So this post is WAY late. Ironically, Keeping up with the Kardash came out with their Cuba episode this week. If you want to understand what Cuba is really like- please don't watch it. Haha. They seemed to have zero idea of what is going on in that country. Super frustrating to see- especially because that's the view that the public will have of it if they have never been.
So anyways- back to our trip! We enjoyed a quick week trip down there at the end of May to explore the country and get a better idea of what is happening in that super isolated island in the Caribbean. It's been a dream of mine to get out there for forever- and I have probably mentioned it to Tyler a million times since we've been dating that I wanted to somehow make it happen. So we decided to just go for it. No time like the present- only catch being that the PRESENT is currently SUPER hot down there. Haha.
So we started out the trip with a MINI heart attack in Mexico City when all of the ATMs declined both of our cards. Seriously. SO STRESSFUL. Don't mind that I have traveled to almost 50 countries and have NEVER had a problem with withdrawing money- of course it would happen to BOTH of us - in Mexico, nonetheless- and when we only have basically half an hour to get money, get through security, and get our Cuban visas- a LOT to do in a really short amount of time. Literally sweating SO much during this. HA. I was able to get on the phone with B of A- who couldnt even help me- they gave me ANOTHER number to call to try and get help. REALLY?! Anyways- we got the money- and THANK GOD because you have to carry every dollar you plan on using with you in Cuba in with you when you arrive (you can't use any of your credit/debit cards down there- and for a girl who lives on plastic, this was a stressful concept. ha).
We got to our flight and got on the plane and ended up being SOOOO delayed on the runway with rainy/lightning weather- that our 10 pm arrival time became a midnight arrival in Havana. Not ideal since we had already let our accommodations know that we were gonna be there earlier in the evening. We arrived after midnight, went through immigration, and then had to go outside and exchange money to even pay for our taxis. We were first in line- and the person attending to the money exchange was apparently "en el bano" while the rest of the people she worked with were sitting outside and chatting it up. FINALLY after over half an hour, we were able to exchange our money. We got in a cab and the taxi driver dropped us off in the nice neighborhood of Vedado- but oh wait - we were never given the apartment number we were staying in and we were dropped off in front of a huge apartment building and it was 1:30 am. I walked around the neighborhood asking anyone I came in contact with if we can borrow their phone and call the host of our accommodations. Finally, I found two really sweet guys drinking beer in the park who let me call our host and wouldn't take my money that I tried to give them. Our host came down and was SO gracious and kind even though it probably was not ideal to be woken up in the middle of the night by strangers. ;-)
We woke up the next morning to this stunning view. These type of wide boulevards are JUST my favorite.
We headed down to downtown Havana and were NOT disappointed. They are rebuilding their Capitol and ironically it is an EXACT copy of our Capitol (they did this when they were still on good terms with us). The gorgeous building below is of the national ballet.
As we were standing in front of the building (obviously taking a selfie) a guy came up to us to and offered to take our pic (below). And he was like- omg where are you from? Oh the US. I have a family member in Florida. Are you the ones staying with Maria- she's a really good friend of my mom's???! And I was like Yes!!! Maria Luisa- what a small world. Anyways so he told us about this cigar factory and how the workers there get a certain amount of Cuban cigars and they sell them to the public at like half price and we should go there because they are only open one day out of the month - which happens to be today- and they are only open for another half hour. We thought- why not- and he pointed us in the direction. We walked in that direction for awhile (like ten or so mins)- and then a women came by us and was like- OMG- I recognize your dress from this morning- are you staying with Maria Luisa. And we were like- WOWW- that's nuts. Yes- we are. Then she talked to us for awhile and then told us about the same cigar discounts and that she was walking in the same direction. FATE. Haha. So we walked with her and talked. Every Cuban tells you right away how safe it is in Cuba- no mafia, no guns, no drugs. So she was telling us that and walking with us. Then we came to a doorway where a man was like- oh we are closing soon. And it all clicked. It was too many coincidences. From too many times of being trapped in a place and being forced to purchase something (read: Egypt, Morocco, Mauritius & other places) I knew this would not end well. Literally as soon as we saw the man, everything clicked. We were just totally PLAYED. Knowing how high pressure it is once they get you inside, I was already sweating and panicking because I didn't want to get us into a situation that is so rough to get out of. I tried to tell Tyler as we were walking into what ended up being an apartment- this is bad- we need to get out. We stood in the doorway of the apartment and didn't go in even though they were trying to get us in. Things started going downhill fast. They could tell I didn't buy their act anymore and that I realized that we had been played (that the first man- through out the name "Maria" which basically every hispanic on the planet is named, and then I said "Maria Luisa" and then he called ahead to the women down the street and told her to say Maria Luisa.. UGH). We tried to get out and say we didn't want anything and then it turned to a situation where the man was saying the woman (the supposed neighbor of Maria Luisa) wouldn't eat if we didn't buy cigars. It was a MESS. I was like - No I'm sorry. We need to leave.
And that was basically our FIRST HOUR in Havana. Haha. WELCOME TO HAVANA! ;-)
Basically this is what a normal street in Havana looked like along with a pedicab...
We had lunch on our first day and then found this place along the water to grab some ice cream and rest. It was HOTTTTT the whole time we were there. Literally we were sweating through our clothes.
