Before I went to Cuba I had a very limited idea of what to expect, based mainly on what you see in magazines:
- Cuban cigars
- Big vintage statement ‘cuban looking’ cars
- Hot weather
- Exotic looking people speaking spanish
- White sandy beaches
- Salsa music
- Lots of colour
Before I went to Cuba I was fascinated by Trevor McDonald’s Secret Caribbean documentary, showing how people worked in the cuban cigar factories – having books read to them while they worked – how nice I thought!
I thought Cuba always seemed very distinctive compared to other caribbean islands, one of a kind – in terms of the diversity of people on the island, language and music (not the usual soca, calypso and reggae). I was right. In the most respectful and in a complimentary way – I didn’t feel like I was in the caribbean, instead Cuba felt too big a personality to be swept under a broader category. Cuba stood apart, beautifully bold and distinct.
I had a basic understanding that Cuba was once a very wealthy island, despite the many crumbling buildings you see today.
I’d picked up that only very recently Cubans had received the right to sell their homes if they wished, in this case, a privilege that most other countries take for granted.
I knew roughly that Cuba is or was a communist country, where people would be allocated rations of basic food supplies, and the idea of some getting wealthier than others was not tolerated or encouraged.
I heard a few bloggers say the pollution is really bad in Havana as the vintage cars give off really strong black fumes. I meant to take a bumper supply of clay face masks for this reason – sounded like some regular deep cleansing would have been in order, but I forgot! The dust and fumes on the roads can be very visible at times.
I most looked forward to the feeling of being in a place that felt truly ‘foreign’ to me, not like the more the predictable and familiar destinations I’ve visited so far.
I couldn’t think of any famous cubans – other than Fidel Castro.
I was a little apprehensive about the currency and getting confused between CUC’s (‘cooks’) and pesos, but it was fine. Local sellersl happily give you a price in CUCs if the tags are in pesos, and nobody tried to give me pesos in change.
I wanted to come away with a bit more than just selfies in vintage cars – I was genuinely intrigued by the history, politics and culture of Cuba – its resilience and pride.
I’d taken heed of the many comments about a lack of toilet roll – and packed a multipack in my suitcase – just in case. Hotels were usually well equipped but in some public/restaurant toilets there wasn’t any loo roll or running water to wash your hands (so carry hand sanitiser and some tissues at all times).
I dreaded the idea of having to part with my bag in order to enter a local shop and hoped I might be able to avoid this. Most tourist heavy shops didn’t request this, but some of the bigger supermarket type stores had lockers for you to put your bags in as you entered.
Not everyone smokes cigars but I wondered if there was some sort of common smokers nasal grunt. I later learned that it is considered very rude to blow your nose in public – which might explain some of the snorting from a few different professionals in hotels and excursion guides.
And lastly, I expected to arrive to glorious sunshine and salsa music filled airport – not so. I was greeted by heavy rain clouds and a good down pour, though this doesn’t really matter when you’re simply just grateful to get off the plane and feel some Cuban warmth in the air.
Time to experience some of the real Cuba.