we just got back from Cuba. After submitting my PhD theory I needed a break, a proper one, somewhere far away where I’d pick myself up and recharge. My husband and I collectively voted for Cuba, as we wanted to see it in its original form before the consumerism and capitalism ruin it.
Cuba is an island which can be described in two words: ever changing. What we read on blogs and websites only a few months old, was no longer true when we arrived there. Our trip was not organised. We had only first two nights booked and the rest was spontaneous. As I was so busy, I did not bother looking at any travel guide or read anything about Cuba. I thought I’d do it on the plane, but there I was learning Spanish (successfully!), so speaking for myself, I had only a rough idea that I am going to visit a Caribbean island where it’ll be summer and dry season and which regime is socialism (but coming from a post-socialistic country I kinda knew what this meant).
Our arrival and travel went smoothly. We reached Havana by evening and had someone picking us up and taking us to our casa. The next day we were served breakfast. I was absolutely astonished by tropical fruit, but seeing the bread on our table I thought: “Na-a, I’m not going to eat that”. See the picture.
I’m not going to eat artificial burger-like bread made of white flour and loads of sugar. Nor am I going to eat butter substitute. Cheese and eggs tasted like soap, my husband said, while me being a vegan, refused to even try it. And here comes the hard truth of socialism: one cannot buy anything. The shops literally had nothing but some huge tins of beans (sugar added of course), loads of tomato sauce, some rice and at least five kinds of rum. I couldn’t find any fruit, nor bread. I thought fine, I’ll live on our fruit bars brought from Europe. Havana was dirty and smelly. The houses were adorable perhaps 50 years ago, but today it was all falling apart. We had not yet discovered Havana Vieja, which is better and truly beautiful, but the rest looks like as if it is going to collapse within the next five years because nobody cares to rebuild or repair what is broken.
We headed off to Viñales, a national park on the west with tobacco and coffee plantation. Our first taxi collectivo ride. Stopped on the way and I thought “nice, stretch my legs a bit” and as I took some pictures, the driver started shouting at me and prohibited to take some more. We were at a place where black petrol was being sold. The average petrol price compares to prices in Europe, which is about 1eur/l but on a black market one can get one liter for 10 cents.
Vinales was beautiful. The mogotes all around the valley looked friendly and inviting. Cuba is very green, clean and the nature is untouched (which is what I like!). But the city and our tourist experience was insulting for a Slovenian. Slovenians are so spoiled, because we live in a country with such beautiful nature, environment and such high living standard that it is literally impossible to impress us (for me only New Zealand exceeded my expectations, and I’ve seen quite some bits of this planet already). We took a horse ride to the natural park. Stopped by a farmer where I smoked my first cigar. Then off to a coffee plantation where one old man was explaining us the process of making coffee in three minutes and used the rest of his 20-minute tour selling us coffee, honey and rum. We were then taken to a “lago natural” which was an artificial water tank with muddy water. And the Mural de la Prehistoria was someone painting the rocks with modern colours. I understand that tourism is the main cuban industry but I do not understand the tourists who were actually impressed (or perhaps acting so). Anyhow, we thought the show was ridiculous and decided to leave Viñales asap so booked our Viazul bus to Trinidad where I was hoping to see my longing for beach. Unfortunately we both got very sick and spent the night interchangeably vomiting or sitting on the toilet. I got high fever and was freezing and trembling on my side of bed. After such an ordeal, we had to do the “check in” for the bus at 6.10 am. The bus was supposed to leave at 6.45 but left at 7.30. First we had to walk up a small hill for our check in for about 20 mins and then again down where our bus was waiting. It would make it too complicated to pick us up I suppose and the station was only used to drop people off. I swallowed a painkiller and slept throughout the whole ride which took a bit more than 9 hours.
Arriving at Trinidad sometime pm, we went looking for a casa recommended by some people we met in Viñales. Unfortunately it was full, but the lady was kind and recommended us another one. Which was for the same amount of money (25 cuc/room) a box with no water in the shower, synthetic linens and squeaking bed, straight next to a huge refrigerator so we were exposed to a constant light and noise. We didn’t mind and went straight to bed at 6pm and slept until the next morning. I thought to myself
“Shit, what a spoiled cookie you are, girl. You better adjust your standards or you are likely to have the worst holiday of your life!”
Woken up the next day feeling much better. Trinidad was adorable. Went off looking for another casa, as this one was clearly too expensive for the un-comfort it offered, we explored the streets of Trinidad. Then found our place which has been our home for the next 9 days. Our casa of Jachima and Ariel close to Park Cespedes was gorgeous. Having had so much misfortune so far, we decided to give up traveling around and just settle in for a while. And this is when real holidays started.
