I have always been fascinated by Cuba, the mysterious country with cars from the 50’s, mixed architecture and amazing beaches. The country, which is so well preserved, is now fast changing – to the better for its people – but I wanted to see the “old” Cuba when I still had the possibility.
Our Cuba trip had a pretty rough start. The day before we were supposed to leave, we suddenly got a mail from the casa particular (the accommodation most people use in Cuba) we booked for the first nights saying that they (and most other casa particulars in the area) were fully booked the night of our arrival. As we were supposed to arrive at night, we really needed to have somewhere to stay, and this caused a bit stress (we ended up with a more expensive casa with shared bathroom and no air-condition…).
In the middle of this mess, and when I already have arrived at Oslo Airport, we get to know that our flight from Oslo to Frankfurt has been CANCELLED due to Lufthansa’s strike. And we are not able to reach Lufthansa (or Star Alliance) by phone or at the airport. Help! Our flights from Frankfurt to Toronto and from Toronto to Havana were not cancelled, so we really wanted to catch these flights. We only had eight days in Cuba, and didn’t want to loose any time! Luckily, I was at the airport already and managed to be the first person at the service desk when it opened the next morning, and we got the last tickets for the morning flight to Frankfurt.
After four flights and no sleep for 48 hours, we finally arrived Havana. But, our bad luck was still with us – our luggage was still in Europe! And we didn’t receive it for another three days. Of course we had travel insurance that would cover everything we needed, but we soon realized that shopping wasn’t easy in Cuba. We spent our first day trying to find basic toiletries as a toothbrush and shampoo, as well as some light clothes for the hot weather… You have no idea how hard it was to find anything. Next time I will pack some extra clothes and toiletries in my hand luggage!
But, except from these unfortunate events, we had an awesome trip from the beginning to the end. Cuba fulfilled all our expectations. The weather was amazing every day with around 30 degrees and sun all day. The streets are as colorful as we imagined, with a mix of Spanish, French, Russian and American architecture from different centuries. Music is played on every corner, and it is often live music. The people are nice and helpful – even though most people don’t speak English. It is amazing how Cubans looks as well; honey skin, green eyes and a blond afro aren’t unusual because of the race mix in Cuba. The culture and the music also reflects the mix of people. Most cars in the streets are more than 50 years old, and people smoke cigars and drink rum on a daily basis. The beer is often cheaper than water, and lobster is cheaper than a McDonald’s meal in Norway. We spent our eight days in Cuba in the cities Havana and Trinidad, which I will blog about in detail later. We really enjoyed every second of our trip!
Even though Cuba was like heaven for us, it was obvious that the people still are struggling. From 1960 and until a few years ago the communism was very strict and created a long-lasting economic stagnation. This is easy to see to day, despite the liberalization that has been happening over the last years. Until 2011 private companies were not allowed, but luckily this is allowed within a certain limit today. This has made many families – especially those working within tourism – very rich, in Cuban standards. But, the average salary is still less than 60 USD a month.
Import is still difficult, and the Cuban production doesn’t cover people’s needs. Even people with money struggle to find what they need. We saw this ourselves when we were looking for toiletries because of our missing luggage; most things were impossible to find, and what we could find were very expensive. In the streets, people asked us if we had lotion or soap to give them, because they couldn’t get any. To prepare a simple breakfast for tourists, a casa/hotel owner must have one employee just to search for the ingredients – just finding bread and eggs can take hours.
We also experienced that people wanted to give us home made products (art, hats etc.) in exchange for clothes instead of money, because money wouldn’t help them to get what they needed.
If you are going to Cuba and want to help the people, bring old clothes etc. if you have any. People will really appreciate it. The same with toiletries. We met some tourists staying in a luxury hotel, and every day they would get soap, shampoo etc., which they took and gave to people in the streets. Everything helps!
I am back in Norway now, and have hundreds of pictures and movies to go through, so stay tuned for more blog posts from Cuba!