Hasta Que Se Seque el Malecón
At the time of Cuba’s opening, there will be an increasing amount of people flocking to La Habana – or Varadero, Cuba’s hot tourist spot – and an increasing fear that Cuba’s uniqueness would definitely belong to the past. Most tourists enjoy their time on the fine sandy beach, smoking fine cigars, riding open-top cars from the fifties, along with mastering the art of Cuban-style mojitos (understand a well-loaded mojito). But, as we – I and my then roommate – travelled through the 1250-kilometer-long island, we discovered that Cuba was much more than that.
Here are some insights on what made us really feel the Cuban lifestyle:
We fell in love with the Cuban vibes. Most tourists stay in the “Habana Vieja” district, which is as incredibly beautiful as crowded with tourists. I don’t have any problem with that, but keep in mind that a country has so much more to offer as well! By Cuban vibes, I meant the one you feel walking through the Malecón and the historic center – away from most attractions -, where you successively run into kids in uniforms going to school or playing soccer and adults chilling peacefully outside or watching telenovelas (Cuban-style soap operas). There is one constant: the reggaeton beats that follow you through your walk everywhere you go. And all of this takes place in a mix of freshly renovated houses and dilapidated old ones and I must say that the latter really makes the scenery unique.
Feeling the Cuban vibes also meant eating like a Cuban.
It might seem obvious, but since the society is divided between Cubans and non-Cubans, foreigners tend to eat at the places for foreigners or rich Cubans. Eating like a Cuban means converting your CUCs (convertible peso) into CUPs (national currency) and heading to a cafeteria, where you can eat, almost for nothing, tortillas, arroz congri (rice mixed with beans), Cuban-style pizza, and drink a home-made juice. After we talked to some Cubans and discovered that the average monthly salary was between 10 and 15 CUCs (10-15 euros), we understood that most Cubans eat at the cafeteria when they don’t eat at home. Cafeterias are usually in someone’s house and the transactions go through the window. Here’s a 4-ball ice cream that I bought for the equivalent of 0,25 euro!
For us, a simple way to live the Cuban lifestyle was to do the opposite of the crowd.
When we took the now touristic soviet-style steam train at Trinidad and stopped in another city for the break, we saw everyone heading to the touristic attractions that were waiting for them all day. We decided to go the other way alone and we discovered, out of nowhere, a food stand that made delicious fried fish sandwiches. After we ate four of them, they thanked us for having made their day!
Finally, the best thing we did was to hitchhike: it really allowed us to understand the Cuban way of life and the separation between foreigners and locals. It all started when one day, we tried to book bus tickets to go to Las Terrazas but somehow, we ended up in a bus terminal that was forbidden to foreigners. We were told to go to the Via Azul terminal, for foreigners and rich Cubans. All right. We finally arrived at Las Terrazas with the Via Azul bus but decided to come back to La Habana hitchhiking. We first realised that many Cubans have to hitchhike to go to work, to school, or anywhere. Since the competition is rude, many of them prefer showing some money bills instead of their thumb! Our time finally arrived, and we successively got into a taxi (for free), a truck cart, and, best of all, a bus that was supposed to be reserved for Cubans!
Of course, there is plenty more to discover in Cuba. Talk to people, follow the unknown, don’t limit yourself to the main attractions, and you will understand how a Cuban live and think! (And of course try some mojitos, they are the best!)
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