Well Cuba was a mixed bag for me. Firstly, I’d just like to say.. Fuck Cuba. My first experience of the country was something that has left me NOT as an avid supporter.
I arrived at the airport just after midnight and i was firstly questioned repeatedly about “why i was in Cuba”. “For a holiday” or for “tourism” didn’t seem to cut it with the immigration officers. Eventually i was allowed to pass immigration to officially enter into the country. My next experience was to be taken to a dingy back room in the airport to be searched by officials, as if i was smuggling endangered species or had a bag full of drugs or explosives. The searching room looked to be set up for torturing unsuspecting tourists. There were all kinds of pliers, hammers and knifes proudly displayed on the walls, and being my first experience in this kind of situation (EVER), sadly, i was not overly impressed. So after having all my stuff removed from my backpack and my carry on luggage, resulting in NO endangered species or drugs or bombs or anything fun being found for thenice officials to bail me up and cast me off to a Cuban gaol cell somewhere to rot, i was free to enter into this communist paradise… Well, as free as you can be in the circumstances..
I was lucky enough to meet a French guy at the airport, Jean Karl, who also got the same welcoming treatment, and ended up traveling with him for the whole time in Cuba – he made my time in the country a hell of a lot more enjoyable and affordable – as we shared accommodation costs etc. There are no hostels of any kind in Cuba, so it was extremely hard to meet anyone else travelling. We went days with out seeing any other tourists.
The cost of living (for a tourist) was bloody expensive in Cuba to top it all off. The Cuban government decided that their currency (the Cubano Peso) was not worth enough so they fixed this by deciding to make up a new currency (the Convertible Peso) that they rated at 1:1 to the USD (which economically, in my view, was totally way over priced by at least 100 – may be 200%). They also then tax a further 20% on all cash withdrawals you make in the country. So the Australian dollar was worth about 55c to the Convertible Peso.
So for me, this wasn’t a good start to a new country, still i attempted not to totally write off the place (although i was tempted to get on a plane and fly the fuck out of there straight away). After several average days, surviving on stale bread and dodgy processed meat products, i had a couple of exceptional days in Old Havana after meeting some of the locals who showed us around.. some of the good bits. Old Havana was truly a beautiful city and if the government ever gets off it’s ass and cleans up the rest of the country, Cuba could be an absolutely magnificent place (the whole city of Havana desperately needs maintenance and a good coat of paint), as it appears nothing has been done since the 50s or early 60s.
The people of Cuba were exceptionally nice.., some of the nicest people i think I’ve met this year, and that really helped. I felt sorry for them in many ways, especially those that have lived in a free democratic country at some point in their lives. In Havana, Jean Karl and I stayed in the home of a Nuclear Professor who has worked with many other countries in improving nuclear programs globally. You would think that such a highly educated and important person would be well remunerated by his country. It’s all about equality under the communist system.
So, i think when or more so IF Cuba ever turns to a Democratic leadership, about 10 years after then, I’ll consider going back, but before then.. there’s no way.
Anyway, out my photos from Cuba: