Cuba: What to expect

Cuba: what to expect

Our experience of Cuba was comparable to an on and off relationship, shifting from love to hate. A constant flood of mixed emotions playing with our hearts. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7  like the salsa beats and Reggaeton playing at every street corner.

“Don’t try to understand Cuba, just enjoy it. It would take you 100 years to understand it”. A piece of advice bestowed upon us in the beginning of our trip by a Cuban coffee farm worker. It stayed in our back of our minds throughout the whole trip. We started our journey in Havana and traveled through half of the island, avoiding Varadero and the all-inclusive options.

Cuba: What to expect

The most interesting part of Cuba was it’s people. A wave of Spanish colonists killed most of the natives in the 16th century and started bringing entire tribes of African slaves into the country. You will find the most incredible mixes, skin tones and eye colour. In all the countries we have visited we have never seen such a mix of people standing together no matter their colour or religion.

Cuban people are very photogenic. The way they looked back at the camera- it was almost as if they wanted to show the world their true selves, uncensored.

We experienced Cubans as friendly people, sparking conversation when asked to be photographed,  eager to know which country their face would be seen in.

Cuba: What to expect

Juana was sitting on the side walk in a street in Havana Central, smoking a Cigar, when Dinah asked if she could take a photograph of her. Wearing tennis shoes and a dress, she had this natural confidence about her. She initiated conversation asking Dinah to find her a foreign husband as most local men were either gay or married to foreigners. She came from Camagüey 40 years ago and has lived in calle Jesus del Penitente ever since.

This was something we heard many times. For some Cubans, marrying a foreigner was their plane ticket out of the country. However, the government made it difficult for Cubans to get close to foreigners. We saw a Cuban male get arrested for making out in the street with a foreign girl.

Cuba: What to expect

Rafael was a 60-year-old man who bought us Cururucho which are peanuts in a cone shaped paper that cost two Cuban Pesos, it was the first time someone had bought us anything. We were so surprised, almost waiting for the catch. He told us about his son who had moved to Portugal, he had got out. He was one of the few youths that got out. Rafael just wanted to talk to us and wanted nothing in return.

We met many parents who were so proud of their children who were able to move towards a bright future and study or work overseas. A bright future is not always a reality in Cuba where Doctors earn around 35 euros a month and teachers around 25 euros.

Cuba: What to expect

Maria was walking through old Havana when her blue eyes caught Dinah’s attention. Maria spoke about her dream for her granddaughter, she wanted her to be successful in Germany, she wanted her to join the few that manage to get out.

Cubans were friendly and warm but we got the impression that they had a need to escape their island and were always keeping an eye open for any opportunity a tourist could afford them.

Cuba: What to expect

Gender diversity was paid tribute to through a sculpture on the street of the Malecon. The Malecon is a popular hangout for transsexuals and prostitutes. Even though Mariel Castro, the daughter of the current president, Raul Castro has done a lot of work towards changing societal attitudes and spreading a message of tolerance, we found that people outside of Havana were less tolerant and some people were scared to identify themselves as anything other than straight.

Cuba: What to expect

Cubans really expressed themselves through their art and dance, impressive street art filled the streets of old Havana. Everywhere and on every occasion people were dancing. Perhaps dancing gave them a feeling a freedom they lacked in their daily lives.

Cuba: What to expect

Cuba: What to expect

We saw most beautifully maintained cars made in the 1950’s , the past and present conflated. The innovation is incredible; the vehicles are kept running by hand built improvised parts.

Cuba: What to expect

After the revolution Castro nationalized all educational institutions. All public education is free and all students wear school uniforms with the colour denoting grade level. Younger kids wear maroon colour uniform and the older children wear brown/ khaki colour similar to the colour worn by government officials.

Cuba: What to expect

The streets of Havana are like none other, there is always something going on, there is always some live entertainment for you to watch while eating your lunch or dinner. And we don’t mean live music or salsa dancing, people are the entertainment.

Cuba: What to expect

Because there is no consumerism or reality TV shows, entertainment is found on the street. Graffiti on the walls of the city leaves a long lasting impression, the existence of real freedom of speech.

Cuba: What to expect

We encountered many dogs and cats, we were told by a local that dogs look after tourists better than locals do. Chanelle could give testament to that, a dog led her to her casa particular when she got lost after a night out in Trinidad.

Cuba: What to expect

We heard other travelers say that their enjoyment of a city was always related to the quality of the relationship they formed with the host of their casa. We ended our trip in this amazing house in Havana and enjoyed our time there, thanks to our host Daisy. She was our Cuban mother, cooking for us, sharing her bottle of rum and telling us all the neighborhood gossip.She showed us how it’s possible for Cubans to live on one dollar a day.

It was hard to explain to most hosts that we are actually travelers with a passion for discovering other cultures and we wanted to live like a local. Most of them would see us as just another tourist, coming to have a good time, drinking rum and smoking cigars on a pretty beach…We did some of that, but seeing Cuba from the inside was what we really wanted.

Cuba: What to expect

We noticed the generational differences between the young and old, the older generation were more conservative, the “rules” were respected and the informants informed. Many told us about the revolution with fire in their eyes.

