I went to Cuba this past weekend. It was partly an impulse (namely because I’m going to California for the holidays), and although I had discussed with my friends about going to Havana soon, I wasn’t expecting to go within a week of booking the ticket. Still, with the US Travel ban recently lifted, I decided to use my miles and a flight voucher to create an essentially free Cuban trip. With taxes and a visa fee, it cost me about $150 for a roundtrip flight.
Brett, Clayton, and I landed in Havana, and we shed our winter coats to enjoy the incredibly warm, Caribbean winter weather. Our Airbnb was located a few blocks away from the Malecón, the major highway adjacent to the coast. It was operated by a charming elderly couple who would serve us a home-cooked breakfast each day we were there. Overall, the entire apartment was beautiful and quaint, and we spent each night drinking on the open, second floor terrace outside of one of the bedrooms.
Everything was essentially in walking distance, and as we wandered Havana by foot, I couldn’t help but marvel at the brilliant, European-style architecture of both their aging and recently renovated buildings; it did feel like Paris with a Latin spin on it. Of course, I was aesthetically drawn to Cuba’s cars as well: nearly half of all the country’s automobiles were refurbished from the 60’s and earlier, and even though many had new(ish) internal parts hidden beneath their classic exteriors, I couldn’t count how many cars broke down on the road or spewed thick, diesel smoke as they passed.
This leads me to my next observation: despite Cuba’s warm weather and beautiful environment, the poverty is pretty goddamned apparent. The grocery stores had little to no food. At night, people — namely prostitutes and cab drivers — solicit you for business. Get outside of the downtown area, and that amazing European architecture looks like it’s about to fall apart. Aside from the large-scale hotels (which we were able to get WiFi at), the food is simple, and “meh.”
The sad conditions of the majority of its citizens is only compounded by the bureaucracy of the government: on my last day, I needed to get a few extra CUCs at the currency exchange. Brett and I spent 3 hours outside, waiting in line with a combination of Cuban people and European tourists, and the single clerk who ran the exchange had to go on a 30 minute lunch break. Even when I got to the airport, the airlines couldn’t figure out which terminal my plane was at, and the food court even ran out of food. Needless to say, my last few hours in Cuba were frustrating.
All in all, however, it is a country worth visiting once. And if I had to rank all the Latino countries I’ve visited so far in terms of enjoyment, I’d put Cuba in 2nd, right behind Brazil.
And you want photos? Well, I got ‘em!