In a land far, far away, there is a place called Havana where the rivers run free and commercialism has yet to hold a solid grip. Yes, you guessed it. This place is Cuba. Just a few years ago, the gates to this treasured place were opened up to Americans (only about 50 years after they were closed!). Taking advantage of the opportunity, I traveled with friends and family to this incredible country and venture into the hidden corner of our continent.
From the first step onto Cuban soil, the first thing noticeably different was the cars. Sure, they’ve got new European and Asian imports, but a significant portion of the cars on the road are cars that were last seen in the US about 50 years ago. Cadillacs, Chevy Bel Airs, Plymouths, etc with their flowing bodies and hearty sizes spun down the streets with music blazing from their aftermarket engines and speakers. It was a surreal experience to see what seemed to be images transported through time. A truly unique sight.
Our first car ride was not as exhilarating (a minivan taxi), but that was our first contact with the people.
As can be expected, the people were genuinely warm and welcoming. Everyone was ready with a smile and some helpful tips. Also interesting was less of the sense that they were just after money. Having seen enough places in the world including my own backyard (NYC), these people were simply trying to make sure tourists were having a good experience.
For those who consider Cuba unsafe, as long as you stay to the touristed areas and don’t bring so much attention to yourself, you will typically not find any issues. We walked around freely with cameras and phones wallets and had no problems.
During the week, we saw hot spots in the capital of Havana (the Cathedral, Capitol building, classic car tours, etc). We also ventured out to the beautiful city of Trinidad in the southern central region of the country. That was actually the favorite place of many of us on the trip. The quaint and peaceful nature of this smaller city was enjoyable. Especially enjoying the setting sun ebbing down the steps of a central gathering place in town. This place also hosted live music for all to enjoy. Paired with some delicious mojitos and appetizers, and we were in heaven.
Our only other stop in the country during this long weekend was Varadero, one of its most picturesque beaches. We just managed to miss the rain and set up on the sand as the sun poked its head out.
We finished off the trip with some fascinating museums about the revolution and other history of the country. They really made you realize how close we are to each other and how the last 50 years or so have come to pass.
One jarring part of the country was the billboards. Many boards and murals depicted some sort of hatred for democracy/favor of socialism. One even had a picture of an Uncle Sam character that was overpowered by a socialism hammer. Being welcomed to the country while seeing these images was a fascinating duality, surely influenced by American dollars flowing in while holding true to their ideals.
All in all, this was a trip not to be forgotten. Especially with the borders restricted again only allowing organized group traveling, we can’t be sure when we would get another opportunity like this, if ever. Cuba is a beautiful country and even if you strongly disagree with their ideals, the historical context of visiting it should not be unnoticed.