Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cuba Trip: Part 1

Late last night, I finally got back to New York City. If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen that I was traveling on Friday.

As part of my seminar on Cuban law this past term, we could go to Cuba legally with our professor and learn about the country. So last Friday, I flew down to Miami and boarded a plane to Cuba for the short, 45 minute flight to Havana.

I am so incredibly excited to be able to share this trip with you all. Cuba is an amazing country with a deep history and a sense of culture that permeates everything. Yet it's also a poor country, and despite what some say about the nation's healthcare or education, the poverty was very evident.

A huge number of the buildings in Centro Havana, outside Old Havana, are decaying and crumbling. However, this area used to be much more of a slum than it is today, so things are improving.
Many once-extravagant homes are inhabited by multiple families in different rooms.

Cubans were eager to talk to our group -- we stood out since four of us were blondes!

A group of students approached us as we took photos of the University of Havana, asking us if we were Americans. They were excited when they heard we were from New York, and we showed them pictures of the city on our phones.

The students were most interested in if we had internet. All of them asked us if we had free internet access at our school and what limits we had. Internet is not available at the University of Havana, only intranet, meaning it is only for communicating within the school and cannot be used for accessing outside websites or email services.

Cuba is, after all, a Communist country that has only one political party. This is very evident as you walk around. There are slogans, posters, and entire building sides dedicated to propaganda.

Street side booksellers largely sell Cuban revolutionary material.

We only had a few days there, Friday evening and the weekend, but we tried to make the most of our time.

Friday night we had drinks at Hotel Nacional de Cuba, a hotel famous for its celebrity clientele back in the 1930s and 1940s (including a major mafia conference dramatized in The Godfather Part II) and also for its bloody history. The hotel was the site of a small siege between rebellious army factions.

Saturday we got to meet and talk to Cuban nationals, one a former high ranking official and the other an economist. After, we walked throughout Old Havana, the UNESCO World Heritage Site part of the city.

Finally, on Sunday, we saw the university, explored Old Havana further, and saw the Plaza de la Revolucion before going to dinner in Miramar, where most embassies are. The neighborhood was quite upscale prior to the Revolution and there are beautiful houses and mansions throughout the wide streets.

The gigantic Soviety Embassy, now the Russian Embassy

During the Special Period, the time after the collapse of the Soviet Union when Cuba lost all support from the Soviets and experienced major food and fuel shortages, the Cuban government decided to turn to tourism.

But because Cuba is Communist, tourists use a different currency than Cuba nationals, called the convertible peso ("cuc" pronounced "kook"). The cuc has roughly a 1:1 ratio to U.S. dollars, and meals in most restaurants range from $8-20 or so. If this seems expensive for a developing nation, that's because basically only tourists can afford to eat in restaurants -- the average Cuban makes roughly $20 a month.

At La Bodeguita del Medio, famous for its notable clientele (Hemingway, Neruda, and Allende)
It claims to be the birthplace of the mojito.

Enjoying a daiquiri at El Floridita, famous for its daiquiris and being a favorite bar of Hemingway.
Note the Hemingway statue at the bar in the background!

This was the most beautiful, incredible, delicious thing I've ever had. It was mixed coconut water, meat, and milk that was frozen into a coconut shell. This will haunt my dream for weeks.
Old Havana is the main tourist destination in Havana. It's beautiful -- a mixture of crumbling and restored Spanish buildings dating back hundreds of years, with narrow streets and open squares.

That's all for now, folks. It's Sourabh's birthday and I still have some pre-graduation errands I need to get done! But I will be posting more about Cuba tomorrow.

Do you have any questions for me about Cuba that you'd like answered in tomorrow's post??


  1. What an amazing opportunity!

    I'd love to hear more about your law school experience (and how you maintained a workout schedule). I'm about to start in the fall, so any advice would be appreciated! Maybe we can meet up for a run sometime?

    1. Hi Heather! I'd love to meet up! I'll email you. And that sounds like a great post idea!!

  2. So glad you had a good time. I love the pictures. What did the locals ask YOU?

    1. That's a great question! I tried to answer it in today's post, but I forgot to mention that a few Cubans also kept telling us how much Cubans loved Americans, and asking why we hated them -- thinking that because of the embargo, all Americans hated Cubans!

  3. Great pictures! Since I'm always hungry, I'd love to hear about some traditional Cuban dishes. :)

  4. Thank you for sharing! what a great experience. And so jealous of your trip to El Floridita - big English Lit nerd and Hemingway is one of my favorites. I would love to just be there knowing he was :)