Travelling in Cuba can be a really difficult. Travelling in Cuba without knowing Spanish, in peak season and with two small children can be a real challenge.
As our first blog from Cuba indicated – getting there was not exactly a picnic, but then again a big reason for going to Cuba was the fact that it is so different from the rest of the world – and in that area it certainly has not disappointed.
The following list sums up the small, big, positive and negative surprises:
Yes, at least half the cars in Cuba are still from the 50’ies and 60’ies – it is not a tourist gimmick. But despite what most people think it arguably has much more to do with economy than the trade embargo (they can get cars from e.g. China).
Horse carriages are a real means of transportation, they even use them on the highway.
TV’s, AC, doors and many other things look at least 20-30 years old. It is like having used a time-machine.
There are no supermarkets but only small mini-marts with a very limited supply – just because they had bottled water yesterday does not mean they have something left today.
Regarding water it seems that most Cubans do not really drink it. They are much more fond of soda, juice and especially beer and rum. One bottle of big water costs the same as a big meal at a street stall. Nobody goes to the beach without a bottle of dark rum under the arm.
They drink A LOT of alcohol. One bottle of rum per person does not seem unlikely for an afternoon at the beach.
Waiting in a Bank for 2 hours to spend 15 minutes exchanging Mexican Pesos for Cuban Convertible Pesos. Everything was counted at least 4 times.
Waiting ½ hour at an ATM to find it out of cash.
Finally agreeing on what we want at restaurants just to be told that only half the things on the menu are available.
A doctor earns less in one month than a Taxi driver can earn in a day.
Eating great dinner at street stalls for 1 dollar.
Paying 4 cents (0,30 DKK) to travel 30 km. by local bus.
Buying surprisingly good ice-cream cones for 1 CUP (0,30 DKK).
Getting used to a country with two currencies CUC(expensive stuff) and CUP(Local cheap stuff). 1 CUC = 1 USD = 24 CUP.
Incredibly friendly and open people – even though you don’t speak their language.
Not being able to access internet (of course you can, but only at very few places, and of course you have to wait a long time there too).
Waiting 45 min. for the waiter to take your order and another 45 min. before getting the food – while nobody seemed busy doing anything else…
Surprisingly good and cheap local ice-cream.
A capital (La Habana/Havana) where ruins and grandeur are just meters apart.
For all those reasons it is really hard to not hate and love Cuba at the same time. You really need to “Bring your patience” and it takes a couple of days to get enough of the basics in place to really start enjoying the people and the country. Waiting in line never becomes exiting, but Cubans seem to not even notice it.
On the other hand it is really hard not to enjoy the people and the spontaneous music and dancing on the beach, in the street or just waiting for the bus.
People are very open and friendly and talking (read: hand-signs, broken sentences and more beers than we normally consume in a week) with locals on the beach on day 4 we were invited for a guided tour in Havana the next day.
Once you have learned to slow down and leave the urge to get things fast and on time behind things seem to flow more easily and it is hard to imagine that Cuba is a country where many people need treatment for stress.
So following the Cuban way of life we did very little on our first 4 days:
Visited Havana two times to do practical stuff like travel arrangements, getting money from the bank and see the city.
Walked around Havana breathing exhaust fumes and enjoying the cars, people and the special atmosphere.
Took a traditional tourist-bus around Havana with HavanaBusTour (they repeated most stuff in broken English but it was so broken that we did not understand a word).
Went to the beach – and Noah practising standing on his hands.
Cancelled our trip to Cienfuegos and Santa Clara to stay 5 more days in Guanabo and just “take it easy”
Slept till 10 O’Clock in the morning most days and had “breakfast” at 11 – Ah!
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July 29, 2016
I must emphasize that I am a native NYC born Cuban American and as a foreigner, you summed up the perfect adjectives for Cuba. No cliche´s !! Well done. Nice pics….You would have loved Cienfuegos for 2 days.Santa Clara is lovely to walk around as well. I found the fumes in Havana to be distressing and I will have a hard time when I go back. 2016 was the most traffic I have ever seen and thus the worst air quality ever. The buildings get painted tacky colors and son sooted….that is Cuba.
August 1, 2016
Thank you for your comments. In hindsight, we probably should have gone to Cienfuegos and Santa Clara as planned – we simple found Cuba too busy when we were there (Easter, Obama visit and free Rolling Stones concert in Havana ;-/) and we were a bit tired of moving around. But you are correct abort the air pollution in Havana, it’s not nice to breathe in. Still a unique experience to visit Cuba:-)
April 30, 2017
Wow !!! I just went to Cuba in February, and you are right on the money !!! People always ask me how was it and it’s kinda hard to explain !! But you did a very good job at it !!