To say that Cuba wasn’t what I expected would be an understatement. I went from humid New Orleans, to a place I wasn’t sure I’d get an opportunity to visit again. My usual travel style would involve climbing off the plane and looking for whatever bus would take me into town, but no ma’am, not in Cuba. That’s just not really a thing… so instead with a comparable price to an Uber ride airport to hotel in the US, I looked for the man holding my name on a sign. I did some research and it seemed like the easiest way to go (the cost about 30$.) Daniel was the most entertaining Taxi driver I've ever had and the best way to break in my first hour in Cuba. He was patient while I warmed back into my spanish and before the trip was over he was playing his favorite Cuban songs sing along style.
Cuba feels like an incredibly divided place. There’s tourist Cuba and then there’s the cuban people’s cuba. I felt like the two currencies intentionally helped keep that division. Tourists pay more for everything. Where a surgeon makes 40$ a month your taxi ride from the airport is 30$. Where a server might make 10-15$ a month your meal might cost 10$. I tried to break into the other side where I could but felt kept from experiencing Cuba how I would have liked to.
One day, Daniel and I passed by the theaters in Havana. They were having a horror film festival and that very night The Shining was playing… La resplandor! We returned and tried to go in but they wouldn’t take our money even though it was worth more. The younger gent behind us payed the .20 cents for us to go in and also refused our money.
My first and last days were my favorite. They were spent taking small risks with locals. On the first day I ended up in Sergio’s house with his 12 year old sister who was watching MTV’s real world on a yellowed TV screen as he fried me up a piece of ham with some rice. Best meal of my whole trip. The only thing he wanted in return was a promise to go salsa dancing that night. Daniel and I did indeed go and hilarity ensued.
It ended up being this weird trio where everyone felt like a third wheel at some point. Sergio also, cheerily declared his feelings for me… and to say there has been no connection was an understatement. It was all a game. I responded with the cheesiest phrases I could think of relating to 'mi corazon' and how it just wasn’t meant to be, lo siento!
The last days were spent salsa dancing or on the Malecon with Javier and his adorable nose pierced crew. (The Malecon is the part of havana that meets the ocean, also known as, the worlds largest couch… this is where everyone spends their free time.) The sunsets last for what feels like hours there.
Havana has many many many layers. I dipped into the surface in my ten days. I had weird experiences... Talked to interesting people... Felt decent about my spanish. Walked a lot. Fauned over old cars and felt pretty broke most of the time. I even considered getting a tattoo because it felt like an especially taboo thing to do… Instead I pet lots of animals, drank my share of rum and crystal, took a sunset tour in a convertible with a man who grew up in cali but fell in love with a Cuban woman, took a day trip to the beach (where the sun taught me a thing or two about reapplying sunscreen,) awkwardly gave gifts away(I took nice clothes and other small things that I had heard were needed,) shot a portrait session of Javier, took my time with breakfast every day, and finished an amazing book called “Voices From the Storm.”
If you want to go to Cuba but feel like you’re in a posh New York warehouse club check out Fabrica De Arte. If you want to bring back some art check out the amazing screen print work happening or find a weird Cuban movie poster. There are lots of possibilities but be prepared to spend some money while you're there.
Video of Fabrica: https://www.youtube.com/embed/2yMJwHGmwSk
Daniel and I also took a day trip to Vinales. The trip involved about 7 hours in a beautiful old car as we drove across the country with two other Americanos. I think Vinales is a great trip if you have a night or two to spend. You can see some beautiful mountains, slow down a little, boogie down in a nightclub that's in a cave, boat through a different cave, and smoke cigars that are rolled right before your eyes.