Not without challenges though. As soon as we got better, we gained our appetite back. Especially mine is quite huge, I eat huge amounts of food but am very picky in what I eat. Since Trinidad shops were even more modest than the Havana ones, I had to adjust. By the end of our stay I’ve probably eaten about 100 buns of that “awful bread that I am not going to eat” and about 50 eggs. Both without any taste, but I stopped complaining, because there was nothing else to eat except some baby food with condensed milk (forget about fresh milk in Cuba, though last day of our trip I saw a soy milk carton which was a huge surprise, but massively expensive).
It is amazing how flexible we are, humans. Being in a country which has very different culture and habits to your own forces you to adjust and think faster. I was very pleased with myself to discover that I’ve been super spoiled. You would not believe the joy I felt when finding a man on the street selling tomatoes. Even managed to get some Swiss chard and it made me the happiest person.
Now about the sea and the beaches. It was so worth it. Playa Ancon was my heaven on Earth. Crystal clear turquoise warm sea with the temperature around 26-27 or even more, not a single rubbish on the floor, a beach where you could easily find a spot to be completely alone or among others, but not plenty. We went there almost every day. I got a nice suntan and a close encounter with a ray fish which was very nice as none of us was scared, so we spent quite some time together in slightly deeper water, curious about each other.
Every time you travel, travel changes you. I think there is a proverb saying that every travelling is travelling to yourself. And I agree. I discovered Europe through Cuba, a different perspective. It made me so sad thinking about our excessive consumerism and loads of plastic we produce every hour. Amounts of food, clothes and other things we are throwing away. When we left, our car (my lovely Peugeot 206) broke down and we were thinking of getting a new one. Such a car in Cuba would cost around 8,000 cuc and was considered highly valuable and fashionable! I left with my famous suitcase full of clothes I was gonna throw away in Europe, but in Cuba they all of a sudden seemed fine to me and I almost changed my mind by thinking of bringing it back home again (which I then did not – I came back with only what I had on, no extra luggage :).
Then about people. Cubans are very special. The conditions they live in are rough. The money they earn is scarce, the government salaries are ridiculous so no wonder nobody wants to work. But they are smiling all the time. They stick together. Families are one of the most important networks. They help each other. They are not craving for material things – when we wanted to sell our iPad (because we thought they might be interested and for us was getting rather old) they carelessly raised their eyebrows saying we do like it, but we do not need it. It made me thing how many things I own or am craving for, but actually do not need.
In Cuba I survived with minimum, even less than in India. And I did not feel much deprivation (only food-wise, but again, I am very picky when it comes to that, but thought that okay, this is not forever, so I’ll survive). So being back home now into 30cm of snow and 0 degrees makes me want to take some lessons from Cuba into my western lifestyle. Some you can view below in a short video.
And some other “resolutions” or discoveries are connected to realisation that most people on this planet survive with less than 5 Euro/day. Because they have to. Why don’t I try to survive with the same, but not because I have to, but because I can? So here it goes:
- I do not have to consume all kinds of superfoods coming from far away. We have superfood in Slovenia, but it is not marketed as much and totally inexpensive.
- I do not have to eat avocado etc. here, where it does not grow. I simply do not want to contribute to the pollution its production and transportation takes.
- I do not have to own 369276 different outfits for every other occasion. A few classic pieces would do.
- I do not have to throw something away just because it is broken or torn. Perhaps I could remember how to sew again. And so what if that coffee cup is broken. If it still holds water, it can still be my favourite.
- Zero waste. Dear reader, we are going to suffocate if we don’t act now. I’ll do my best to try and go zero waste. Went shopping today. It is very challenging, but I’ll keep going!
- No plastic. Very challenging again! But I’ve given up on shampoo and shower gels, I will eventually give up on toothpaste and other beauty products and will learn how to make my own.
- Ancient wisdom. In Slovenia, we have so many herbs and spices, not to mention flowers. My grandmother knew what to pick when. I have no clue. Perhaps time to start asking her for some advice and learn the art of tea and other homemade remedies.
I guess that should do. For all of you who are considering visiting Cuba, do it fast, because it is changing. The prices were similar to European, but for much lower quality or service. Capitalism is definitely going to kick in, especially if the embargo from the USA finishes sometime in the future. So if you are after a romantic Cuba, now is the time to discover it. I enjoyed my experience a lot – pleasant and unpleasant bits. The only question for me now is how am I gonna survive my next trip, which is going to Canada work-wise in a week – from +30 degrees into -10? But hey – what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right?
Much love to you,