Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Since returning from Cuba last week everyone asks “How was it?” I reply “It's complicated.” This is a standard reply in Cuba. Nothing is what it seems nor seems what it means. Cuba isn't a tourist destination and some classify it as a third world country. Cuba should be a tourist destination for the sun, sand and beautiful variations of terrain. But…it's communist so that comes with its own advertising and propaganda. No need for me to elaborate on that one, there is enough information and enough preconceived notions to fill an Animal Farm.

Usually the complicated reply doesn't satisfy their Cuban curiosity so I must indulge myself and make comparisons. Cuba is like camping. If you like camping one might enjoy Cuba. If you are diligent at carrying and drinking your prepackaged water you will like camping and Cuba. In Cuba you must beware of the unfiltered water; they use it to make ice cubes, wash lettuce and other vegetables. This could turn your trip into a tour of “Los Banos.” If one enjoys a luke warm slowly trickling spray of water out of the shower spout one would like camping or Cuba. For the comfort of sleep, if one can find solace in a thin compilation of foam on a board, one would love Cuba. The overnight backpacker more than likely carries a nice comfortable sleeping bag. The prepared backpacker would also pack all that is needed for their multiple day journey and ration as needed if the trip was extended. The Cuban on the other hand is given everything they need and continue to ration.

I'm not a camper nor really a camera snapping black socks and sandals wearing tourist. The thought of being herded on a tour bus and stopping at all the main attractions to disembark and snap a photo doesn't constitute travel for me. For me traveling is wandering instead of taking a taxi. I’ll find the main street and walk parallel to it one block over. If the restaurant has a neon arrow pointing to it more than likely I'm not eating there. With my previously stated disclaimer of Cuba it is wonderful. It is exotic and morbidly nostalgic at the same time. Propaganda overlays the walls of a once prosperous epoch. It all comes alive and you feel like you're in another era when the cars zoom by. They pass by looking pristine and perfectly restored. Art Deco façades work as a backdrop and capture the romance. It doesn't seem that long ago…that I was watching the Godfather. I could see it all unfold at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana. I sit at the bar watching the condensation gather momentum and glide down the side of my mojito, the Cohiba cigar holds it's ash as I inhale. I think it's not that complicated, then I hear “Mi amigo porque usas medias con las sandalias?  I now realize I have no idea what is going on here. I should have listened a little more in world history; realizing that the “Bay of Pigs” isn’t a recipe for pigs in a blanket. I could of tried a little harder in my Spanish class “tambien.”


  1. I was there 10 years ao, and I'm guessing that not much has changed, except that more countries--Canada, Spain, maybe Italy, maybe Mexico--are putting money into rebuilding and renovating some of the beautiful Hispano Moresque architecture. It ib beautiful.

    Like you say, it's complicated.

    Everyone operates on two or three levels. Nominally communist, everyone has a little capitalist business, whether it's selling cafe in the morning out of their homes, or driving tourists in a pedicab, or putting people up (illegally) in their homes or running a restaurant our of the front room. My favorite was the group that worked at the cigar factory; they each took bits home at night and assembled black-market Cohibas at a fraction of the price, cigar bands, box and all. The community effort and trust was extraordinary, because the penalties for doing this were high.

    Nominally communist, then christian, everyone has an orisha (Yoruba-origin saint) they worship; you can tell which one by the color beads they wear under their clothes.If you get it, you'll be bid adieu withh an "Ache, mucho ache," (Pr: Achay=blessings).

    Everyone is communist, but everyone complains. When I was there, Fidel was still in control, so as people complained they would stroke an invisible beard.

    Many things broke my heart, but the worst was the prostitution. There's an entire culture based on sexual tourism.

    Nobody has enough. The gov't rations run out before the end of the month. And I noticed that the darkest Cubans lived in the poorest neighborhoods. But I never felt unsafe, even being obviously non Cubana. Everyone to a person was able to make the distinction between the American govt--Boosh, at the time--and Americans. They hated him, loved America.If you could speak a little Spanish, everyone wanted to talk. And those who could speak English wanted to practice.

    I loved being there, and I want to go back--the music, the cars, all the beautiful things we associate with Cuba--but it's a hard life and you want to do your part to make it easier. That's a tall order for a vacation.

    1. @ Joanne - I totally agree. There are about 8 other blog posts in your comment and so much to talk about plus find inspiration in. Nothing can do Cuba justice except a visit. Like I tried to point out it's not a vacation. I went for inspiration and curiosity, stayed with families and avoided most tourist destinations. Yes, I want to go back. I still have plenty to share and lots of artwork to make because of this trip.