Cuba13

Hooray for Havana

Ok, so you’ve read the title? Seems like I’m gonna tell you Havana, Cuba, is the best place on earth, doesn’t it? Well, I’m not. And it’s not. But still, Hooray for Havana sounds better than ‘Not sure if I would ever go back to Havana’. The latter should have been the title though. I’ll explain later. But first: travelling and enjoying certain places is mostly a matter of taste. It’s almost like fashion. You can’t believe what some people would wear in public without getting embarrassed. But those people don’t feel that way, they like what they are wearing and are probably looking at you the way you are looking at them. And that’s fine. Besides, we need people to fill up hotels in Cancun, so we can get a relaxing – and not too overcrowded – swim in Tulum. No? Feel free to disagree.

But back to Cuba. Or better Havana, since the capital (and Playa del Este) is the only place I visited in Cuba. Why, you ask? Well, because when I arrived in Cancun the day before, I knew immediately I had to get out of there, so I went to the airport, bought a ticket to Havana and left. Not such a bad decision, I thought. You see, growing up in Europa – or maybe same goes for growing up in Canada, Australia or wherever – you have always dreamed of going to Cuba someday. Why? Because it’s so different. Because there’s no capitalism, you can’t go to McDonalds or buy a Coca Cola. And because of the ‘hipster quality’ of Cuba. Com’on, red colored revolucion, good lookin’ (on a tshirt anyway) freedom fighters, enemy of the United States, mojito drinking and salsa dancing people smiling and laughing all day long, … You’ve got to admit: it sounds appealing.

And then you arrive there. And you wonder where you’re gonna stay. And you look at the hotel prices. And you change your money to CUC’s. And you figure it out: damn, Havana is expensive. How can the cheapest hotel be 80 CUC (which is about 80 euros) a night? So you decide to stay at a ‘casa particular’, basically at a Cuban family’s home that offers you a spare room for 30 CUC. But the taxi driver doesn’t know any casas particulares in the city center, so he brings you to his friend or cousin or whatever, just outside the center, in a dirty and dodgy neighborhood. Still fine. The room you get is the best room in the house and the only one with airconditioning. And you talk to the lovely hosts and they pretend Cuba is the most amazing country in the world. Viva Castro. And you pretend you like him too, so the hosts don’t get offended. And then you leave fast to explore the city…

Don’t get me wrong: there is loads of charm in Havana! If it wasn’t so run down, it would be amazing. People always say it got stuck in the fifties, like that is a good thing. But walking the streets of Havana, you wished it all was in a better shape, just a little bit better. Luckily the city has nice people. And they all want to talk to you. And they all want to show you the place where you can get the best mojito in town. And they all want to sell you cigars, so they can feed their babies. And they all want you to come to a party called ‘Fiesta del Salsa’, which doesn’t actually exist. It’s just a club where you pay loads of money as a tourist, and the Cubans who have brought you there get a fee for bringing you there… And that’s how it goes with everything: they can tell when you’re hungry and don’t know where to go. And they will take you to the best fish restaurant in town. Where you pay way too much for a crappy dish and a watered down mojito. And on the way back you see these super cool – typically Cuban – looking ladies smoking big ass cigars. And of course you take pictures of them. And of course they charge you per picture. One CUC! Can you say rip-off?

And because you’re exhausted of dealing with this rip-off all day, you just need a beer, so you find a bar with live music. And you come to the conclusion that 3 euros is actually a lot of money for a beer, especially in this part of the world. And you look around and see that there are only tourists inside because there is no Cuban who can actually afford to drink in a place like this. So they just hang over the railing outside, enjoying the music and begging for cigarettes at the same time. Can you say paradise? The next day you cave and buy too much cigars for too much money, you’ll try to escape the city life and go to the beach in your rental car. And of course – because your rental car has tourist plates – you get stopped by the police because you crossed a full line half a mile before (which he could never have seen). But you still have to pay the man 25 CUC or you’ll be stuck there all day.

And after you’ve let go of all the irritation and start talking to some Cubans, you realize it’s not all about smiling, singing and dancing in this country. The people I talked to were miserable and wanted to leave the island asap but couldn’t say that too loud because they were afraid people from the communist party were overhearing our conversation. They were prepared to face death so they wouldn’t have to live in this country anymore.

Anyway, I do realize some people really love Cuba and Havana. Most of those people are just flying into Varadero though and staying in a four or five star resort for ten days, with a guided citytrip to Havana for a day and a half. Probably there are some backpackers who have seen the whole country and actually loved it. But for me, no. And for six of my friends who have travelled in Cuba before: also no. How about for you?

11 comments on “Hooray for Havana

  1. Thank you for your honest post. I’ve never been to Cuba before but it’s a popular destination for North Americans. Lucky (or perhaps unlucky) for you that you got to experience the real and honest side of it, rather than from the perspective of a tourist who stays at the resort the entire time.
    – Jo

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  2. I’ve never visited the city, but I’ve heard stories that sounded very much the same. A friend of mine visited Cuba about 4 times over a time period of 10 years for televison purposes and he said that things changed a lot over the past 5 years.
    So I guess, no, it’s not on my bucket list, but hey, there are plenty of other places that are, so I tend not to worry too much about it :-)

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  3. omg. i love your pictures! cuba is so far away from where i am right now but looking at your pictures make me want to book the next flight there! you painted the city so colorfully!

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  4. It wasn’t on my list but on my boyfriend’s. I went. And I wish I can go back there sometime. I am a european salsa dancer. It does not mean I went there thinking all is about sun and dancing the whole day long. Those who think that should read books or lets say, news..!

    Cuba is a beautiful, touching, strange, disturbing place. Tourist should definitely stay at casa particulares, talk to cubans and go to real cuban bars. It is possible. It is also possible to say “no thanks, I ‘m not interested” if you meet or recognize so scam professional! I was surprised it happened a few times that the guy stopped trying and started chatting with us.

    Maybe it is easier when travelling as a couple, not as a single guy or girl. I don’t know.

    I can’t stand this mass tourism which destroyed Varadero, where cubans are not even allowed to go to the beach…People should try to really go and discover places without fear, not landing in places like this and pretend Cuba is paradise…

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  5. i think we all have the same impression of what Cuba is going to be like, filled with “mojito drinking and salsa dancing people smiling and laughing all day long”, i tried to plan a trip last year but didn’t work out, maybe it was for the better? lol. Great read, love the humor in your writing.

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  6. What a great post! My mom was born in Cuba and she (along with my grandparents) fled Cuba when Castro took over. As beautiful of a country as it seems to be, Castro and the communists have destroyed it. I hope we are able to visit Cuba one day and see the beauty that it once had restored.

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