Cuba. A world away from what we would call “Western”
Stuck in time, communist-controlled, and somewhat isolated, it’s incredible to see how differently the proud ‘Cubanos’ live. However as I sit here at 9 pm on a Tuesday evening in Havana’s wifi park, watching people all around me tapping away on their iPhones for hours, I started to wonder if they actually have the right idea. Being cut off and only allowing internet access in limited city spots, has forced these people to be increasingly ‘present’ in the way they communicate, all day, every day. Happy and curious, they are as easy going as it gets, not bothered by checking endless notifications & replying to text messages only when it suits (as opposed to as soon as they appear).
This particular restriction it seems, has turned out to be somewhat of a blessing in disguise.
As a single, white, foreign female, the endless male approaches do tend to irritate after a while, but in a harmless way. Never once did I feel in any real danger whilst in both Havana or Trinidad. As dark and crumbling as the streets appear at night, the worst you will encounter is a few men calling out “Bonita! Guapa! Wow!” at you. They will tell you they love you, want your babies and simply ask where you are from so they can practice their English (which is normally very good).
What they won’t do is harass you intentionally, harm you, or try to sell you drugs. Poverty is rife so you will come across opportunists – but no worse than anywhere else in the world; pickpocketers and people selling counterfeit things to make a quick buck, etc. Cuban people are friendly and curious beings. This actually shouldn’t be a surprise, as they’ve been kept at somewhat of an arms-length from the rest of the world due to their communist roots. Closed currency, the government rationed portions of food and restricted internet access is only just the beginning.
I looked up again surveying the dimly lit park. Teenage boys are trying to score a pack of cigarettes, a 60 something-year-old man is FaceTiming and a couple are hunched over their laptop on the bench, working away on an excel spreadsheet. It is the oddest setting I have ever been in, I feel like I’m on Mars. Small children run around and play on their bikes, obviously not the least bit concerned about being out after dark. As Australians, we are taught to avoid dark parks at night. In Cuba, it’s a completely normal place to hang out at all hours.
It’s hard to comprehend how they live, but they don’t seem too concerned. If you are traveling to Cuba, you will be amazed at how cheap things are. A cocktail basically anywhere is $3CUC which is the same as $3USD, and food is generally under $10CUC. Tips at restaurants are included a lot of the time at the bare minimum of 10% but for taxis etc, it isn’t expected. After spending a considerable amount of time with these people and seeing how they live, I would say if you are considering a trip to please tip them generously. Even if it’s already “included” by your travel agent. Remember, things in Cuba are very much still government-controlled so who knows how much of the cut they are actually getting. No matter what, if you can spare $5CUC and under for someone in Cuba that has helped you out, then please, give it to them directly. They aren’t paid enough for what they do. From trusting private drivers with my life taking me across the country, homestay families in their humble Casas, and the knowledgeable tour guides, I believe they deserved everything I was able to give them.
If you are interested in visiting Cuba when we can travel again, I would highly recommend booking your arrangements through a local guide to help give back to the Cuban community, I was lucky enough to be looked after by a lovely Havana local. The tips, insider info, and explanations she gave me as a heads up upon arrival were invaluable.