Prior to boarding a plane, I had a very limited idea of what to expect from Cuba, based mainly on what you see in magazines.
1. The predictable
- Cuban cigars
- Big vintage statement ‘cuban looking’ cars
- Hot weather
- Exotic looking people speaking spanish
- White sandy beaches
- Salsa music
- Lots of colour
2. Cuban Inspiration
Before I even came close to booking the holiday, I had been fascinated by Trevor McDonald’s Secret Caribbean documentary, showing how people work in the cuban cigar factories – having books read to them while they work – how nice!
3. Bold and distinct
I thought Cuba seemed very distinctive compared to other Caribbean islands, one of a kind with a very diverse population, language and mix of music.
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. In fact, if Cuba was a person I’d describe him/her as ‘standing out from the crowd’, one of those people with such a strong, unforgettable and distinctive personality that’s it’s almost impossible to categorise them.
It’s diverse in so many ways, from the people, culture, politics, architecture and history.
4. Cuban History
I knew Cuba was once a very wealthy island, despite the many crumbling buildings you we today.
I’d picked up that only very recently Cubans had been granted the right to sell their homes if they wished, 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.
Annoyingly, I forgot to take a bumper supply of clay face masks for this reason – sounded like some regular deep cleansing was in order.
The dust and fumes on the roads are very visible at times.
6. Another world
I most looked forward to the feeling of being in a place that felt truly ‘foreign’, not like the more predictable and familiar destinations I’ve visited so far.
I couldn’t think of any famous cubans – other than Fidel Castro.
I felt a little apprehensive about the currency and getting confused between CUC’s (‘cooks’) and pesos, but it was fine. Local sellers happily gave me a price in CUCs if the tags are in pesos, and nobody tried to give me pesos in change.
Keen 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.
7. Loo Roll
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 are 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).
8. Shopping anxiety
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.
9. Don’t Blow Your Nose
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.
Personally, I’d rather they blew their noses.
10.Welcome to Cuba
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 just grateful to get off the plane and feel some Cuban warmth in the air.
Time to experience some of the real Cuba.