“Why haven’t you written about your travels to Cuba yet Janet?” “When are you going to write about your trip to Cuba?” As 2017 nears an end, the guilt is racking up inside of me about a promised article about Cuba that I simply failed to write. An article about my travels in Cuba that I subconsciously refuse to write because, if I’m honest, I’m not sure I know what to say.
Most people who travel to Cuba seem to have nothing but positive things to say. “It was the trip of a lifetime! Cuba is SO amazing!” or the age-old “Oh you must go before it changes!“. For me, things were a little different. It’s not that I didn’t love Cuba. I did. it was one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever travelled to. All my senses were overwhelmed and it was the first time in many years that travel really challenged me, and this was something that excited me to no end.
Havana was everything I had ever dreamed about, and more. The vintage cars, the dilapidated buildings falling into disrepair, streets full of character (and characters!) painted pretty pastels, live music on every street corner and rum free-flowing out of hidden corner side Bodegas. So much so that I sat down in my first night there, and wrote about my first impressions of this eclectic city.
So, where did my Cuban dream go wrong?
This might sounds a little mad, but every time I sit down to write about my travels in Cuba I get a tension headache.
I start to remember the horrid fumes from the vintage cars, and a nightmare four hour journey which ended in me locking myself in the casa in Varadero. I vowed then and there to tell the world that the Hot Pink Chevrolet Bel Air they’re dreaming of might be fun for a tourist-centric spin around Havana but belong in the deepest pit of Dante’s Inferno if you’re planning to travel long distance.
I start to remember qqueuing for an hour outside a restaurant in Santa Clara, said to be the best pizza place in Cuba, only to be served the most disgusting and disappointing meal on my entire life. And I’ve lived in the some back ass of nowhere villages in Africa where cuisine most definitely isn’t something to write home about.
I start to remember how angry I felt when we discovered out casa owner had totally ripped us off, charging us double what fellow travellers had been charged for the same journey. Only to discover all out worst fears has materialised and we were to share a banged up “vintage car” with about 11 others instead of having it all to ourselves.
I start to remember being stranded on the beach outside Trinidad, in an insane rain shower, wondering how on earth we were going to get home. Hitchhiking in an ambulance was the last answer I thought i would ever be writing, but that is indeed how we managed to make our way back to Trinidad – in exchange for a small tip to the driver of course.
I start to remember my ATM card not working. Again and again and again. Have you ever travelled somewhere knowing that if you run out of money you are totally screwed. That’s how you’ll feel in Cuba if you run out of cash and you’re card refuses to work.
I start to remember how frustrating it was to try connect to the internet after 7 days offline. A detox is nice, and needed, but when the temptation (and offer) is there, you can’t help but want to connect. Turns out you need to queue for half an hour and produce your passport just to get a wifi card, so you can sit on a bench in the park or main square and pull your hair out as your attempt to connect for even just 5 minutes.
I start to remember that there is zero correlation between price and quality in Cuba, often times thinking if you pay a little more the food might actually arrive, only to find out they’re brought you the entirely wrong dish and it tastes like blank. Just black. Blander than bland BLANK.
I start to remember their supermarkets, or lack there of, and how difficult it was to buy something as simple as a bottle of water in places like Trinidad or Santa Clara. When it’s 30 degrees celsius, you’re sweating buckets and the last 4 corner stores are all sold out of water, you begin to get a bit light-headed and desperate.
I start to remember the ordeal of trying to book bus tickets 3 days in advance, but being told we’re already too late and they’re sold out for the next 5 days.
Despite this, I loved Cuba. Really.
I really didn’t want this to be a negative article and I MEAN IT when I say despite all the challenges I really did love Cuba. I think that’s why it’s so hard to write about it…because the challenges overshadow the good memories inside my head, and it makes it difficult to write about Cuba with a little balance.
I honestly think I need a little more time to get my thoughts together, to give Cuba the write-up it deserves. To explain the beauty of the landscapes, the fascinating history, the friendliness of the people, the sweet taste of your first mojito or daiquiri.
The Cuban people have, and still do, face so many hardships, and yet they were so open to us at all times, always happy to sit down and chat and talk about the pros and cons of life in Cuba.
Havana really is a time capsule. The beaches up north really are some of the most beautiful in the world. Vinales is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been seeing tobacco farmers in the fields, harvesting the much cherished ingredient for the world’s most famous (and expensive) cigars was a trip to remember.
Cuba is most definitely not an easy country to travel solo, or even independently with friend, but in reality this is the only way to truly see the real Cuba, the good with the bad. To stay with local families in casas, to eat local food, to be challenged by their eclectic transport and to sit down and talk or just listen to the problems of the past and the present.
I promise that part two of this series will be a lot more positive, and I’ll share some of my favourite photos and moments from the unforgettable weeks i spent in Cuba. Just give me time.