Monday, 22 February 2010

Cuba – A Trip Back In Time

The two weeks in Cuba have been a very special experience for me. It was just like a travel back in time! Crumbling buildings aside to fresh painted facades in pastel colours surrounded by old, classic US cars. It’s astounding how much contraction and renovation is going on. There is literally everywhere someone in charge to do small repairs, sweep the floor or do other necessary things to bring Havana back to former glory.

Travelling through Cuba is not so difficult but rather expensive. Life for Foreigners has some similarities to the Cuban life. It is difficult to find something you need and when you finally found it the price will surprisingly high. Even for public transport foreigners have to pay in CUC – The convertible peso exclusively for Foreigners to buy imported or “luxurious” goods. There are plenty of shops around where only the CUC is accepted. Many Cubans are in desperate need for the CUC because they can only buy things in Foreigner shops with CUC. The national peso is good to buy things for daily life including food and drinks.

To keep the costs down it’s wise to live in a “casa particular”. That is a private house that is entitled to rent out a room to foreigners. It’s usually much cheaper as a hotel and in addition much more comfortable. Another bonus is the close contact with the locals! In Santiago de Cuba, The first capitol of Cuba before relocated to Havana, the landlord of the casa particular was working in the famous “Canay” distillery. It was well known as the Bacardi headquarter before the revolution. Now many different brands including Havana Club are produced there. On his birthday he served me the finest 30 Year old rum I ever had.

In two weeks time it was easy to explore many cities and sights in Cuba. Many of them are recognised by the UNESCO and the Cubans are really proud of them. After the first days in Havana it was time to explore one of the many national parks: Viñales. It is a picturesque valley surrounded by high mountains. The soil is rich of minerals and agriculture has been practiced there since the Stone Age. Of course also a visit to a cigar factory was on the list after passing by endless tobacco fields.

The second trip was a road trip through Cuba. Beginning in Havana and visiting the cities Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Santa Clara before heading to Santiago de Cuba. All cities have their own charm and a large amount of fresh renovated buildings. The highlight for me was lovely Trinidad with the cobblestone streets. It was really peaceful there. Santiago de Cuba was great for all the music I’ve heard. Compay Segundo also is from this city and the people really love music. It can easily happen that people stop by when they hear music and start to dance on the street. I just was a little upset that I didn’t have my audio recorder with me. I had a lot of opportunities to capture great music. It seems that i have to come back again. Maybe after the next revolution ;)

After all it was really great to visit this special country. There are so many interesting little things like empty highways, old cars, cigars, well educated and warm people and a good sense for culture and music. Cuba is doing well now in tourism, environmental issues and sustainability. Of course on the downside the lack of basic human rights is also evident as press freedom, the right to speak a repressive political system and much more. I have visited many countries in Latin America and walked through many slums. Compared with these countries Cuba is miles ahead and still far behind. It only depends on the point of view.

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