Cuba: What to expect

We found a growing alternative scene even in Cienfuegos, a coastal laid back town, tattooed and pierced youth craving a change… for better or the worse, we wouldn´t know. But the next few years will surely mark the end of an era. If you want to visit Cuba, it´s NOW!

Pop us an email or let us know how we can help planning your next trip! info@wowtravelers.com

 

*photos were taken by Dinah Cook.

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22 thoughts on “Cuba: What to expect

  1. Kelly

    I have to say, Cuba was never on my radar until I started seeing all these posts about it. I love how you friendly people were and how you got to find out about their lives and their experiences. Love when you can do that.

    Reply

  2. Julie

    What an amazing adventure. I am off to Cuba in August and love that you have provided information about the cultural experience.

    Reply

  3. Brooklyn Murtaugh

    I’ve wanted to go to Cuba since I was a child. I remember seeing photos and thinking it looked like a beautiful place. I still haven’t been, but I will someday!

    Reply

  4. Erin

    Your photos are beautiful! Especially the portraits. Nice job!

    Reply

  5. Becky Angell

    Wow love all those old cars, I would be clicking away like mad ha ha!!

    Reply

  6. Sara

    Loved these photos of Cuba! How long did you spend there?
    Sara recently posted…What To Do // Bondi to Coogee WalkMy Profile

    Reply

  7. C-Ludik

    I was in Cuba on January this year and I realized that to be Cuban is to be a part of the struggle for independence, for freedom, and it doesn’t end, because there is always suffering and repression.
    C-Ludik recently posted…Objective Dune !My Profile

    Reply

  8. Kat

    Very interesting insight about the Cuban people. I had no idea Cuba was so strict about relationships with foreigners or that so many Cuban parents want their kids to be able to leave the country someday.

    Reply

  9. Cassy

    Woaaawww! That sculpture is wicked cool!!!

    Reply

  10. Alex

    I’ve wanted to go to Cuba for so long! Your post is the first I’ve seen that’s really given me a sense of what the people there are like. Such an insightful and well-written post 🙂

    Reply

  11. Jay Artale

    What an amazing looking destination. No matter where you go, it’s always the people you meet who become most memorable about a destination. Seems like you lucked out in that regard! ~ @rovingjay
    Jay Artale recently posted…How do you get comments on your travel blog?My Profile

    Reply

  12. Lena

    This is such a warm article about people. I think they are the main experience wherever you go, the sights are just extra:)

    Reply

  13. sophie

    I love cuba, it is such a unique place and different from all other countries in this world. the culture and the people is what I love the most about this place.

    Reply

  14. Harish

    Great pics, cuba, my next destination

    Reply

  15. Gareth

    Although I have never been to Cuba, it has been on my list for a while now. Certainly, this post only cements that idea and I totally agree that Cuban are some of the nicest people you are ever likely to meet. Indeed, those that I have met have stated the same in that Cubans, however patriotic, are always seeking a way to leave the country. Sad, given how beautiful the country is

    Reply

  16. DTG

    Loved reading this post ad looking at your amazing photos.

    Reply

  17. Riely

    I would love to visit Cuba and see into their local life that they live now. It’s a little sad to think that one day soon their unique way to living will be lost. I hope they hold on to their culture a little longer. Lovely stories told of the Cubans and beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

  18. Liz Cadogan

    Love your photos Dinan so sharp and clear. What camera gear did you take to Cuba. My 1st trip I took all my Canon gear plus tripod and laptop. Much to heavy and bulky. 2nd trip I took a Panasonic FZ1000. Easier to carry round but lacked a good depth of field and was a bit hit and miss. Now for my 3rd trip in 2018 I want light and versatile with easy functioning and great focus. I like what I see in your work.
    Have you any suggestions please.
    Thanks
    Liz

    Reply

    1. wowtravelersworld

      Indeed gear is always a problem in terms of weight. I travel with a tiny tripod and a Nikon D5300, I also use a very light ThinkPad for post/processing. I am way more comfortable in the city than in the jungle with that gear. I guess it just depends on where you go. Perhaps you want to send me the link to you work, would love to check it out!

      Reply

  19. Lauren

    I really had a weird experience in Cuba – ups and downs like you say, and I don’t know if I would ever go back, as there was a strange vibe for me as a solo traveller. I’m massively envious of this post though, as it’s so much better than my Cuba post and the photos are AMAZING! I really love them 🙂 Any tips?!

    Reply

    1. wowtravelersworld

      I think that in order enjoy your journey in Cuba you need to let go of all you are used to- forget any high standards and expectations and it helps to speak some Spanish. As a solo traveler, it is super safe, the only risky part is to pay 10 times the price for a taxi ride. Other than that, loosing yourself in the streets of every city and taking the time to look at people and ask them about their story. Taking pics of them is a great way to connect with the country and get better shots. Glad you like the post and I hope you will give it an another chance. Dinah

      Reply

  20. Sushmita

    I begin with a Confession Cuba until now never made it to my bucket list, but now it is Thanks for sharing 🙂
    Sushmita recently posted…Stay motivated GRACE!My Profile

    Reply

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