Cold on Cuba
Cuba used to be my second favorite country in the world, but after spending a month on the Caribbean isle, it has plummeted down the list. As mentioned here, I would previously answer the dreaded “which is your favorite country?” question with Antarctica, followed closely by Cuba. Now, Antarctica stands alone.
I first visited Cuba in 2012 and after just under a week in Havana, I knew Cuba was right for me. The people were friendly, there were barely any tourists, the kids were being kids; playing in the street, the rum and cigars were obviously first-class and cheap, and it inspired me to travel to more Spanish-speaking countries. It was a country that was trapped in a time warp and had stood still since the revolution took hold in 1959. The classic cars were phenomenal, if not also a little asphyxiating, and I felt like I was back in my childhood with no one carrying a mobile phone and Wi-Fi did not really exist. I was in a trance and truly mesmerized by this seemingly magical place that you could travel back in time to, without the need of a DeLorean.
Fast-forward four years and Cuba is now a tourist-centric, uninspiring and expensive country. I prefer travelling to countries that I can slip in to and just go about my experiences with minimal fuss and most importantly without being hassled. This used to be Cuba, but with the imminent arrival of the Americans, tourist numbers have risen and despite visiting in low season I could not walk more than five minutes without being offered multiple taxis, cigars, maracas, artwork, chocolate or other various items that I did not need nor want. The jinteros (hustlers/touts) are persistent, unrelenting and take offence to being turned down. It becomes very tiring and after a few days I would simply ignore any advances.
Cuba is a country that needs to be experienced for its culture and not sites, because it is lacking in that department. But I found it very hard to experience the culture when people were constantly trying to get money out of you one way or another. It was hard to distinguish between those who genuinely cared and were trying to help versus those who were only helping because they were getting a cut. That being said, I did meet some very nice locals who provided some great insight into the country and the way of life there. One person described it to me as “the world’s biggest prison” and he spoke after looking over both shoulders for fear of retribution. It pulled at the heartstrings and gave me an understanding of how tough life really is for the locals.
Most of my blogs to date have been all very positive, but I was fairly let down by a country that I had previously held in such high regard. I would suggest that if you want to go, do it, but just be prepared to be treated like a ‘walking wallet’, which I guess is fairly commonplace in a lot of third-world countries. I still like Havana and also enjoyed the smaller towns of Baracoa, Trinidad and Viñales whilst also meeting some nice backpackers who were keen to visit before any trade embargoes are possibly lifted. Cuba is a great place for budding photographers and wannabes like myself, and luckily I took a few good ones. If only a picture could tell more than a thousand words, though…