This year Gus an me started out with a little journey I would like to tell you about: we went to Cuba. We had been thinking about going to Cuba for some time now and around Christmas we realized that it was a good moment to go. So we bought a cheap flight from Mexico City to Havana just 5 days before the journey and started the Adventure on 1st of January.
We arrived in Havana at night that same day and immediately realized that we had come to a whole new world – this was different than any other place we had visited. While we were still in Havanas International Airport José Martí, there was a blackout – twice. It only took a few minutes until the light was back on, but it was our first impression of Cuba and we were a little bit worried. Anyways, we took a taxi to get to our casa particular – houses of cuban families that rent one or two rooms to tourists. On our way there were several things that made me think, “Yes, this is a comunist country”. I am a little to young to be able to compare Cuba with the German Democratic Republic (DDR) because I was born just one year after Germany had been reunited. However, I have an idea due to visiting the Eastern part of Germany when I was a kid and hearing stories about the DDR from my grandparents. Therefore I somehow recognized the way some buildings are build, the national pride represented in seeing the cuban flag, images of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro and signs with sayings to motivate the people like: “El hombre crece con el trabajo que sale de sus manos.” (The man grows with the work that comes out of his hands.) or “La mujer cubana crece, triunfa y avanza.” (The cuban woman grows, triumphs and advances.)
The next day we started to explore the beautiful city of Havana and quickly noticed that we had travelled to the past – the buildings of Havana and especially Old Havana, the old cars driving around everywhere, people without their cellphones in their hands and small businesses instead of big supermarkets – we felt like we had travelled 50 years back in time. All of this is amazingly beautiful in a way, in another it can be a little annoying and of course there is an explanation for all of this.
In Cuba, there is a big disequilibrium of prices and salaries. Professionals working as an employee earn about 50 EUR per month when a soft drinks costs 1 EUR or a meal in a restaurant even 6 or 7 EUR. So you can imagine, that they simply don’t have the Money to renovate their houses or even buy or Import a car which is both incredibly expensive. Technology is also very expensive here in Cuba so most people don’t have a cellphone or a computer, but simply a normal phone at home and that’s it. For those who have a Smartphone (mostly tourists) there are very few places were you can make use of the Internet. The cuban telecommunications company ETECSA offers Internet Cards for 1 EUR per hour. So you have to find a spot where there is wifi and then use the card to log in. I am going to be totally honest with you: Gus and me both used our phones to connect with the internet for about an hour each during 8 days in Cuba and it was wonderful! Havana is a place where people still walk with their head held high during the streets – no one is looking at their phone or rushing through the streets making important phone calls.
As you can probably guess from the disequilibrium of prices and salaries, most restaurants and shops (at least in Havana) are exclusively for tourists. In general, Cubans live from the tourists. Several of our hosts explained us that due to the low salaries, no one can live only from their salaries. So a lot of people rent one or two rooms in their home, a lot of people work as a taxi driver additionally to their job or they simply do illegal stuff like selling the ETECSA Internet Cards for a much higher Price in the street. You might be wondering how that can work when you just buy one for the normal price at the company. Well, first of all, most tourists don’t know that the Price is 1 EUR for 1 hour. Second of all, ETECSA is one of the places where you will have to wait in line for a while. Yes, Cuba is a place where people have to wait in line for a lot of stuff, we saw lines for currency exchange offices, for shops that sell cleaning and personal hygiene products (These are very expensive and difficult to get in Cuba – bring your own stuff!), markets, bakeries and restaurants.
I have to admit that I – as the sweet tooth that I am – had some difficulties. If you go to Cuba, you won’t starve because the main meals in restaurants and family places are good, but we had a lof ot difficulties finding Snacks. We usually eat some fruit, peanuts, sandwich, some sweet bread or whatever during the day, especially when we’re on the road travelling from one place to another. This was almost impossible in Cuba. You might find a sandwich or some cookies (of bad quality) but that’s it. And me, sweet tooth, I suffered from there being almost no sweets but chocolate and vanilla ice-cream.
Cuba is a place of incredibly people. Yes, you do have to be careful that you don’t pay far too much for a service (taxi, meal etc.), but it’s understandable that the Cuban people want to use any opportunity to get Money due to their economic situation. But besides that, we have never met people so open and interested. Cubans start talking to you at any occasion out of sincere interest about you. They want to know about other places and people since it’s rather difficult for them to leave their country. They are interested in knowing because most of Cubans don’t even know their own country. Cubans use any possibility for some small talk and know how to enjoy life. The island they live on gives them an easy-going, tranquil life where they can enjoy a good mojito or a cigar at any time. This applies even more for the rural areas (we visited Viñales and Trinidad), Havana is much more busy and hectic at times. In Trinidad we actually felt like we had travelled back 100 years in time, the streets are made out of cobble stones and the way of transporting are mostly horse-drawn carriages and bicycles. People in Trinidad were especially nice and the place especially tranquil.
When you decide to stay in a casa particular, so to rent a room with a cuban family, be prepared to be welcomed as part of the Family with a lot of love, kindness and affectionateness. Cuban people are incredibly kind and open-minded. This loving welcome combined with the interesting places and beautiful landscapes this island has to offer made this journey something very special for us and I can honestly recommend anyone who wants to see something different, to go to Cuba.