I don’t even know where to begin. What an intriguing, complex and layered country.The people are friendly and welcoming, music is an ever-present part of life, boy can Cubans dance, and the beaches are white sand and turquoise sea. A bottle of ron (rum) is $2.95CUC, and cigars anywhere from about $4CUC upwards. However, Cubans on average earn the equivalent of $20CUC a month, they are allocated rations from the government (which last about 10 days) and then they need to source food and provisions through the black market.
When traveling to Cuba make sure you take things you can give away: soap, toothpaste, razors, pens, notepads, shampoo, Panadol, aspirin, band-aids, socks, towels, flashlights etc… If you can buy a replacement at home when you return, leave it there!
Cuba carries its history with it. And what a history it has had! In cities across the island there are excellent museums and exhibitions on different parts of Cuban history and the different rebellions and wars. Cubans get taught (and live) their history from an early age so their sense of being Cuban is very very strong.
Socialism means everyone is equal. Cubans will happily chat to anyone it seemed like, as no one is seen as any better or worse than anyone else. I never got the sense that as a female I was ‘less than’ anyone else. Having said that, machismo is alive and well in Cuba; associated with “a man’s responsibility to provide for, protect, and defend”.
Cubans don’t see skin colour at all. After years and years of foreign interest and influence and slavery and immigration Cubans are a blend of ancestries. Cubans do not have a particular ‘look’ in my opinion. Cubans look like everyone, and everyone could be Cuban. Even I look Cuban when tanned, right up until I open my mouth.
My Mexican friends wanted to know whether Cubans were poorer than Mexicans.
In Mexico you can start and run your own business and proactively make money to better your situation and that of your family. It is also entirely possible to starve to death and be homeless in Mexico. Cubans on the other hand have a level they cannot fall beneath (admittedly it’s only going to keep you alive, not really thriving) as the government looks after everyone. Each person is put into the government ration programme at birth and should you have no family, there are also government-run homes where you can live out your final days.
I loved loved loved Cuba. Each city had it’s own architecture, history, personality and music and every day was a chance to strike up random conversations with people and just chat (thank goodness I have some Spanish now – it made all the difference).
Cubans were only allowed to travel overseas without applying for an exit visa in January 2013. The list of countries they can visit without a visa is very small though, and with passports priced at $160CUC, many Cubans will likely never travel overseas.
I found Cubans to be extremely warm and welcoming, interested in where you had come from, and which parts of Cuba you were going to visit or had already seen. They are super proud of their country and their history. Maybe also thinking that now is a good time for a change and wondering what the outside world is like.
This is the first in a series of posts on Cuba. Told you I liked it. All opinions are my own.