Last month I decided to take my very first solo trip and went to Cuba!!
If you google Cuba, the images that show up are paradise on earth like, go ahead google it, a series of enhanced images of the colorful buildings, colorful people and colorful cars is all you will see.
I have been infatuated with Cuba for a long time, partly because of their strong Nigerian cultural ties but mostly because for some odd reason, I was convinced that Cuba was THE place I would fit in, no questions asked. ( I was asked if I was Cuban quite a few times which made me very happy!)
Boy was I in for a big surprise! Before I start breaking down the many ways in which reality is not what I expected, let me start by saying that I absolutely LOVED my experience. 10 days, 4 cities, a lot of walked miles under my belt and I would do it all over again, but this time with a more realistic perspective. So here I present to you
10 things no one ever tells us about Cuba
1. It’s not love at first sight
The moment I landed one thing was clear: 1st world problems were not going to be in sight for the rest of my stay. As I got off the plane and walked inside the airport – yup you read that right- for a second I thought I had actually landed in Lagos, Nigeria instead (can you guess which on these is NOT Cuba? Hover over the pics to find out)
2. Buildings do not come with a filter
While getting lost in central Habana, which is a couple of miles from Old Habana I couldn’t help but ask myself if people purposely ignored the non colorful part of the city because they made them uncomfortable. The city – the real city not the perfectly trimmed and curated touristic part of it – was gray and decrepit, certain corners smelled from people urinating, the risk of being hit by dirty water thrown out of a window was as high as the risk of stepping in dog poop and yet I found it absolutely beautiful.
3. People aren’t happy go lucky all the time
One thing I had my mind set on doing while in Cuba, was to take pictures of people. Beautiful faces caught off guard as they went about their happy colorful lives. Once there I noticed that those faces were closer to stressed and tired than happy.
Did you know the average salary is between $12-20 a month? I found that in Havana ( the country side had a lighter feel to it) a lot of time, once it was established that you were a tourist, people would smile and speak if they had ulterior motives. On my first day I met a young lady that “casually” took me around the neighborhood, by the end of the tour I some how ended up buying her drinks, dinner and more drinks for her friend, that just so happened to show up at the same place at the same time. When time came for me to leave, she asked for money and when I couldn’t help the smiles were done for the evening. I ran into her again on my last day, the smiles were still not there nor was a “hello”.
4. Shovinism to the tenth power
Prequel: I like to live an healthy life style and work out pretty consistently, prior to my trip I posted on facebook that my current fitness goal was for me to “only respond to mami” once in Cuba…yea, so that took a very different turn and not for the best.
Men in Havana can’t even bother to call you mami or any other noun for that matter, they go straight for the teeth sucking, whistle dog calling method. It was annoying and somewhat very degrading, but manageable, until the day that one particular “man” decided to take it to the next level by cat (dog?!) calling me, to then proceeding to masturbate while still attempting to call me and some how, in his twisted mind trying to get me to join him. Yea well, that obviously was not the outcome, I went to the first police officer I could find and described the perv, who saw me go to the police, and made a very quick U- turn the opposite direction. Needless to say that completely changed my mood for the day, the next man that fixed his mouth to whistle at me was the one that caught the wrath that had been building up until that point: “Do I look like a dog? No?! Then STOP calling me as if I were one” I screamed at him, and went about my business – that actually felt pretty darn good!
5. Amazing art world
I knew Cuba and specifically Havana was known for the architecture, but I had no idea of how fantastic the visual art world in that country was. Between the street art
the many local artists
and the artists on display at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano, I could not get enough.
6. The “innenet”
If you are like me or like majority of the modern population WIFI runs a big part of your daily routine. Well, not it Cuba it will not. I was aware, or rather I had been warned that wifi was not as readily available as what I am used to, what I did not know, is how it actually worked. If I think of an area with wifi, I think of something like Starbucks or any coffee shop really, where I show up with my devices and tah-daaaa I am online for free.
ok so THAT, is not how it works in Cuba – there are WIFI areas through out the city, and you would know because that’s where you will find a bunch of people sitting on the sidewalk or standing around staring at their phones or on their laptops – think Pokemon game phase. To be able to actually get online, everyone has to buy an internet card. They were 1 CUC for 1 hr (unless you did not know any better and bought them at an hotel and got charged 8CUC – yes I am the dummy ). To buy a card your information (name, DOB, country of origin if you are a foreigner, etc) has to be written down, and your internet activity monitored by the government – let that synch in. What I actually realized in those 10 days was how much time I truly spend online on the daily basis and how much more time to just be and chase butterflies I was able to find without it.
7. Cubans ARE for Cubans
I have never been in a country where people were so strongly and genuinely for each other and their country. People lived life with their doors open to the outside, neighbors stopping by to simply talk through the window, children running around freely with not a worry in sight. Random people knowing the entire history of their country – granted I know they were trying to hustle me into a paying tour, and as far as I know they could have been making up all those facts, but they sounded pretty accurate nonetheless. Cubans have a different currency that tourists are not allowed to use, to ensure the cost of things are a lot lower and more affordable to them. There are Cuban only services but my favorite part is that there aren’t “white-cubans” “black-cubans” “asian- cuban” and so forth, but simply cubans all treated equally, all making the best with what they have.
8. Old Havana
Like most people that have visited Cuba I had to make my expected rounds in Old Havana and take the classic pictures…
The city is beautiful, decadent and everything ever described online, but that as it turned out that was such a small part of the whole story. The colorful buildings aren’t as vibrant as I thought ( damn you filters – insert fist shaking) and the rest of the old city, that never makes the Instagram cut, is far from the average google search result. It’s like tourist conveniently forgot to capture the reality around them….(see point 2).
9. The cars are old..like REALLY old
The same false advertisement I felt for the city scapes, goes for the cars. These old classics are beautiful and perfect for photo ops, I mean it is like jumping back to the ’70…once you get in and sit in one, you realize that the cars actually did come and stayed in the 70s. the inside of the cars are old and definitely went through a lot of lives and butts. I thought that was actually cool and an indication that somebody out there is a master car repair guy, because those cars were OLD!
10. There is so much more than Old Habana
In the 10 days I spent roaming Cuba I was able to visit Viñales, Trinidad and Cienfuegos. I honeslty ended up liking these country towns a lot more than La Habana.
I found people to be a lot more genuine and open. Prices were also a lot lower which never hurts, but mainly the views and the nature scapes I was able to explore were absolutely breathtaking.
If you go to Cuba, go with an open mind, explore, get lost and meet Cubans; you can have a beach photoshoot ready vacation just as well in Miami. Veradero is the main beach resort (that I was told about) where everyone goes. After finding out that locals are not even allowed to enter the premises or the beach that is part of the resort, I decided to skip that destination all together, but what I found was so much better. Honestly I could write about this trip forever, but I wont don’t worry!
I cannot wait to go on my next solo trip!If you have any suggestions on destinations drop them in a comment!
Ciao for now,