If you haven’t been go. If want to enrich your soul, go. If want to learn about a fantastic culture, go! If truly want to meet interesting people, go! If you want authenticity, go!
Presently, Cuba’s doors just opened to the rest of the world. For years, Cuba held it’s magic to itself, almost alienating it self from the rest of the world but now, they welcome tourists with open arms.
It is one of the eclectic places one can travel to. It’s so left field for most people to even consider Cuba as a place to travel to but believe me, left field on this occasion is good.
It seems Cuba is stuck in a time warp! Like some one stopped the clocks in Cuba some 50 years ago whilst the rest of the world continued living and advancing forward with the ever changing demands and quick pace of the world. Cuba, it seems, remained in a bubble, an island on its own.
At first, landing in the airport with a terminal made out of what seemed like a huge plane hanger converted into a terminal. Old planes lined the tar mat, some of them rusted out remnants of planes with propellers. It seemed like we landed in war torn Village out side Afghanistan (slight exaggeration). The security was daunting and at this point felt even more like I was about to go into a war torn country. The drive to the hotel was also intimidating, simply because the scenery was so unfamiliar. Old cars, utes turned into buses or public transport, some transport was still horse drawn, yep horses were still an important form of transport. Plenty of banana trees lined the roads and plenty of tin sheds that seemed to be shops and eateries. The place had hints of Philippines, where the dirty roads were normal and the rubbish seemed to be unnoticed being blown in the wind. It was dusty, I remember that, and I remember the smell of petrol burning from the car we were traveling in like the old cars we used to drive in Australia before fuel injection came it.
We arrived in the hotel, super huge and all I can think of was 50 years ago when this hotel was one of the grandest hotels in Havana, Cuba. It was the the Hilton Cuba back in its hay day and the place was lined with marble from head to toe. The foyer was one of the biggest I’ve seen, so much open space and yes this hotel would have to be the grandest in its day. Although upon checking in and entering our room, it seems, that progress forgot about this hotel too. It was dirty, like it was never cleaned. The taps were lined with black mould and the floors seemed the dusty roads we just came off of, but the view was some thing else! Havana right in front of my eyes, again, my mind wonders to the days when this place was where the royalties and the who’s who of the world traveled to be seen or to disappear.
We walked around the place a while and immediately noticed that the people were very welcoming foreigners. What was striking at first glance was how open these people were. A boy with his mother walked past us, the boy needed to wee, the lady pushes him hurriedly to the nearest wall where she proceeded to pull down his pants. She turns around and the boy just wees where he stood, in the middle of crowd! Even writing that passage I felt uncomfortable for many reasons because of judgments from people, but for these people, its what happened years ago, whats changed? The world hasn’t taught them other wise yet!
We were approached by a man who rode the oldest passenger type of tuk tuk I have ever seen. It was green and it sounded like it was ready to fall apart. In his broken but legible English, he explained who he was and what he could do for us. Charming man, dressed in clothes so old and falling apart that in my head, I thought any day now that will wear away to nothing! He gave us a travel plan for the next few days where he was going to be our tour guide for what only seemed to be change in our pockets. So, you guessed it, we took him up on his offer. For the days that followed he was there in the morning and rode us around Havana, he even took us to the this restaurant one night where they sold nothing but traditional Cuban food. If it wasn’t for him, we would not have had that experience because it was in some ones house which was converted into a restaurant at night. I tell you, getting there in the dark, riding past people who were doing voodoo was scary. I thought he was going to drop us off in the middle of voodoo country where they would cut out my liver and do spells but true to his word, he dropped at us to the most interesting restaurant/house I have eaten in.
The next few days, we toured in tour buses out into country or bush. Not much different to Havana, less buildings and more horses. Cigars and rum were the main attraction and that is what we brought back with us. I had the best Havana Dark rum I have ever tasted and experienced the all the fuss around Cuban cigars, Monte Cristo’s made just for me. We visited jazz clubs, once frequented by celebrities from around the world, saw buildings that were once beautiful and still is wearing the age well on its walls, proudly telling the world of its history. I saw the old being turned into new for the incoming tourists and I saw the some history being played out in front of me like a show. Buicks’s are a normal part of life, so old its still beautiful and shiny because they restore them constantly. You can’t buy the parts for the cars any more so they make it by hand. The books that were once burnt, we saw rescued copies. We even saw a diner like you would 50 years ago, black and white tiled floors, with waiters in black bow ties, red both seats and swivel seats at the bar. It was like walking in on the set of Happy Days and I was The Fonz! Cobble stoned roads, architecture of days gone by, restored or untouched. It truly was the place the world forgot about. It so beautiful, it’s wonder why Hemingway didn’t leave!!