cuba: the reality.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

i wanted to follow up my previous cuba post with another one showing the reality of the country beyond the borders of the five star resort.

i must admit, for as much as i wanted to see cuba, i was also a little nervous.  i had heard stories of poverty and secret police that made my imagination wander and create scary pictures in my mind's eye.  nervous as i was, we ventured out beyond the resort and explored the city and spoke to local people.  i had wanted to hire a car and go out and explore at our own pace, being able to stop and take photos of cuban life.  but the nerves got the better of us and we decided to sign up for a tour instead.

nevertheless, the tour opened my eyes, in both good and bad ways.  we were given time to walk around the cities and also on a slow steam train ride through the countryside.

everywhere are patriotic slogans painted on buildings and walls.
cigar factory.
old crumbling buildings everywhere.
a roadside fruit seller.
one of the changes that raul castro brought in was to allow people to own their own small businesses. 
since then, roadside cafes and vendors have popped up along main roads.

old disintegrating tiles like these are all over,
giving an idea of how beautiful the place must have looked at one time.
a watch repair shop.
only certain people or certain professionals are allowed to buy cars.
as such, locals use whatever modes of transport they can: bikes, horses.  hitch-hiking is common.
i couldn't resist stopping to pet the baby rabbits being sold on the street.
old american cars are now used as taxis.
caribbean colours at the natural history museum.
a typical pharmacy.
i have really conflicting feelings about cuba.  on the one hand i think it is a great place - education is free and accessible to everybody, there is virtually no illiteracy at all, children are well looked after and there is no child labour that is so prevalent in other latin american countries and the healthcare system is one of the best in the region.

but, there are also huge restrictions on things that we do not give a second thought to: being able to buy a car, to sell our homes, to leave the country and go on holidays or to start our own businesses. the country is also lacking in a great deal of basic things that we take for granted.  before we went, i went and bought some cheap sanitary towels, hair products, basic medicines (paracetamol, aspirin, lemsip) and gathered some pretty things that i have gathered for years that i have no real use for.  i handed these out to staff at the resort and thanked them for their hard work.

since raul castro became president in 2008, he has made a number of changes.  just before we went, the immigration laws were changed to allow cubans to travel more freely in and out of the country.  he also allowed cubans to sell their homes and cars, something that was previously illegal.  people used to advertise "house for swap" or "car for swap".  cubans are also now allowed to own their own small businesses, so long as it falls under one of the pre-defined jobs that the government has approved.  

being there has really piqued my curiosity about the country and its history, and i am desperate to go back and explore more and talk to more people.  and i want to see the place in its colonnial glory before too much changes and buildings are torn down or just fall down on their own.  but whether i get the chance to do that is another matter.

since we got back i have been really struggling to get back into the swing of things here.  i'm told that's normal but it's the first time that i've suffered so much from returning from a holiday.  usually my holidays are pretty active and full of activities and sights, but this one was just for us and i completely forgot the worries and cold weather at home for an entire week.  it seems that i left a small part of me in cuba, and that part of me was responsible for getting me out of bed in the morning.  i don't think coming back to snow and winds has been much help neither.

so now i sit and imagine what we'd be doing at this time if we were in cuba, which, if you're interested, is probably slowly pottering around getting ready to go for some breakfast.  and i spend a lot of time on holiday websites looking for our next getaway.  i wonder when and where that will be...

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