We were walking around and saw this- and it's something we saw a ton of times while we were in Cuba: people bringing buckets to collect potable water to carry home. Ugh. Just so sad. Also- water was REALLY hard to find. You can't drink the water- so you have to buy bottled water- and there really aren't grocery stores - so you have to find it in like window stalls or small stores on the street. It was SO hot here- and we were literally dehydrated all the time- and sometimes would be dying to find water and just like gulp down a 1.5 liter so fast because we were so desperately thirsty.
I'm really in a good mood RIGHT after I have some ice cream. ;-)
This is a gorgeous church that we passed. STUNNING!!!!!!!!
We took a tour with the best guys in an old car- basically what you instantly think of when you think of Cuba. And right off the bat- they were so cool. I wanted to know EVERYTHING. Like just tell me- what's going on here? What's life like? They were so real and easy to talk to and just let us know what life was like. They were so hopeful that one day the Castros would not be in power and that they would have freedom. They let us know what life was like- limited opportunity to control your own future and destiny, no hopes of being able to travel outside of Cuba, limited access to the outside world.
After reading more about Che Guevara in the National Museo of the Revolution (and after basically knowing little to nothing about him) - I just don't know how people can glamorize him. He basically helped Fidel take over and carry out the ideals that they had and which has inevitably held the Cuban people hostage all these years. I don't know... Just my two cents.
Isn't this insane- this engine legit is 60 years old. They take such good care of their cars. The last American cars they have is from before the Revolution- so all their newer cars are asian ones.
The park below is the John Lennon Park - with a statute of him below. Basically Fidel tried to keep everyone from listening to any outside music- but then realized that John Lennon had the same socialist ideals as he did, as sung in "Imagine"- so they created a park in honor of that. Just John, Tyler, & I chilling...
Guys! This is one of 4 North Korean embassies in the world- the other three are in Iran, Russia- and I can't remember the last location. So wild. Those communist countries sure like each other.
We loved our tour- but even more loved getting to talk with the super great/chill tour guide & driver we had. Gave us a better understanding of daily life in Havana.
Everything here was so photogenic- like this stunning, but rundown building.
This pineapple was literally the most refreshing thing ever in this extreme heat. We were so happy to have it. Also- it attracted all of the flies when we tried to set it down.
One of the best examples of what Cuba is like is found in taking a trip to the Museo de la Revolucion. It's a gorgeous building that was formerly the presidential palace before the revolution when Castro took power in 1959. I knew what we would read would be disturbing and complete propaganda but I was curious to read it from their perspective. It had rooms with a ton of info about the Revolution and items of history saved from it and on display. We went through the museum taking pictures of ridiculously ironic statements and just completely in awe that anyone was buying what they were selling. We went down to the bathrooms and there was no toilet paper and no running water in the sink and no soap. This irony- that we could be in a museum housing their grand display of pride over their Revolution and showing how life is better countered by the reality of lacking even the BASIC necessities was so laughable to me. The show is all for foreigners- while everywhere in Cuba you see the people living under a reality that is not so rosey. People lining up at a restaurant in the heat of the day to get their quota of a huge bag of saltine crackers. Two currencies in Cuba- one for foreigners and one for Cubanos where the Cubanos can effectively buy nothing with it. People with multiple degrees and doctorates forced to work jobs they are overqualified for because working within their degree & for the government means poverty. Everything being state owned and poor quality- like their restaurants. Since the majority of restaurants are state owned, there is no need to be creative or have an emphasis on quality or competition- and you know who suffers- the person eating at any of those restaurants. Haha. I can't wait to come back in several years and see that in place of the Museo de la Revolucion- that they have a Museo de los derechos humanos - like they did in Chile- documenting the human rights violations and signaling that they now have the freedom to speak openly about it. Until then, I will pray for a Cuba libre.
Che & Fidel
This museum was FULL of propaganda. It was entertaining & tragic at the same time. We were moving through the museum at the same time as a group of British girls & their commentary echoed my thoughts and we all laughed at the same tragic/ironic posts that we read.
Guys- people were lined up in this heat.. for what?? Their rations of crackers. Gosh. This just broke my heart.
You can see in their hands that that is what they were being handed out the window. Remember this when you go to your stores and have so many options and aren't given rationed food or toilet paper.
Down by the Malecon (their boardwalk) was the most lovely & peaceful place in Havana. We just loved sitting out there and talking and looking at the gorgeous ocean. Also- NO LARGE SHIPS in the harbor- just some small fishing boats... that's what happens when you aren't allowed to go anywhere.
There was NO cell phone service here. NONE. And no one has wifi at home. What everyone told us is wifi is for the tourists. So it's basically at a few hotel locations- and the local people buy black market wifi cards with passcode and have to sit out on the street and try to get internet (which is REALLY poor and slow connection btw). We used less than 2 hours of internet BETWEEN THE TWO OF US for the week that we were there. It was not super convenient to access it- and then it would be majorly slow or tough to use. The guys we talked to told us that if they can keep the people with really poor connection to the outside world- are they going to be researching political things or figuring out what is out there- or are they going to be trying to contact family members and friends- I know for me- all I did with that internet time was try to connect with family and friends back home (Mountain 2 Beach Marathon was that weekend and my good friends Liz & Sharon were running it and I so wanted to be able to check in with them before and see how there race went after- and it killed me that I didn't get any access to internet after their race for 2 day to even find out how it went).
Hope you enjoyed the commentary/photos of Cuba... second half of the trip coming soon. ;-)
And be thankful that you aren't down there running in Cuba. THAT WAS TOUGH. ;-)