It’s just over five years since we were last in Cuba and this weekend four of us return and I am looking forward to it hugely. I know Cuba is not to everyone’s liking, my daughter enjoyed it but wouldn’t go back and another friend didn’t like it at all, so this made me think why I do look forward to it and why I enjoy it.
The last time in 2011, I knew before I left that it was a poor country, with poor infrastructure, poor transport, and not the best when it came to food. And I was not wrong, in fact the food was a bit better than I was expecting but it’s certainly not a place for the foodie, which I admit I can be! It has lovely beaches like lots of islands in the Caribbean, but if I wanted a beach holiday it’s not the place I would recommend, it doesn’t have the quality of hotels, restaurants and resorts that you can get in the rest of the Caribbean or indeed the Mediterranean. However, I expect all that will now change with the US blockade finished and investment money that will now come in. Hopefully, it won’t ruin the country.
So what did I like and enjoy about Cuba? The last time we visited Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad de Cuba. What I enjoyed is that culturally it is so much different to what we experience here and in western society. There are no McDonalds, Coke, KFC, Hiltons, Zaras or large global corporations, the largest corporation we probably saw the drinks company Havana Club and perhaps the cigar manufacturers, although their premises were primitive. In a sense Cuba is primitive, laid back and still looks like it is stuck in the 1950s-60s in line with some of the fantastic cars of that time. The buildings must have been majestic in their day, but now because of neglect and lack of investment they’re crumbling, falling apart, but still some are painted in lovely bright colours. So the buildings are not bright, shiny, modern, clean and anonymous like many cities. There are some lovely buildings like the Cathedral, Capitolio National, The Nacional Hotel and a few others. All of this gives Havana a unique look and feel that I enjoyed. The people are friendly and appear happy, music fills the air and it is welcoming and safe. I recall at as bright, colourful, happy and friendly country.
What made it better for us was a good friend we made there, Ramses, a fellow photographer and he showed us around and advised us. This was a great help and he too was fun, happy and helpful.
Probably, the thing that makes the biggest difference is having really good friends with you. Eight of us travelled together and we had great fun. To me there is nothing better that travelling with friends that have a common interest in photography. So different to holidays with family and friends with no interest in photography who get easily bored once you take out the camera. But having friends that are happy to wait while you get that shot, are happy to help and who all look out after each other. We were lucky with such a relatively large group that we all get on so well with each other. We have done a number of trips together and this time we will miss those that couldn’t make it.
So for this trip it will be very interesting to see how things have changed. Over the last decade there have been many changes in Cuba with relaxation of the rules about land and property ownership and the ability to work for oneself. For some time there have been some non-state own enterprises, like bed & breakfast accommodation and private restaurants in people’s homes. This weekend on the 1st May, the first cruise ship from the US, in more than fifty years, will port in Havana, and the agreement with the US is that about 110 flights a day will be allowed fly to Cuba from the US. How will this change the landscape and culture of Cuba? We probably won’t know for some time but I’m looking forward to this short trip to see it now just before the major change.