It was indeed an exciting time, when we visited Cuba: Shortly before Obama and the Rolling Stones were on the island. I had been hearing of the optimistic spirit in Cuba for a long time. And also for a long time Cuba had been on my bucketlist. My husband Chris and me wanted to see the country before it will be changing forever. Of course we knew we won’t be alone. Despite being surrounded by many tourists we did not regret our decision: It was beyond exciting, to experience Cuba during the big change. It made us think and discuss a lot about the country. Find below some observations regarding the status quo:
1. The Change is in full swing
You hear a lot about Cuba as a communist country. Strictly speaking it’s socialistic. And there is so much more, you might hear, which is not completely true. Private entrepreneurship is no longer forbidden. People are often passionate about their business. It’s a pleasure to see that and you will also benefit from a customer’s perspective. We assured ourselves of it being guests in the Casas Particulares – government-certified homestays, which are clean and run by always warm and smiling hosts. They definitely show business-acumen in doing this – but, who can blame them?
By the way, we found Cuba the cleanest developing country we have visited so far. In Cuba’s past not all went completely wrong. Special highlights are the astonishing literacy rate (better than in Germany!) and the life expectancy which is extraordinarilly high for a developing country. Nevertheless, long queues and a limited choice of goods like food are part of the Cuban reality. Already after our arrival at the airport we experienced abnormally long waiting times, which I never had anywhere in the world before. And I never saw a country with so few shops. I actually enjoyed a break from consumerism, but it’s obvious that everyday life in Cuba isn’t a walk in the park.
2. Cubans have no things in common
There is already a two-class society. We were surpised, how poor some people are despite socialism. Besides there is a new class of people, who have access to the desired second currency “Convertible Pesos” by doing tourism business. It’s absurd that Cubans can earn more money as tourist guides or barkeepers than in their primary professions, e.g. as doctors. We experienced that the middle-aged and the elderly welcome the change, while the younger like wearing USA-shirts and know ebay etc. The younger are keen on using the rare public WiFi-Hotspots. Nevertheless they resign to the thought that nothing will change during their lifespan.
Predominantly our experiences with people were good – except for an aggresive tout in Trinidad and a considerable rip-off in a Paladar, a small privately run restaurant. Suddenly there were prices comparable to Munich. Unfortunately we also heard other scary stories from travellers like the attempt of pulling away a handbag, beleaguering etc. Some People want to make a lot of Money quickly – at any price.
3. Cubans have things in common
Firstly: Having things in common in Cuba does not mean smoking cigars all the time. We only saw older men smoking cigars in the countryside. According to our perception, what all Cubans have in common is that they are incredibly communicative. Many Cubans seem to be always on the hop and are talking to anybody most of the time. In Cuban houses people are always running through. In the Casas Particulares you can see new faces talking to the host family any time. Cubans are well-connected. There is mutual support in every day life. And life can be tough in Cuba. The other clichee of dancing in the streets is true. We saw Cubans dancing, as soon as live Salsa music was played. Sometimes also children dance – on a stage or with the their parents. We experienced the Cuban joy of life intensely as they celebrated the 55th anniversary of the defense of the invasion of the Bay of the Pigs. There were stages, music and Salsa dance everywhere, e.g. in the city of Sancti Spiritus.
The joy of life and the musicality of the Cubans were a great Inspiration to me.