lunes, 13 de octubre de 2014

by Natalia Coronado

After almost ten years living and working in Cuba, I decided to write about the positive things that made me fall in love with this island. I first started working in Cuba in 2005, for a Canadian tour company. I have worked for a few companies since including Cuban Adventures. So here are some of my impressions!

* Cuba is Controversial

When I first started working in Cuba, back in 2005, I never thought Cuba would involve me as much as it has. Since you first land in Cuba you notice immediately that there is something very different about it....Cuba is outside the globalisation balloon....Still now, almost 10 years later, every time I land in Cuba I feel like I am stepping into a movie set....It still manages to surprise me! An impressive lack of technology and material goods, there is a lot of action and human contact in the streets, the buildings are crumbling down but romantic, colorful and decadent, while at the same time there is a total absence of the usual chain stores or fast food places that you can see all around the world....Even in the most remote countries these days you can find a Mc Donalds, Zara Store or Starbucks....Not in Cuba ( yet!). People are biking and walking up and down carrying things, being very active due to the lack of technology in every sense. Everyone is talking, greeting each other and shouting! People are more creative as well....The lack of materials has made Cubans become very inventive!!

Cubans are creative enough to keep these 1950's cars up and running ( Photo by Svetla Kaneva)

All these characteristics that make Cuba such a different place to travel can be seen as an inconvenience at first, being used to our western comforts, but when we step out of our comfort zone we later realise how  positive and refreshing this can be. And thats one of the reasons why I love this country, that its so different!

Cuba is a country full of contradictions. A lot of things do not make sense, a lot of things don't really have an answer. This country can bring any visitor so much happiness and warmth, yet you can also experience things that will challenge your mind, your spirit, your heart and will make you doubt and rethink about many consolidated ideas you might have. When you think you understand a lot about the country and the way it works, then something happens to make you realise you are lost!

Old Square in Old Havana ( Photo by Svetla Kaneva)

It has been a challenge for me to live and work in Cuba for so many years, in the best possible way. I have learnt so much about the country and the Cuban culture, I've been able to experience the historical changes Raul has made over the last decade. I've had so many amazing experiences, such a learning curve with beautiful chapters. I have seen my best Cuban friends leaving the country and then seeing how they come to realise what the western world is and how it works. I have had the possibility to show many people from all around the world why I love this little island so much, why it is so unique and vibrating!

One of the streets of Old Havana (Photo from Svetla Kaneva)

 * Lack of Technology and Internet vs Human contact

The pace in Cuba is slow, Cubans have been trapped in time during the last 55 years, and rarely anyone seems in a rush. The lack of technology, internet access and WIFI can be shocking for most visitors. It took me a while to get used to not having internet access available often. Yes, there is internet, but is not widely available and the conexion is pretty slow. Cubans dont have internet access/wifi at home. There are one or a few internet cafes in some towns... (At the moment wifi is pretty much available only in Havana and Baracoa). But the internet access is still hard to get, slow and expensive. Cubans live their lifes without internet in their daily lives, probably like our grandparents or even our parents. One of the beautiful results is that Cuban children still play in the streets and have fun just playing, without internet, computer games or toys! Every time I fly into Cuba, I feel a bit relieved to leave all the "social networks" and internet behind. When I have them available I use them, but when I am in Cuba I am so happy to be able to make just verbal agreements on where and when to meet, talk to my friends on the phone and in person and have a much more "grounded" and "real" way of life... Person to person. Technology is a very useful tool, but does it always bring us closer together?

Children playing football in the cobblestone streets of Trinidad

In my experience...I notice that visitors can find this lack of technology frustrating, but once they get used to the idea, they find it relieving to be able to actually focus on the present moment and on human contact instead of chatting and facebooking through smartphones...In my experience, most visitors actually appreciate the absence of technology!

Cubans love to chat, are generous with their time and show it in their actions, and they love music and dancing. Despite some of their material problems, they are always ready to party, engage in conversations and dance...And of course play dominoes!

One of the cuban pastimes: Playing dominoes! (Photo from Svetla Kaneva)

 * Food is healthy and fresh! vs Processed food 

Thanks to the US embargo and the resulting lack of pesticides, most of the food in Cuba is fresh and organic. Yes, options are scarce, thats true, not so much variety...But is also true that it is rare to find things coming out of a package. Food is not as processed or manipulated as it is in other parts of the world. And I believe thats soooo important!!! What we are is what we eat! Fruits and vegetables are seasonal and mostly organic. When you go to a fruit and vegetable market they look uneven and dirty...Just like real fruits and vegetables! Food is basic and simple, but pretty tasty and well seasoned.....and FRESH!

Since 2012 Cubans have been allowed to get a license to sell their own fruit and veggies in the street

If you enjoy lobster and seafood, you are in luck! Probably the most affordable lobster in the world!

For the pork lovers, Cuban traditional roasted pork could be one of the highlights!

