had dogs sniffing my bags, and swiped my passport into the computer about ten times - "huh? From south AFRIca??"
Anyway I made it through to Havana and got my first super-excited and long-anticipated impressions of the city were through the window of my taxi from the airport - old cars, royal palm trees, no advertising anywhere and propaganda everywhere
However, after arriving with such excitement, I had a much different experience of Cuba than what I expected. It is far from romantic with happy Cubans dancing around extolling the virtues of communism and praising Fidel, as all the propaganda would have you believe (not that I really believed that either but one does have a certain idea of a fiesta filled, salsa dancing, cigar smoking Caribbean Cuba). In contrast, Cuba, more precisely the majority that I saw, is a country of people who are desperately trying to escape their lives there. Many do this through bottles of sugarcane rum and cheap (terrible tasting) beer - from morning till night there is never an incorrect time to drink in Cuba, others pass the day with glazed eyes on their doorsteps, perhaps dreaming of other times, others fill their hours with trying to pick up tourists and make a quick buck for some rum, or sex - AIDS is rife, and yet others plod lethargically through their days with nothing but the assurance of a whole $15 to $30 per month to reward their work efforts - and the most desperate pray to their gods and make sacrifices before setting out in lanchas across the 180 km to the American coast where they believe the possibility exists for a better life, if the Cuban or US authorities donīt catch and kill them first
The city of Havana is completely rundown in all except the most exclusive neighbourhoods and most valued buildings. The streets are more potholes than road, water from burst drains and leaking pipes lies stagnant for days, garbage bins overflow with a nauseating stench created by the tropical heatīs effect on the contents. Starving dogs are everywhere - puppies grown up and replaced by new ones. Women and children beg in the streets for everything from money to pens for school.
The system reserves certain hospitals, facilities and areas - generally the most beautiful and containing the most exclusive resorts - for foreigners. No Cubans allowed. Clearly the implementation of Communist philosophy has been conveniently overlooked when it comes to money making opportunities. The police patrol and check ID constantly to ensure that no-one steps a toe out of line and there are eyes and ears everywhere so whenever anyone mentions a word about Fidel and the system, it is in hushed tones - even in their own homes. Such is the fear that he has created. There are offices of the CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) on every second street - always watching and listening, lest someone be seen coming home with an overly large bag of groceries or mentioning something not sufficiently sycophantic
Of course, not all is doom and gloom and people are remarkably resilient so who knows what will happen when Fidel eventually croaks but to be sure, this was my overwhelming impression. Iīve since met other tourists who had a fabulous time and thought Cuba was wonderful but with all due respect, spending a sanitized week at a luxury hotel on the beach is not an authentic experience - you can get that anywhere in the world.
Personally as well, I was harassed non-stop by Cuban men - from hissing, cat-calling & psssting right through to "hey baby, wanna fuck?" - really any form of insulting beckoning that you can think of - which just got too much. I felt like I was stepping onto a battlefield every time I left the house - very hectic. I was advised to just keep a very stern look on my face, never look at anyone, ignore all the comments and just walk purposefully to wherever I was going -huh?? Um, even when I was fourteen, super-rebellious, angry with the world and headbanging, I failed to be a decent goth because I just smiled too much! so this was difficult but the final straw really came when I followed the road instead of a hillside path to get to a swimming pool in the town of Trinidad and was followed by a young Cuban guy
** different entry**
I spent my first two weeks in Havana - much longer than most but I had heard it was the cultural centre of Cuba so I thought Iīd give it a bash
I missioned off to the Yoruba Cultural Association the next day to try and do a bit of research - although the language thing proved to be a wee problem... the Director was a very friendly and helpful woman but unfortunately her fluent French didnīt help communication much either and so she summoned George, a museum guide who spoke "English". Well. He definitely had the best of intention but didnīt exactly speak a language that I had heard before... I managed to understand a teeny bit and for the most part just landed up doing the smile nod thing - in order to avoid deafness. Funny how when you donīt understand people they JUST SPEAK LOUDER like that might get it through to you!
That night, and quite a few others, I spent down at the Malecon, the seafront promenade that extends for kilometers and is the place to go to hang out. Add a bottle of Havana Club and youīre set for good times! The Malecon was definitely my favourite part of Havana - watching the sunset, eating roasted peanuts sold by the walking vendors (funny though because peanuts are called mani in Spanish and the vendors walk along shouting what sounds like "money money money" - imagine, money for sale in cuba!) also, there are often musicians strolling up and down, trying to serenade you for a buck or two :-) and at times it seems like half the population of Havana is down there - drinking... and kissing. Did I say kissing? Smoooooooooching!! everyone from teenage hormone holders to their grandparents!
I also went down to the Playas del Este beach one day - beautiful, warm blue seas, palm trees, sun, sand - and pigsī stomachs floating in the water! Mmmm. Pork is popular in Cuba and apparently popular beaches are the place to depose of the little piggiesī innards. yum!