Sunday, 4 July 2010

Observations on Cuba

The Country

  • Much bigger than I had realized. 1,250km (780 miles) long.
  • Everything is green. Lush and tropical. I’m told that it’s not that green in winter. A small corner, near Guantanatmo, is pretty dry (lots of cacti) as the mountains stop the rains reaching it.
  • Like being in one large farm – sugar cane, corn, bananas, coffee, cocoa, cassava, potatoes, pumpkin, the main ones. And rice. Every main meal has rice.
  • Livestock = cows, bullocks, goats, horses, pigs, chickens.
  • Lots of horse carts, bicycle rickshaws. Motorbikes too.
  • Lots of old American cars but modern ones about too – VW, Hyundai, Peugeot, Chinese generic. Russian trucks and ‘jeeps’. Some Mercedes taxis and ambulances.
  • Govt owned cars, (blue number plates), can be stopped and told to take passengers by Transport inspectors.
  • Very little mention or sign of Fidel. I don’t think I would have seen more than four billboards with him on it and it was usually a joint thing with someone like Hugo Chavez.
  • Had never heard of Jose Marti before I came here but his picture and statues are everywhere.
  • Internet is patchy at best. Managed to post to the blog occasionally. Never got Skype to work. Gave up trying to look at emails. General population don’t have access to the internet except for educational purposes. Businesses use email, of course. Only major hotels have wifi and it is US$6-12/hr.
  • Mobile phones (cell) about but not sure how wide the network is.
  • Medical service is universal, excellent and free (as Margaret found out.). Apparently they have 70,000 doctors and export them to other countries.
  • There are almost no advertisements. Although, for some reason, most of the large umbrellas covering street vendors have ‘Maggi’ on them.
  • Very clean, very tidy. Almost no litter.
  • Bottled water, an essential.
  • Everyone gets about two weeks ration coupons a month, the rest they have to get by what ever means they can. There is a lot of swapping as, for example, you will get a ration of tobacco whether you smoke or not.

The People

  • Mixture of colours and backgrounds, no obvious classes.
  • Look at the bus impassively but smile if you wave. But not everyone.
  • Beggars are a pain in Havana and Trinidad but not much sign of them elsewhere.
  • Usually friendly, especially if you make the effort to say ‘Hola!’ first.
  • Lots of people ride horses in the eastern areas as well as the universal horse and cart.

The Food

  • Unimpressive and pretty limited. (But see ‘The Truly Weird’, below.)
  • Core local food is rice, black beans, pork and potato.
  • Saw lots of corn and bananas growing but not apparent in the restaurants.
  • Mango season just starting.
  • Shredded cabbage far too common, as a salad.
  • The big international hotel chains did a better effort than the small hotels but with basically the same limited larder. But tasty, wherever. Meat universally tough unless you had one of the shredded beef dishes or minced (hamburger).
  • Dessert of a slice of cheese (soft, mild – bit like Havarti) in a pool of mango jam was tasty, if rather unexpected. Other desserts tended to be cakey and sweet.
  • A burger at Hotel Ambros Mondos (Hemmingway’s room = 511) said it came with onion. It did. One small onion ring.
  • A street dessert is a concoction of coconut, sugar and orange, sold in banana skin ‘cones’. Tastes like coconut macaroons. Name sounded like Cucaracha.

The Drinks

  • Most drinks rum based (surprise!).
  • Mojito = refreshing mix of rum, mint, lemon, sugar & water = universal tourist drink.
  • Beer’s good. Crystal (lager) or Bucanero (maltier).
  • No local wine.
  • Coffee, strong and good.
  • Can’t make a good cup of tea to save themselves. Margaret had one cup of tea that was so dark we thought that they had put the tea bag in a cup of coffee.

The Music

  • Louder than I usually like. And everywhere.
  • Street parade in Camagüey for St John’s Day. Lots of people, drums, trumpets, colour, noise, popcorn and draught beer; finished about 5am. That’s day two of a five-day festival.
  • Rarely have a meal (lunch/dinner) without roving minstrels
  • They usually with a CD to sell.
  • Lots of spontaneous street music down back alleys. Waiters dance to music at times. People get up and dance.

The Truly Weird.

The last few days, after our proper tour of the island, were booked into a beach resort; I thought nothing much of it at the time. But it was so bizarre. It was so hard to realize that we were in Cuba. It was like Club Med, with rum. People would fly in, stay at an ‘all inclusive’ resort and then fly out again, never seeing the ‘real’ Cuba. It had:

  • 1,200 tourists. (And this is only one of a number of similar hotels at Varadero).
  • An enormous buffet room for meals. Good food though. More variety of salads, vegetables, cheeses, everything really. The Brits had chips with everything. One guy got really excited that he had found HP Sauce.
  • Other separate restaurants – Chinese, Italian, Steakhouse. Oh, and a Cuban one too.
  • Daily activity sheets that included Tai Chi, archery and bingo.
  • Masseurs.
  • Computer games rooms for the kids.
  • Nightly ‘cabaret’ show.
  • Some women dressed up for dinner – long dresses, flowers in hair etc.
  • Regular shuttle buses to other hotels so you could visit their shops etc.
  • The slip-stream of Hurricane Alex meant a lot of rain but hot and sunny when a break in the clouds. Topless bathers. Warm on the beach, even if cloudy.


Cuba is a photographer’s delight and a photographer’s nightmare. Every time you take one picture, you look up and seen four other photo opportunities disappearing around the corner. The combination of colourful people, colourful clothes, colourful houses, old cars, horses, and a lifestyle and climate that results in most people living our the front of their houses gives a maximum opportunity for good photos.


  1. Now this is truly amazing! Thanks for sharing. Is Margaret OK? Did she need a Dr?

  2. That was very interesting to read Lee, maybe you and Margaret could write books on tourism.
    I liked your comment about the Brits having chips with everything, nothing like visiting an exotic destination and sampling their cuisine with chips and HP sauce,lol.:)
    I hope Margaret is OK? xoxo ♡

  3. interesting, lee - thanks for all the detail. The folks I know who've gone have been on various sorts of "friendship exchanges" - mostly stayed in small places, bicycled the island or learned dance or music or some such. I had no idea that they also had extravagant resorts! Makes sense of course, but I didn't know.

  4. I agree with dianne - you have a travel book being born right here in your posts. To see countries through your eyes (that I may never have seen otherwise)has been such a pleasure!

  5. Wow the photographic stuffs..I love this list's like we're there with you already!


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