Those that follow me on Instagram will have noticed from the barrage of recent uploads that this summer I spent 3 hot and humid weeks travelling around Cuba. What an eye-opening (and pore-opening!) experience! It was not only an incredible immersion into Cuban salsa, rum (lots of it) and old colonial Spanish architecture (also lots of it...), but also a real eye-opener and one of those truly rich experiences that really makes you stop to think and reflect on how lucky we are in the "West".
Everywhere we went, and every town we stopped off in, it was clear to see that the memory of "La Revolución" lives on, with images of "El Che" and Fidel Castro everywhere, as well socialist propaganda on every street corner (not to mention the presence of the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, or CDR, which are the "eyes and ears of the revolution"). However, behind closed doors, it was clear to see that a lot of people - especially those born after 1959 - are frustrated with the status quo, especially by the rigidity of the current political system and the lack of freedoms that Cuban's enjoy compared to the hordes of tourists that visit the island each year, myself included.
That is not to say that Cuba doesn't show signs of modernity. I saw a lot of smartphones, flatscreen TVs & computers. However, as I came to learn, these are invariably brought back from trips to visit relatives abroad because if there's one thing you bring back from a trip abroad, it's either smartphones, flatscreen TVs or computers! Our hosts in Santiago de Cuba, a couple in their mid-thirties who had given up on their careers to rent rooms to tourists (a burgeoning and highly regulated industry) told us how comic waiting at arrivals is, as there is a steady stream of returning Cubans with huge cardboard boxes on their trolleys. You can, of course, get a very basic Chinese mobile phone from the state, however this is not only very expensive, but also very unpopular. I wonder why...
I found the Cubans to be rather patient by nature, perhaps due to the fact that everything takes rather a long time in Cuba. There are queues for everything, everywhere! We passed queues of people wanting to top up their mobile phone credit (remember that?), queues to get state rations, queues to get unaffordable imported products (when you take into account the average monthly salary), queues to get medicine at pharmacists, queues to get cash out at ATMs, queues to get onto buses...you name it!
But somehow, it just seems to work! All in all, it was an incredible trip and I would highly recommend a trip to Cuba to anyone (the sooner the better if you want that authentic Coca-Cola-McDonalds-Starbucks-free-Cuba experience). The only caveat I'd highlight is that unless you're doing the Havana/Varadero loop and not venturing too far from the comfort of the beach or hotel, Cuba is hard work...more on that later!
I've decided to split out my photos into various blog posts, starting with the first few days that we spent in Havana. I'll be sharing the rest over the next few weeks, no doubt accompanied by a plethora of sarcastic and/or ironic anecdotes.
Thanks for stopping by and check back soon for the next Cuba post!
Sam Gillespie | Photographer
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