Discover the World

No Hunger in Paradise- Cuba

I am naming this post after Michael Calvin’s excellent book and documentary about aspiring footballers in England, and how their journeys are so heavily romanticized. Less than 1% of all  young players actually make it to the glitz and glam of top level football.

How many Cubans actually just sit back all day in Varadero puffing cigars and dancing salsa? People go to Cuba expecting paradise; pristine beaches, delicious rum, cheap cigars, classic cars, it is supposedly a place filled with “don’t worry, be happy” vibes. I often wonder why people long for “authentic” experiences when travelling somewhere but never actually stop to think what “authentic” really means. Cuba, like most of Latin America and the Caribbean, is an impoverished country, it is a fact, there are no ways around it.

When I arrived in Havana, I was in awe with how different this place was to any other places I’ve ever been to. It felt like I went back in time, cars from the 50s and 60s filled the streets, people gathered outside in groups. It was like a huge movie setting, making it easy to forget that everything I saw was a reflection of the socioeconomic problems Cubans face. We’re talking about one of the last true socialist countries in the world, it isn’t just another island paradise where rich White people go for crazy beach parties.

Cuban taxi
Taken from my taxi in Havana. It was a two-seater with no safety belts nor air-conditioning. Cars are incredibly expensive in Cuba, for less than US$ 10,000 you can only get a model from the 60s. Anything considered “modern” (not from the 60s) can cost upwards of US$15,000. The old car vibe of Cuba is not just a show for tourists, many people can’t afford cars on an average state salary of US$ 20 per month. Driving an old taxi in Cuba is about as profitable as it gets for a local, one driver I encountered in Vinales told me he was a certified lawyer, but driving a taxi earns so much more since professionals get paid peanuts by the state.

 

Duplex house Cienfuegos
Duplex houses in Cienfuegos. My bed and breakfast is on the second floor of the building on the right. Initially, I wanted to Couchsurf with locals but I found out it is illegal for Cubans to host foreigners in their homes for free. Many turn their homes into B&B’s for extra income and to meet people, given they rarely have a chance to see much of the world. My host Alexey and his family were some of the loveliest people I’ve met on the road.

 

Locals of Cuba
Locals of Cienfuegos. Most houses in Cuba are small with no yard or porch areas. Many people leave their doors open, probably to ventilate air and create an illusion of space.

 

Cuban life
The real Havana, the other side of paradise. Cubans enjoy free healthcare and education but high literacy rates do not translate to good living. The easiest way to earn a living is by exploiting the growing tourism industry. Being an obvious foreigner I was constantly heckled on the streets by illegal money changers, vendors, street performers and prostitutes. Cuba is one of the only countries that uses two currencies, the CUP (pesos) for locals and CUC (convertible pesos) for internationals. 1 CUC is equivalent to US$1.00 and 1 CUC is 25 CUP. As a foreigner you will always be given CUC when you exchange currency from legal bodies. Most vendors list two prices and paying in CUC will always lead to paying extra.

 

Fidel Castro mural
You can’t talk about Cuba and not mention Fidel and Che. The shadow of the Cuban Revolution still looms large over the island. Che Guevara is still the nation’s hero; a symbol of Latin America martyrdom. Fidel Castro is more polarizing given how he settled for the cushy job of dictator while Che continued fighting in the American continent against imperialists. However, the revolution’s impact goes far beyond producing figureheads, it created a precedence for anti-Americanism. Fidel and Che were key figures in ousting the American-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista who allowed private American businesses to dominate the country’s economy. This paved way for the rule of the Communist Party of Cuba. While it was a symbolic victory of the people, it was the beginning of a regime that probably set Cuba back a few decades. The Communist Party of Cuba only recently started loosening its socialist policies due to the poor economy. Currently, less than half the population have access to internet, which is state-controlled and can only be accessed through public WiFi hotspots. Mobile internet was only introduced in July this year. (For foreigners, purchase prepaid internet cards from ETECSA outlets, the country’s telecommunications company. 1 hour of internet costs 2 CUC. There will always be a line outside these outlets, you can’t miss them. Alternatively, some locals sell these cards for higher prices near main streets.)

 

Cretins
“The Cretins” featuring Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr, and George W. Bush. Taken in the Museum of the Revolution in Havana. Talk about anti-Americanism. I do believe this sentiment is winding down with the younger generations.

 

Trinidad, Cuba
No doubt Cuba is a beautiful country with beautiful people capable of mesmerizing moments like this. Taken in Trinidad.

 

Che souvenir
“Come for the rum, stay for Che.”

 

Tobacco farm, Vinales
Tobacco farm in Vinales Valley.

 

Street, Havana
A typical street in Havana.

 

Old Bus, Havana
A haunting reminder of how difficult life can be in Cuba. I am blessed to be given these opportunities to travel the world. It isn’t just about seeing the most beautiful sights in every continent. Sometimes beautiful buildings have less pretty stories.

This post was also shared on Matt Supertramp’s blog at www.cowboysfromspace.wordpress.com

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About

Hoi Mun Yee in Prizren
I posed on the old bridge in Prizren, Kosovo.

Origin of my Interest

22 year-old journalism and anthropology graduate from Drake University, IA, USA. I dedicate this site to my travel experiences and photos as I begin my journey to become an expert globe trekker. My interest in travelling began with my family as I boarded a plane for the first time at the age of five, going to Bangkok, Thailand and later that year to Queensland, Australia.

Slowly Covering the Globe

As of right now, I have been to 34 countries throughout the world. Only recently have I discovered the joyous experience of travelling alone as I was away from my family in Malaysia. I solo traveled for the first time in the Summer of 2016 when I took a 36 hour bus ride to Boston and then a flight to Reykjavik, Iceland. It was the experience of a lifetime and I decided to turn my travels into stories, writing journals about little anecdotes, people I met, food I ate, embarrassing things I did and much more. I acknowledge my privilege of being able to afford to travel and do what so many people cannot afford to, that is why I am keen to share my experiences with people.

I like telling stories through photos, but rarely with photos of myself. I don’t believe I should be an integral part of my stories, the experiences should be, the scenery should be, the locals should be. Carrying nothing but a backpack with me, hopping from bus to bus, hostel to hostel, I have many interesting and even scary moments from my travels I’d like to share, and of course tips of saving money, food, accommodation, and transportation with other travelers.

Personal Milestones

Since I was still a full-time student, I had not been able to plan super long trips from one part of the world to another. The most intense journey I did was spending six months in the poorest region of Europe, studying, working and exploring. I spent three months in Belgrade, Serbia as a foreign student studying the effects of modern-day war in the Balkans.

For another month, I lived in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina to document the underprivileged lives of the Roma people. I also worked as an intern for one of the most popular independent online media in the young nation of Kosovo, covering various issues and events as my job took me from one end of the small country to the other. In between, I explored Romania, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and Turkey. Expect stories from these places, and more!

In January 2018, to escape the bitter Iowan winter, I spent a long week in the island nation of Cuba. That was the most difficult trip I have made as a solo traveler because of the language barrier and also the low accessibility to technology.