Cuba struck me in more ways than one.
When arriving into Havana airport I was curious as to what incited the two hour wait for our suitcases. When asking one of the airhosts, José, he explained that Cuba simply are not prepared for the vast growth of flights to Havana airport. Now with the American embargo dropped, starting in October, Havana will welcome 75 flights PER DAY from America. With one luggage carousel, three security scanners and one runway I honestly don’t know how they will cope…
Not only this, but the situation regarding currency is even more shocking. In Cuba there exists two currencies. The Cuban convertible pesos that tourists use, and the standard Cuban pesos for the locals. Now get this… Cubans usually will earn 605 Cuban pesos per month which is equivalent to approximately 22 Cuban convertible pesos per month which is equivalent to about 18 pounds per month. This is SHOCKING.
In this communist society Cubans receive a ticket from the government which allows them to get their shopping weekly. This involves the simple stock such as rice, bread, water, butter etc. Looking around their super markets, you will find nothing like fruit, vegetables or luxury sweet things like ice cream or cookies, for example. If Cubans want these kind of foods they need to go to markets or better yet, the stalls which the tourists LOVE. You will find that a simple bunch of ackee (basically like the grapes of Cuba) will cost 5 Cuban convertible pesos. This is already just under a quarter of a Cuban’s monthly wage. I shortly realised that an average Cuban cannot afford these ‘luxuries’ and if they can, they are considered ‘pijos’ (entitled Cubans). They are restricted to run down department stores that look like they were transported from the 50s and super markets that contain no options and only simple foods.
Nevertheless, the Cuban people are the happiest I have EVER met. An example of this: We were strolling down Obispo pedestrian road in the midst of Old Havana and an animated, smiling, dancing man approached us, showed us his ID, and told us it was his birthday today. We gave him 5 Cuban convertible pesos and told him to get himself a present and suddenly he erupted into cheer, held the 5 peso note high and dances around the street showing it to everywhere. Before we knew it, everyone had come out of their houses and joined in the song and dance and starting cheering. This was a purely stunning moment: something that put a smile on my face for the rest of the day.
Whilst I would love to give you a full flamboyant description regarding the rest of my trip to Havana, I am just about to go see a performance of what’s left of Buena Vista Social Club. Therefore, I shall just explain some things you need to know about Havana in bullet points:
- About 50% of the cars you will see driving around will be the old American style cars. And most of these are taxis because they know tourists love them (WE DO) so hop on in and enjoy the open top jiggidy (yes that is a made up word) ride!!
- The city is ALWAYS buzzing from morning to night. But you better be in for a shock as you arrive. From the minute you step out of the airport you will be hassled to buy things, go for rides etc… It is something you get used to.
- You will find that in Havana, especially Old Havana, there will be modern buildings or restaurants interspersed with run down houses/ flats that almost look like they will collapse any minute. Most Cubans during the day leave their front door open, even in the hustle and bustle of the main streets and if not, they often sit on their front door step or stand in the street just because…
- For anyone travelling to Cuba I encourage you to avoid planned tours with a group. The best way to see the city is simply to explore it yourself. Whether that be hopping in an Old American car along the way, jumping on a horse and carriage or just walking around, talking to the people etc…
- DO NOT go to the classic tourist restaurants such as La Bodeguita del Medio or Tropicana. To get the true Cuban food experience go to the places that are hidden away. If you do not know where those are, ask a Cuban (simple as!) I would not have found half the amazing Cuban cuisines I did if it wasn’t for asking Cubans I met along the way and simply saying “Where would YOU go?”
- OH AND LASTLY- YOU MUST GO TO HEMMINGWAY’S HOUSE BECAUSE, WELL, HE IS AN AWESOME AUTHOR WHO LIVED A FREE-SPIRITED LIFE AND HIS HOUSE IS JUST BEAUTIFUL.
Student Journalist, Creative Writer, Poet, Traveller, Eco Warrior