It’s taken me awhile to get the courage up to write about my trip to Cuba. A lot of traumatic things happened, but a lot of beautiful things happened, too. At times my trip was complete bliss, and others I was completely terrified. Here’s my story, in parts, because it’s going to be one of the longest things I’ve written in awhile. I gots a lots to says.
We arrived, exhausted. The airport was…something else. I remember landing in the Bahamas and thinking “how adorably small” about the airport. This was not adorable. It was small, however.
I stepped off the plane and the humidity and heat hit me right away. I can only liken it to swimming in water – that is how thick the air was. It was so strong that I began sweating immediately.
We navigated the tarmac until we hit the airport. Lots of very serious security and soldiers were patrolling the interior of the…very tiny…airport. Maybe 30,000 square feet? Maybe?
When I went through customs, I was worried that my U.S. passport would cause a problem. Not sure if you’ve heard, but the U.S. and Cuba aren’t exactly on good terms. The only problem I experienced was trying to open the door to leave the customs office with a broken door knob. I guess it was a fitting introduction for the things to come.
Finally, we found our transport bus (WITH AIR CONDITIONING!!!!) and headed to Holguin (hole-geen – g as in get).
It was pitch black for the most part, with only the occasional street light and the headlights from the bus. The roads looked old, but they were in really great condition. That’s when I noticed something else – there wasn’t a car on the road except for us. I stared out the front window for signs of life besides us. One or two cars passed by, but that was it for the entire hour ride.
The resort was beautiful, everything except our room was open air. Quaint, but a little hot (a lot hot) (and good luck finding a breeze) (by the ocean no less – WHERE WAS THE BREEZE).
Our room was very clean and nice. But…the veranda door had no handle and the lock was troublesome. We called the front desk and asked for it to be repaired. The lady, who spoke limited English, sent a maintenance worker over.
He showed us the trick to the lock. He didn’t fix it…he basically did the whole “jiggle the toilet handle” maneuver.
When we asked him to replace the lock, he shrugged and shook his head. “No replace. No part.”
Oh. I guess that’s how 4 star resorts roll in Cuba.
The beach was beautiful, the resort was beautiful, the food sucked so hard, that we ended up eating salad and pizza most of the time. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a low key foodie. From chicken feet to caviar – I’ll eat it (minus brains and bugs…well maybe a deep fried cricket). This food…was bland as all get out. Not even salt and pepper could save it. It was so bad that my friend and I were talking about all the places we wanted to eat when we got back home.
On day 2 or 3 of our trip, we decided to take a “taxi” into town. We opted for the horse drawn carriage instead of an antique ’50s Ford Fairlane. I know a lot of people are drawn to Cuba to see all these cars. And the antiques are in great condition. But they’re the only cars on the road, until you get into Holguin, but I’ll touch on that later.
The very charming coachman took us into a very small town called Malilla (Ma-lee-ya).
I had never seen anything like it in person. A lot of different emotions filled me. Sadness for the state the dirt roads and houses and apartments were in. The hydro lines were few and far between. I imagine many brown or blackouts occur. I wondered if I had made a mistake by leaving the comfort of the resort to see raw, unfiltered Cuba.
“No, bitch. You can’t ignore this. You know you can’t. Now it’s time to open your eyes and experience a 3rd world communist country.”
My inner monologue is a jerk.
The roads were dirt, with the occasional outcropping of old remnants of pavement. Potholes is an understatement. These roads had eroded severely in places and navigating them by car would be impossible. It was barely possible for the carriage.
Homes and buildings were in disrepair. Each apartment building sported fading colors that must have been bright at one time. Red, blue, green…now just dingy dusty versions of their former self. I saw children leaving school, each one in a uniform. Small carts filled with produce and pulled by bikes stopped near large groups of people to hopefully sell food.
On the outskirts of town were the farms. Farms that were struggling due to a lack of rain on the island. We were taken to a fruit farm. It wasn’t what you’d expect. There were no rows of fruit trees. Instead there were free growing mangoes, papayas, coconut, and other tropical fruits. It looked more like a forest – with a swamp beside it no less. An old couple ran the farm. Their house was not much better than a shanty and they couldn’t speak a lick of English, but their warmth conveyed their intentions. The old man took a coconut and hacked off the top with a machete. Then he carved a hole and dropped a straw in. Fresh coconut milk…amazing. We tried all the fruits they had sliced on the table. It was by far the best moment in Cuba. This is what I came to see: the people and the culture.
I referred to them as abuelo (grandpa) and abuela (grandma). They were so charming that I was able to relax surrounded by beautiful scenery. I speak limited Spanish, so I was able to communicate a bit. A lot of communication was done through arm gestures.
With many hugs all around, we bade them farewell and moved on to the “zoo”. The zoo was just a house with exotic animals in cages around the perimeter. The woman who ran the zoo had hutias – if you crossed a guinea pig with a bever, you’d get a hutia. The hutia are endemic to Cuba. There were other creatures and critters too. Alligator, hawks, pigs, etc. I didn’t like the small spaces they had to live in, but I realized quickly that Cuba doesn’t keep pets. They keep mousers, guard dogs, or exotic animals to woo tourists.
The one major theme I noticed with the houses is that their kitchen was outside and most “appliances” are handmade. One woman proudly showed us the coffee maker she made. I was impressed with her ingenuity.
After about two hours in Malilla, we were tired, hot and ready to go back to the resort. I wouldn’t forget what I saw. Ever. It gave a whole new meaning to poverty. It confirmed that what we’ve seen on TV about 3rd world countries is right. And it proves that communism doesn’t work. More on that later as well.
So far, I found the Cuban people to be welcoming and kind. Maybe it was because of the proximity of the resort to the town. Maybe it was because tourists like me who generously tipped everywhere I went. When everyone, from doctors to sewage workers, make $24 per month, I’m pretty sure tipping is very welcomed and anyone can apply a smile. But, there was more to their display of kindness. It wasn’t just an act.
To be continued…