Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Cuba Trip: Part 2

I just realized that yesterday was my 200th post! That's exciting :) It feels appropriate that it was something as exciting as my trip to Cuba. Of course, there's more to come today! If you missed it, here is Part 1 of my Cuba Trip.

As soon as we left the airport, I saw this car and got as excited as this little girl. Since the American embargo started in 1960 and became even stronger in 1962, no cars have gone to Cuba. The only cars there are old American cars, Soviet cars, and the occasional European car.

Funny story here -- during George W. Bush's presidency, anti-Castro images were projected on the large building behind all those poles. It's the "United States Interests Section of the Embassy of Switzerland in Havana" (can you say, bureaucratic mess?). Anyway, the Cuban government didn't like that, so they erected all those poles and flew Cuban flags from them, so that a forest of flags covered the anti-Castro messages. Eventually it was all taken down, but I think that entire episode says a lot about how the U.S. and Cuba interact...

While in Cuba, I could only use my phone for its non-internet/4G functions. Meaning no web browsing, no email, no texting, nothing. Placing a call to the U.S. to tell Sourabh I'd arrived safely was $2.45 a minute. While my hotel had internet you could pay for, it was so incredibly slow that I couldn't load to see what was happening in the world.

To say that being in Cuba is isolating is putting it lightly. And that oh-so-slow internet connection? Almost no Cuban has even that. Even university students don't have internet, just intranet so that they can communicate within the school.

Requisite seaside pose. I'm standing on the Malecon, a miles-long, wide promenade facing the sea. 
Every night that we were in Havana, there were hundreds of people along this wide seaside walkway. It was mainly young people hanging out together, chatting, playing drums, and dancing.

There was a lot of live music everywhere, from restaurants and bars to our hotel lobby. Every few songs, the singer would come around with a basket, and it's recommended that you drop a small tip in (small meaning $1-2 or so). The musicians are all clearly well-trained artists, so it's nothing like panhandlers on the subway. But considering how little most people are paid in Cuba, these tips mean a lot to the musicians.

One of the students on the trip, Jose Mario, is half Puerto Rican and half Cuban. He grew up in Puerto Rico and told me that the beat of music in Cuba is different from that of Puerto Rico and that they're both different from the beat of music in the Dominican Republic. Fascinating!

Cuba is also extremely integrated. One major point of pride for the nation is how there is very little racial division. After the revolution, the university was integrated. The official drink is the negron, which has white sugar and clear rum on the bottom and coke and mint on top -- you then mix it up before drinking so that you can't distinguish white and black.

Yesterday, I was asked what kind of questions Cubans asked us. Besides asking about internet access, we were asked about New York City and if our university was free (HAH!!! Hahahahaha. I had to look up the Spanish for "student loans").

Then, while I was scrolling through pictures of America, one of the Cuban students saw my food pictures and asked about what we ate in America, since the average Cuban mainly eats rice and beans.

Traditional Cuban dish -- camarones enchilados, shrimp in a spicy sauce, with rice and beans and fried plantains.
Cubans receive ration books that are meant to last them for a month, but typically only get them through half the month. Then, they have to figure out another way to feed themselves.

Many Cubans receive money from relatives who have emigrated. Others try to subsidize by fishing (without gear). And there are lots of small arts and crafts markets where Cubans sell art, jewelry, and other handiwork to tourists.

On Sunday afternoon, as our group walked along the Prado, a main boulevard separating districts, we saw lots of children painting, learning how to make crafts, and sketching. Teachers were helping them draw and teaching them artistic techniques.

My classmates! 

Traveling to Cuba was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience (unless the embargo is lifted). A huge, huge thank you to our professor who made it possible. Being able to explore Havana with the insight of an expert on the nation was amazing. I hope that one day I can return to the island.


  1. These pictures are incredible. Thank you for sharing. So many people have no clue what goes on there, how beautiful it is, etc, and this is a great way to get the word out. I hope things can turn around for the people.

    1. I tried to write more than just a typical "here's what I did on my vacation" post because I think this is a country that's so cut off from the rest of the world and so few people know what Cuba is actually like. And so few Cubans know what the rest of the world is like! Two women told us repeatedly "we love the US! Why do you hate us?" thinking that Americans hated Cubans because of the embargo.

  2. Hey, you read my mind! ;) Can't wait to hear more about your trip IRL!