This post is part of series documenting travel in Myanmar, Cuba and Iran: Introduction.
Here are twenty photos and some reflections from the trip to Cuba. Because its tropical flora and fauna, couldn’t help comparing the country to South East Asia that has become familiar in past years.
What can I write about Cubans? They are music lovers and party people more than anything. Salsa is in their DNA. So are their love for fat cigars and rum. The liquor is even sold in small tetra packs. I spotted often guys sipping innocent looking small boxes and wondered whats the sudden juice or soda passion for grown up men. But no it is Ron Planchao, 40% alcohol. That explained! People are not proud but self confident. Locals often greet foreigners and welcoming them for happy holidays.
From the trio of countries that I’ve been documenting, Cuba is by far most touristy. Ocean cruisers bring hundreds at a time, and so does the busy Havana airport. When hearing the news that Cuba is opening to international community and blockades are history, many wont realise that in tourism industry that happen already 20 years ago. After fall of Soviet Union, Cuba lost not just an ally, but main customer for its agricultural products. From then on, tourists from Canada and Europe brought desperately needed foreign currency. Venezuela provided cheap oil that prevented economic wheels from stalling completely.
The island is flat, Cuba’s highest peak does not reach 2000m. Scenes from bus: Sugar cane fields and rice paddies. Small sloping hills, palm trees and more fields and greenery.
Vienales in west of island has landscape that remind scenes from South East Asia.
Farm animals are everywhere. It’s nice to see cowboy slowly riding to the fields in the mellow evening light, to return livestock back after grassing the day out. Condors gliding lazily with air currents and screening the world underneath. Another common bird that can be seen in shores is the pelican. Edit: related to farm animals, here’s link to a discussion on a web forum about Cuban “pork economy”, and some discussion as well as controversies related to situation in the country and its past.
Ride paddies are not worked as meticulously as in Asia, where rice has always been backbone of feeding populations. Burmese or Thai farmer could be shocked to see how temporary the mud walls that form the pools are. They seem like pulled up quickly with tractor, not carved to the soil in shape that farmer passes on to his son.
Streets are in pretty good condition, although street lights at night are dim. Lack of light pollution means bright night skies even in city centers. Traffic culture more expectable than in Asia, car drivers and pedestrians respecting each other.
Shops and markets lack the endless variety and full shelf’s like in more prosperous countries. There were some queues occasionally, but in general shops always have least one brand of product’s on offer, and shelf’s were never completely empty.
Trinidad, locomotive drivers.
Weather in March has been really a dream. Constant winds, especially in Havana and northern side of island are refreshing. In south side, and especially Santiago, air was more stale and walking around in mid day not as nice.
Viazul is Cuban hard currency bus company. Many tourists are using their busses while traveling in Cuba. Drivers are pretty well motivated, but are making bit extra on their own. Busses always have front seats that passengers cannot use. Those are for people that are picked up from hitching by the road side, and pay directly to drivers.
In a bus. Co-driver relaxing, texting and chatting with the driver.
They are funny blokes to watch, wheeling and dealing their own along the way. When they feel like a juice, for instance, they stop by the shop, all passengers watching and waiting. Or when the other one knows a good basket shop on the way. The duo again disappear to a road side shop for a minute, and return smiling with nice new baskets in their hands. Chinese made busses are in ok condition, and schedule holds pretty well. That ensures no big protest arise when another surprise stop happens. Things run, but bit differently in Cuba.