Cuba, a country high on many travel wish lists. Because of the improving foreign relations, Cuba is changing at a fast speed. Globetrotters who want to experience Cuba shouldn’t wait any longer since the country will most likely lose its authentic identity. Which makes you wonder: what’s still true these days and what isn’t?
Whichever intel you have on not being able to get American branded soft drinks is outdated. Even though you pay almost double the price compared to the Cuban remake called ‘Tukola’, you can order a true American coke in almost any restaurant/cafe (and if I’m being honest, it’s totally worth the extra dollar since Tukola just isn’t the same)! As happy as I was to get a coke on a warm and sunny day, as sad as I was that there was not even one fast-food chain to be found on the island. And you can imagine, this was quite an intense experience for a girl who loves some McDonald’s fries on a holiday… (I’m sorry, boyfriend)
One thing that’s definitely still a fact is the numerous old American cars. What a sight! It’s absolutely dazzling to see those well maintained, old, colorful cars rolling through the streets of Havana, making you feel like you’re on a movie set. Cubans definitely know how to polish and maintain their cars, using whatever they have available. It’s incredible! These days, the cars are mostly used as taxi’s or for tourist rides along the city’s highlights. Nevertheless, Cuba has also some (kind of) modern cars. But hey, who needs AC and seatbelts?
While the USA and Cuba slowly started to improve their relationship during the Obama administration, there is a long history between Cuba and the USA. A history that has been often spoken of. The one where Fidel Castro started a revolution and seized power of Cuba. As a result of which the USA started a trade embargo against Cuba, making their relation unbearable for the last decades. When wandering through the old streets, you might forget this part of Cuba’s history (especially with more and more American tourists). However, that won’t last long. Every few miles, you’ll see one of Castro’s or Guevera’s slogans/portraits painted on a wall, a monument or a billboard. Resulting in an odd feeling: Cuba still believes in the revolution.
Rich vs poor
As in many other countries, the difference between the rich and poor is tremendous. In the old center of Havana, this difference is extremely visible: on the right, you’ll see the extravagant luxury EL Capitolio, whereas on the left it looks more like a slum. One of the things you’ll notice in Cuba is the number of people on the streets on a weekday. Many Cubans don’t have a job. Wages are very low and because of the increased tourism in Cuba, a second, more beneficial option is available. Either work full-time and earn $20-$30 per month or make a living of tourism (taxi service, souvenir shops). Unfortunately, this puts a lot of pressure on tourism, which doesn’t help Cuba to maintain its true identity (the identity that keeps tourism alive: a vicious circle)…
The first time I saw horse-carriage as a way of transportation my mouth almost dropped and I thought to myself: yes, you’re in Cuba. Horse-carriage is not just for tourism, it’s an actual way of transportation in Cuba for both commodities and people. Funnily enough, after spending a week on the island, it seemed like the most normal thing in the world: stepping aside when you hear the horseshoes on the street, overtaking horses on the highway and of course the inevitable (pardon my French) horseshit everywhere. While there are more and more external influences becoming visible in Cuba, people using horses as a way of transportation definitely makes you feel like time stood still.
All that’s left for me to say: visit Cuba while you can still experience its true identity!