Whilst more holiday than high adventure, I feel the outright craziness of Cuba alone warrants a blog post. It’s a truly fascinating country, whose modern history is almost beyond the stuff of fiction and which has shaped it into somewhere so unique you often feel like you’re in some kind of ‘parallel reality time warp’.
In an effort to convey some of these oddities and my experience of Cuba, I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking (each one says a 1000 words after all) and take you on what will likely appear to be a very random journey of imagery. Apologies in advance….
Fidel’s daring revolution over 55 years ago changed Cuba beyond recognition and continues to shape its history. He and his merry band of men not only threw the rulebook out, they practically set it on fire and mailed the ashes to the Whitehouse.
US neocolonialism out, socialism in.
Despite the ups and downs, the odd missile crisis and general economic meltdown, the revolution still struggles on against all odds and the Castro camp does a pretty good job of proudly reminding everyone.
But of course no imagery is more abundant than that of Mr Guevara’s face, Cuba’s resounding icon of both communism and steely revolutionary spirit. Che intrigues me almost as much as Cuba itself and even after wading through a refreshingly unbiased biography I’m still struggling to separate the man from the myth.
The limping socialist economy and the unceasing US trade embargo means there’s not a lot of cash kicking about. Buildings and even the main sports stadia have fallen into disrepair lending a post-war feel to the place. To quote my dad “Havana was never bombed, it just looks like it was”.
On the face of it people are incredibly poor, with a doctor earning as little as $20 a month. Yet because this is a socialist system the state takes care of all life’s essentials; accommodation, healthcare, education and food rationing.
Tending to the land by hand as if transported back to a bygone era.
Life for many is simple and plays out openly on city streets with that small community feel we generally reserve for remote villages.
People while away the day sat on the steps of their houses chatting with passerbys and front rooms are open for all to see, giving an air of openness quite unlike that of modern societies.
There Is Rum (everywhere!)
Consumer whims have long been suppressed, but this is starting to change and with pockets of capitalism sprouting up it seems to be signaling the start of the end of the old ways.
If and when Cuba turns full circle and makes an ironic return to capitalism, it will be interesting to see how it’s embittered relationship with the US develops. The anti-american propaganda is comically blatant!
The latest anti-US campaign centres on the ‘5 hereos’ (Cuban spies) who have been imprisoned in the states. In every town and almost every street there’s the obligatory mural or graffiti condemning the situation and demanding their release. I happened to be in Havana with my university pal Dave when one of these chaps was freed and the government immediately declared that there was to be a huge public concert to celebrate.
We were only too happy to oblige and graced them with our presence in true ‘brits abroad’ fashion, as demonstrated in the following brief but amusing clip:
Dave surveying the lie of the land
With such as chasm in respective wealth between Cubans and tourists the government’s slightly bizarre solution is a dual currency system; one for locals, and one for tourists. However, as Dave and I discovered after our first hour or so, it’s not especially difficult to slip into the local one and subsequently eat like a king at hole in the wall eateries…
That is of course assuming you’re a fan of sub-standard pizzas, which, more often than not, are the only offerings available (but only 20p!)
The resourcefulness of Cubans knows no bounds when it comes to keeping things running, the antithesis of our ‘throw away’ culture.
The old man in an old car
The number of these 50’s classics still up and running is truly astonishing, with most used as shared taxis for the masses and serving as an ironic reminder of the pre-revolution opulence enjoyed by some.
And it wasn’t all just cities, Cuba has some cracking natural beauty…
There was also mum’s birthday (with some questionable cake)….
Displays of athletic brilliance…..
And of course some obligatory biking (on possibly the world’s crappest bicycle)
Just before reaching the airport to leave Cuba I caught sight of huge mural boldly pronouncing “Socialismo o Muerte” (Socialism or Death) and had a little chuckle. I think they may have to whitewash over that one soon. Cuba’s on the verge of change and I’m glad I caught it in all it’s wonderful absurdity before it becomes like the rest of the world.
Now back on my tod in Guatemala, it’s time get back to the matter at hand, riding south, or at least vaguely south. I’m currently making some changes to the bike and mentally preparing myself for hitting the road once again. Resuming ‘vagabond mode’ after so much time back in the comfort of friends and family isn’t going to be easy, but monsoon season’s coming and I need to get a move on!