Cuba is undescriptable. I think it is a very interesting country to discover yourself. I believe it is important to go without any expectations and learn as much as possible. I heard a quote that sounds cliché, both from people who have visited Cuba and from Cubans themselves.
“The best of Cuba are the Cubans”
It is true.
During the month I spent there, I met some travellers. Some knew Spanish, some didn’t. Having studied Translation and Interpretation, I understood that a language is part of the culture and it is difficult to get to know a culture without it. I didn’t quite notice it until Cuba. Between the sociability, the difficult situation and the humour, if you can’t communicate with them fluently, I feel like you would miss out on half of Cuba.
I leave you some experiences I had that I find representative of the Cubans and their philosophy with Caribbean rithym.
If there is a problem, and it has a solution, then there is no problem. If there is a problem and there is no solution, it is not a problem.
I heard this sentence from quite a few different people. The first time I learnt it I was in La Habana, talking to Maité, the owner of the casa particular I was staying in. Talking about Cuban History, she tells me that with this short version, she does not give a lot of details or attacks anyone, because she is just explaining History. She is not interested in politics. Whatever happens in politics and the conflicts between countries are “over there”. To them, day to day, it does not matter. Some clients had asked her about the conquerors. Maité usually answers them “yes, they were Spanish. But they were not the current Spanish people. So, I could care less if someone is German, Spanish, Venezuelan, Japanese… At the end of the day, they are tourist, and the tourist is someone who goes to a different place to know another culture. That is it. I do not need to make anyone feel bad for History”.
It is a problem with no solution, so it is not a problem. It is a reality which you have to accept. I think it also explains the open and sociable character of Cubans.
If life gives you lemons, make lemonade, ‘cause you ain’t doing guava juice.
Maité invites me to celebrate her uncle’s birthday in a nearby area of La Habana. She has a merengue cake she wants to take (pizza box size but taller, as in, with layers). The cake gymkhana starts: We take a bike-taxi. We go to a few stores near the Capitolio, because Maité wants to buy a few things. We can’t find coffee but we do get some frizzy drink. We go to the bus, colective taxis, taxis, etc. There is no colectivo to the place we want to go, so we take a bus that takes us to a place where we will take another bus. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We are still taking the pizza-sized cake on our hands. We get into the first bus, no air-con, all windows open and we get a seat. I have the cake on my knees. Maité is telling me about a story with some tourists and suddenly the driver stops abruptly. Plof. The cake has stopped at the seat in front of us. Luckily just on one side and it is not that noticeable. What about aluminium paper? Or a box? We found a freaking cake… that is already enough. Maité tries to clean the seat the best that she can and my mission is to keep the cake save.
We get to our stop and we see a guy with a cake in his hands. Maité looks at him and asks him where he got it. He tells her that it was from a bakery nearby. ”Ay, Martica, if I knew, I wouldn’t have given the cake a walk through all Habana”.
We laugh thinking about the adventure that the cake has lived. We take another bus, more crowded than the last. A nice gentleman helps us with the cake and keeps it above everyone’s heads until a nice lady takes it and puts it on her knees. We thank them and we get down from the bus not having to go to any cake hospital.
Since it is already getting late, we get back to La Habana in a colective taxi (more on transport coming soon) Maité tells me that this experience of taking like 3 different ways of transportation is the Cuban way. At least, you meet people who helps you with the cake on the way. “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade, Martica, because you ain’t making guava juice with that” she adds with a smile on her face.
Cuban transportation: You get in and that’s that… What are you going to do? You’ll get there!
The woman sitting next to me on a bus trip gets down and then back up with a sandwich. She divides it and gives a part to her friend in the front seat, another to her friend in the back seat and another to me. I thank her and she gives me the biggest grin. After a while she asks me:
– Where are you from?
– Aaaaaaaah. I was thinking “Camagüey? Your accent is not from Camagüey”…
We both laugh. She introduces herself as Flora and we chat for a while. I read a book until there is no light left. Flora tells me she had left the day before from Trinidad and she is going to Guantánamo. “I don’t know if we’re going to get there today” she tells me laughing. “This is Viazul… imagine if it was a Cuban bus” I tell her my adventure of Trinidad-Sancti Spiritu-Ciego de Ávila-Camagüey and she says “Oh, yeah… that’s all you can do. Get in… and wait… and you’ll get there. What else can you do? You can only wait.”
Cuban gymkhanas: Everyone have their own daily fight.
Back from a long walk in La Habana, I try to find a bottle of water, since mine was running out. I get into one shop. No. Another one. Nope. Another. Nuh-uh. I ask to a waiter in a restaurant and he tells me yes, 1,5 CUC (what it actually costs in Cuba). When I get inside, they ask me 3 CUC as soon as they hear my Spanish accent. I keep walking and find a small paladar in a corner that sells us a big bottle of 1,5L at 3 CUC.
Meanwhile, my shoulders are close to burnt, even having applied sun cream, since in Cuba is as hot as summer in Spain. The small tube of sun cream in my carry-on is empty, and before I even came, I thought “I will buy a big one in Cuba, that way I’ll have for the whole month and won’t have to carry it all the trip to Cuba”. Following Spain’s and the UK’s logic, I go into a pharmacy. They don’t have. I go to a supermarket where I can see a variety of creams. They don’t have. I go to a store where they sell soap and creams. They don’t have, but they do have moisturisers and aftersun. Okay, “mija” but what about before the sun?! They tell us that maybe in the hotels. I go to the most expensive in la Habana, Hotel Manzana. I ask at reception. They tell me that in the shops behind the hotel. I get inside one with beauty products. They don’t have. I go inside a similar one. They tell me just at the end of the next corridor. I start to see the light. I go inside and they tell me yes. They show me a 15 SPF bottle. That just won’t have any effect on my pale skin. They tell me “my love, we don’t need it”, to which I answer “I know, but you do have a lot of tourists”. They had another one 50 SPF, coloured with a very (beautiful, but useless for me) dark tone. At this point of the adventure, I give myself 1 minute to laugh in order for my eyes not to cry. If in a luxury hotel, they don’t have it, I’ll go back to Spain burnt…
When I go back home, Maité lends me hers. After that, Anthony, Maité’s son comes and gives her Internet cards. He tells her that he had been waiting for 2 hours. She sits and starts scratching to see the password and then put it in. In the card itself, it says that you have to be very careful scratching, because sometimes it breaks and you can’t see the numbers. If that happens they will not give you another one or give you your money back. You see, they have already told you. The card itself has a card with a woman in a “zen” position. You can’t deny they already tell you. They are able to connect, but I can’t. “You see, Martica, in Cuba, everyday is a different fight, that’s how it is”.
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