Cuba in my mind has been romanticized more than any other places I’ve visited or intend to visit. It has always been on my bucket list as a must see before US travel completely opens it up and turns it into another resort covered beach destination in the Caribbean. We imagine a place of warm, friendly people sitting around in the shade drinking mojitos and smoking cigars. As such, when the experience happens, like many things in life, the reality doesn’t live up to expectations.

One of the things we always hear about when it comes to Cuba is the classic cars. With the US embargo all across the island are 50s era vehicles. Which is entirely true. However, just because the US has an embargo against Cuba doesn’t mean it affects other manufacturers. We saw Hyundai had many modern vehicles on the island, and even a few Audi cars rolling around. So apparently there is a way around the embargo. If you wanted a taxi, you could just as easily flag down a modern air-conditioned yellow Hyundai as an old Chevy convertible. We did a little of both, and another reality of life in Cuba is the old cars are cool, but they are maintained using whatever scraps can be salvaged. So mufflers are not as great, seats are not as comfortable, and the engine doesn’t sound like a smooth running combustion system we might hear at classic car shows.

In the resort having a flat screen TV showing CNN News and Spanish soap operas wasn’t that surprising, having the same thing in our hotel in Havana or seeing them hanging on walls in bars throughout town was a little more unexpected.

With the food and alcohol selection, which was all great, it was a bit difficult to tell there was an embargo at all. We were told to bring our own toilet paper as we would need it- we didn’t. We were expecting limited choices for meals, and we didn’t experience it. And the expectation of a bunch of rundown buildings was only slightly met as we walked around town to view many remodeled buildings and hotels and resorts being built in expectation of the onslaught of American tourist that is expected once the embargo is entirely lifted.

Hola, Hola, Hola

When it comes to walking arounf Havana, after leaving the resort it was a very different experience in our interactions with people. Talk about another world. Not in the sense of impoverished but in the sense of aggressive sales. As expected the change from the resort to Havana was drastic. When walking the streets on our first night in Havana, it was a constant barrage of peddlers.
Person: “Hola, hola, where you from?”
Me: “Ireland.”
Person: “You hungry, eat here.”
Me:”No thanks.”
Person: “The food here is very good. Best.”
Me:”No thanks.”
Person: “Cigars?”


The streets look nice. That is, until you start walking down them.
Person: “Hola. You speak Spanish?
Me: “No.”
Person: “English.”
Me: “No.”
Person: “German.”
Me: “No.”


Person: “Hola. Cuban cigars.”
Me: “Fuck off!”
Have you seen those picture of some person sitting on the side of a building dressed authentically with a big cigar in their mouth? That is not some random person on the street that the photographer found and asked for a picture. That is a local sitting there offering to let you take their picture for a fee.
“Hola, hola. Picture.”




My travel companion summed it up perfectly when she said, “No one does capitalism as well as a communist country.” Capitalism is rampant as can be in old Havana with its beautiful old buildings and narrow streets lined with people all offering to sell the tourist something. At one point we went to a market to just check it out, maybe get some souvenirs while we were, but the people were so aggressive with the sales and stopping us we actually left out of frustration without getting anything.


Would I Go Back?

I would like to travel to Cuba again, and next time knowing the roads are fine and decent vehicles are rentable to drive around the island and see a different side of Cuba. The side of Cuba that doesn’t just want to sell me something or look at me as someone to get something from, but the side of Cuba with people who want to share some of their culture with me. Someone who I can show all Americans aren’t aggressive warmongers and they can prove that all Cubans aren’t capitalists looking to make a buck, peso, or euro from the Anglo in the funny hat and camera around his neck.