Discovering Cuba is an amazing experience and a feast for the eyes. What struck me first is the colors.
Bright, vivid, joyful colors everywhere, from the porches of rural homes...
In comparison, our world seems so bland!
Then, Cuba offers the amazing feeling of traveling back in time, to the 1960s...
... as well as in rural areas, which have barely been touched by mechanization.
The impressive and elegant colonial architecture, pristine in the few carefully restored historical centers (even though their marshmallow colors is a clear giveaway that they have been "updated")...
... and, a little bit further afield still, historical buildings turn into vibrant decay reminiscent of post-apocalyptic sets.
As you may have already noticed, Cuba is also a paradise for admirers of old cars. American cars from before the US embargo (1962) have been lovingly maintained, and, as they are prohibited from leaving the island (like most of the population), they represent a large proportion of the relatively small number of cars on the streets (along with Soviet era Trabants, which frankly don't command as much attention or admiration...)
Sometimes, as their owners proudly claim, they are in even better condition than when they first arrived in Cuba, as they have been updated with the latest metallic paints, disc brakes, powerful sound systems, catchy LED lights, etc.
That's incredibly romantic, and has not been missed by this "just married" young couple.
Another aspect that immediately struck me is... the complete absence of advertisement, anywhere in Cuba.
Well, that's not entirely true, if you count political propaganda for the Cuban revolution, and the cult of personality for its heroes, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in particular.
For this part of the article, cue the song "Hasta Siempre Commandante", in its modern and popular version by Nathalie Cardone, or, for a glimpse of present day propaganda, this more traditional version] - but make sure you come back to this article 😉
The propaganda is everywhere, and not particularly subtle.
Along the roads ["Patria o Muerte ¡Venceremos!" - "Homeland or Death - We Will Win!"]...
I have never seen the official party ideology questioned, except once, still quite subtly, on this wall of Habana Vieja:
Cubans struck me by their dignity,
Although a few wealthy Cuban families thrive ...
... and the educational system is apparently excellent ...
... Cuba is overall a very poor country.
A large part of trade takes place on the street, where pretty much anything can be found, from veggies...
... to fruit ...
... school supplies, lollipops ...
... pipes ...
... and watch repair services.
Rum, another key ingredient of Cuban life, is also sold and drunk on the street.
The way locals experience it ...
... is a far cry from the treatment we tourists get.
Cubans deal with scarcity and adversity with amazing creativity and resourcefulness.
For young people, like in most countries, being "cool" and stylish is extremely important, both for girls...
In Cuba as well, Western brands are a huge status symbol...
... and being in shape is taken very seriously, typically with rather impressive results.
... others are a lot more realistic.
Sound, music and dance play a central role in Cuban life...
... everywhere, and especially on the streets.
If older generations tend to focus on traditional music like son, cha cha, mambo and what became salsa, younger folks prefer the reggaeton beats.
The music and dance is a key draw for tourists as well, and opportunities to mingle with locals ...
Sports are important too, and football/scoccer is huge, both as a practice...
In another category, playing dominoes is a major activity as well, and games often ignite passion in the streets.
Finally, Cuba is also a land of amazing scenery,
I will conclude this first article on Cuba with words of wisdom on a garage door in Trinidad:
"The richest person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least."
"The happiest people are not those who have the best of everything, but those who make the best of what they have."
A perfect summary of my Cuban experience.
If you liked this article, please share it!
And make sure you read my next articles in this series, on Havana, a gritty and fascinating trip back to the 1950s, and on the nature side of Cuba: Viñales and the Cayo Levisa island.
More to come, with articles on Trinidad and the area (Cienfuegos, Guayanara in the Escambray mountains, valley of the Ingenios, etc.), and finally Santiago de Cuba. Stay tuned!