I just got back from an 11 day trip to Cuba. It was a fantastic experience, and I learned so much. I plan to go into more details, but this is an introductory post to get started.
It’s impossible to talk about Cuba without first mentioning the people. Nowhere else I’ve been have the people been so warm, friendly, and open. Everyone was great to talk to, and they welcomed me into their houses like we were old friends. I stayed at Bed and Breakfasts the whole time, so I saw a lot of homes and met a lot of families, but complete strangers invited me to have coffee with them or meet their family. It’s hard to imagine that happening in the US, Europe, or Japan.
Another thing that was striking is the total lack of violence in Cuba. Of course they have no firearms, those were basically outlawed decades ago. But I felt totally comfortable walking down poorly lit streets at night in poor neighborhoods. There are a lot of poor neighborhoods; no one in Cuba is rich, but that lack of income disparity probably has an affect on the way people behave. Even little kids or teenage girls walked around a night. American parents won’t let their kids do that in the day in the suburbs!
Cubans are poor, and they know it, but they sure are happy. Maybe it’s the weather or the delicious fruit, but the warmth and openness were sincere. They love to dance and sing. They wear bright colors and drive old cars. It’s such a romantic place and totally captivating.
I, as a visitor, represented a source of income for them. Their economy isn’t strong for many things. They do have a fantastic education system and medical system, so there is some medical tourism, but overall tourists are the livelihood for many people. Most of my encounters with locals were through the B&Bs, tours, classes, and taxis. I took a lot of taxis. They’re the most efficient and reliable way to get around – even between cities.
One type of taxi is the “taxi collectivo” in which 3-5 to 12 strangers going to the same place get into a car and ride with a driver. Usually these cars are 60 years old, and they aren’t especially comfortable, but the ride sharing aspect saves a lot of money. They cost about the same as a bus but leave at reasonable hours and take half as much time.
You can also get personal taxis within a city (cheap), between cities (expensive), or for a whole day (fixed rate depending on what you want to do). The drivers really love the last option. They get a guaranteed fare and spend a lot of time waiting. They all complained about boredom while waiting, but not driving saves them a lot of gas, and as I learned later, they have to pay for all of their own repairs. So, making money for not driving is best for them.
I plan to talk about the places I visited more in future posts, but here are some of my favorite photos from the trip.
Highlights from Cuba would be incomplete without photos of dogs on roofs. Capturing them on film became a fun goal. Sadly, the majority I saw were from a car, and the photos didn’t turn out well, or I was too slow.
Finally, a trip to Cuba would not be complete without visiting the tomb of their country’s founder. Santiago de Cuba was the site of the beginning of their revolution, and they buried him there after a country long procession where millions came out to say goodbye.
There is so much more: cigar rolling classes, dancing classes, a SCUBA refresher course, and cooking classes, not to mention all of the Spanish I got to relearn. It’s been almost 10 years since I spoke Spanish on a regular basis. I was glad that it came back so quickly. At the end of the trip I had no trouble communicating, and my recollection of Spanish words was good enough that I gave my Spanish/English dictionary to one of my B&B hosts who was trying to learn English.