Fresh HUGE avocadoes, amazing mangos, fresh squeezed juices, beautiful and very affordable lobster and seafood are some of the highlights...And of course...The best locally produces Cuban coffee, chocolate and tobacco!!!

Freshly picked organic pineapple in the Viñales National Park ( Photo from Svetla Kaneva)

* No marketing, No advertising, No beauty ideals, No fake needs 

The lack of advertising is also noticed after a while. Western mass consumerism and needs creation largely doesn't exist. Cubans newspapers are certainly not the best, but I find the Cuban TV to be pretty educational and informative. Four TV Channels show news and movies from all around the world with no ads in the middle! Cubans can watch TV serials, documentaries and movies from many different countries. Most of the time in their original version!
Cubans love their soap operas ( Brazilian and Cuban are being the most popular at the moment). News broadcasts are quite decent and show fragments of world news from other TV channels around the world. There are virtually no shows containing violence or gambling . They show cooking lessons, language lessons, sport training, among others.

Happy to be posing in Baracoa

The absence of commercials is probably one of the reasons why Cubans are so confident. No one has shown them the ideal beauty model, how they should look and they should be! In fact, the beauty concept for Cubans can be quite different from other parts of the world! Cuban men love rounded women rather than skinny woman, and Cuban women don't mind the guys to have a belly! No matter their looks, Cubans are very confident and thats brilliant!

* Drugs and Sports

The Cuban government has been great in their non-drug policies. Unlike the rest of Latin America, Cuba is away from the drug trafficking route from South America into North America. Fidel implemented a strong policy against drugs and the penalties for using or dealing drugs in Cuba are extremely severe. Thats one of the reasons why it is hard to find drugs in Cuba, a drug free country!

Sports are also emphasized by the Cuban Government. Children can specialise in sport since they are quite young, and there are government, outdoor gyms and homemade gyms pretty much everywhere.

Cuban Government Gym in Baracoa

For such a small country, Cuba does pretty well in the World Olympics! I guess after training in the Cuban summer heat and humidity must be easy to perform anywhere else!

* Music, Dance and Nightlife

Cuban Music is world renowned, as you cruise through Cuba something you will always find in every corner is Cuban music. Cuban musicians are everywhere, extremely talented and versatile. Music is an integral part of their culture. And makes life so much more enjoyable!

Son, Salsa, Chachacha, Rumba, Bolero, Guaguanco are all cuban rhythms. Son was born in Santiago de Cuba, in the east of the island, with the biggest Afro-Caribbean influence and population, as a result of the fusion between the Spanish and african culture. Son developed into Salsa during the American times in Cuba, as all the casinos developed, son evolved into a faster beat while showing this beautiful dance that is more dynamic and showy than the traditional slow Son.

Cuban Musicians in the streets of Trinidad  (Photo from Svetla Kaneva)

Music is ever present and is part of Cuba. Dancing as well.

Cuban dancers are like no other and in every town there is usually live music and dancing every night. Usually in outdoor venues or even main squares of some of the cities. Dancing in Cuba is a way of communication, a style of friendship that brings people together.

Life music in a main square of Cuba

Learning a few salsa steps before coming to Cuba or while in Cuba will enhance anyone's experience! And makes our daily life in Cuba so much more special and interactive!

This is another thing I miss LOADS when I am away from be able to dance every night with some pretty cool dancers and laugh!

* The Cuban Spirit 

The reason why Cuba is so magical is the Cuban spirit. Cubans are vibrant, colorful, active, warm, caring, compassionate, passionate, proud, confident, loud, touchy, talkative...the list is endless.

Culture is what really makes a difference when we speak about a country. The cuban spirit has been grown at a community level, people feel they belong to a community and they mostly share and help each other. Cubans do not have much, but they share. A lot of people live with open doors, and there is a flow of people in and out the house during the day and night. The concept of privacy barely exists.

Playing dominoes and celebrating a birthday in Viñales

Cubans are family orientated, and spend a lot of time with family and neighbours. Despite their problems, they rarely complain. They are used to challenges and they face them everyday, with smiles and laughter.
Cubans are always ready to help, open to party, and happy to participate in any event.

They are also happy to make the time to greet, help, or talk to you!

An evening in the streets of  Baracoa

All these reasons, plus many others, such as Cuba's natural beauty, the weather, the activities you can participate in, the amazing history and architecture, are the reasons why I fell in love with Cuba!

Cuba, like any other country, is not perfect at all, has a lot of problems and deficiencies and surely life for a lot of Cubans can be hard and frustrating. A lot could improve, specially from an economic perspective. I  have also experience very hard moments and I disagree with a lot of the things I see and I "suffer" in my daily life in Cuba. My intention here was to write about the beautiful and positive things that Cuba has given me in my personal experience. Basically, I wanted to just list the things that make me happy and that I think all of us could learn a little from. I understand many people could disagree and have a different opinion, so please feel free to comment!