America's bizarre relationship with Cuba is a mix of the last gasps of the Cold War and a telenovela and the script written by someone not too concerned about realism. Which gives visiting Cuba as an American the feel of the forbidden fruit. The lead up to Cuba was particularly stressful because we were in China, but we were going to be traveling to NYC first. That meant that we had to make sure that we had to have all of the American travel documents in place which confused people when my German husband went to the Cuban Consulate in Beijing to discuss it. Long story short is that the annoying paperwork side of 100% on the American side but despite the fact that it looks impossible it was not as painful as we anticipated. However, the policy recently changed so if you don't have to travel to Cube through America, don't. And if you do fly from America make sure that all your paperwork is in order. It is mostly a matter of qualifying rather than having things filled out. It was also before the change to the rules allowing Americans to visit was in place. Cuba is still open it is just much more difficult to go there. If you travel there, it is worth considering going through Mexico.
It was also hotter than the surface of the sun and more humid than, I don't know, the bottom of the ocean. My husband and I have traveled quite extensively at this point so while we thought about the temperature we didn't believe that we were going to be that affected by it. We were wrong my friends. Maybe it is the lack of central air? There were a couple of days that it was all we could do to walk a hundred meters to the next restaurant to buy a drink a rest for an hour. If, unlike us, you have the opportunity to travel to Cuba when it is not July I highly recommend you make that effort.
La Habana: Some Highlights
Malecón: Five miles of seawall and coastal road. Walking along it is one of the essential Cuban experiences. Be warned that there is no shade whatever. Bring a hat. You will thank me later.
Fortress San Carlos de la Cabaña: not much seems to have changes in this fortress since it was built in the 18th century.
Old Havana: A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the heart of Havana. Here color, music, and most of the main sites can be found.
Old Cars: I thought that this was just one of those stereotypes of Cuba. Maybe you would see one every once in a while? Buy, was I wrong! While driving around it seemed that up to a fourth of the cars that we saw in Cuba were classic American cars from the sixties and before. It gave the whole city a lost in time feeling. Some of them are just private cars and others can be hired as a taxi or doe tours around the city and surrounding areas.
The lack of advertising was surprisingly noticeable. We are inundated with advertising images all day every day, and they become almost this visual white noise. Even in China where I can understand very little of the advertisements the underlying visuals are still there. There is no advertising in Cuba. None. Even signs on buildings were quite small. Sometimes, it made it difficult because it wasn't always apparent that a building was a museum, or a restaurant, or a hotel. I was also taken aback by the propaganda. Any time that there was a billboard still up it was a picture of Che Guevera or Fidel Castro with a quote. Maybe that is why I noticed it. If the same kinds of things had been in Myanmar or Bulgaria, I wouldn't have known because I wouldn't have recognized the leaders or known what their politics were. Different cities had various levels of propaganda. Havana has very little, but it was every few feet in Cien Fuegos. It wasn't malicious propaganda. I noticed it, but it didn't make me uncomfortable. Most of it talked about working together for a "forever victory." I guess I am used to more subtlety in my propaganda.
I don't know if it was just because we didn't know where to look but it was almost impossible to find a grocery store. We saw a couple but they had hardly any stock, and we went away empty handed. We were vaguely on the lookout for one every day and in three different cities.
Bus Ride- Really. It was a six-hour drive, but most of it was through the countryside, mountains, and oceanside roads. Interestingly, the bus was the same Chinese bus that we take to school every day in Beijing just far more run down.
Restaurant- Cuban food in Cuba was something of a letdown. Not awful but nothing special. We this paladar (a private family home converted into a restaurant and different than the state-run restaurants) was the best food we ate in Cuba. If that had not been our last meal in Cien Fuegos, I would have gone back again and again.
Trinidad de Cuba
Trinidad de Cuba's old town was definitely worth the trouble of getting there. The Old town is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. You know that you are in the old town when you are on cobblestones. Walking around you could almost think that you have traveled back in time. We took a bicycle taxi from the bus station arranged by our Airbnb host. It wasn't worth the feeling of guilt. Both of us and our luggage uphill on cobblestones in 5000-degree weather. No one should have to deal with that.
There is still so much in Cuba that we didn't get to see. Anything at all in the eastern part of the Island. Santiago de Cuba for examples has been highly recommended. We will have to travel back someday.
*We went to Cuba before Hurricane Irma hit. I haven't been able to find a reliable organization to donate to. If you know if one please let me know.