Confessions Of An Introverted Traveller

Travel is usually seen as something joyful and happy… And it is… I personally love it. And I love meeting new people, visiting and discovering new places. I am so thankful to have been able to travel as much as I have. 

But I’ve got something to confess… I am also an introverted person. I feel exhausted if I talk with people for too long and if don’t have time for myself, I will become really serious and not fun to be around. 

When travelling, I often feel the pressure of going out and visiting all there is to visit in a place. It feels like if you’re not doing something, you’re wasting your time. I think that growing up in a society with the mentality “if you’re not being productive, you don’t have value/add value to the world”… takes a toll.

For me, this means that sometimes, I just don’t feel like going out of my hotel room. Sometimes I just want to be in my own little bubble away from the rest of the world; I just want to be back home, with a glass of wine and my favourite film. If I’m feeling a bit extra that day, maybe some popcorn and a nice comfy blanket. Sometimes I just want to speak my language and not make an effort at all to remember how to say certain things.

But you’re travelling, and you’re seeing all these new things, meeting all these new interesting people, experiencing new cuisines… How ungrateful of you to just stay at the hostel and watch a movie. Such a waste… 

I has these thoughts as well… Until I planned my own trip around Taiwan. I did my lists and my planning to visit as much as I could, but by the second week ended up exhausted. Tired from talking to people all day, from taking pictures of things that honestly, didn’t seem that special because I didn’t have time to read the description. From looking for the food that was popular at that place, even if I felt like eating something else… Until I arrived to a particularly good hostel where by chance, I had the room to myself for a few hours. I put on a face mask, did my nails, had a nap, watched a film and felt 100% better with myself. 

Then I realised…


You don’t have to visit every single tourist attraction to have a good time.

If you enjoyed that cup of coffee while people watching, you did not waste your time.

You are allowed to enjoy and relax during your travels in any way you want.


I had the chance to meet Kasia & Victor, a lovely Spanish-Polish couple who have been travelling for a while now. They made me realise that I wasn’t alone in this idea. They have a very interesting blog post about “slow travel” (in Spanish). The concept is about enjoying every step of the way. Not focusing on the “touristy” stuff and just observing life in the place you’re staying. It’s about getting to know the culture and people. About being a “traveller” rather than a “tourist”.

I am well aware that not everyone has that much time off work to do this, but even if you have a week… Rather than planning a “gymkhana week” where you’re going from touristic attraction to the next touristic attraction, maybe try to slow down. Take the pressure off yourself. Let your self relax and breath and enjoy.

Instead of getting that perfect shot for your IG and ignoring the child that has stopped playing with a ball to help an old man, you could be present in where you are and watch life happening around you.

Be a Tourist in Your Own City

Nowadays, it’s easy to get caught up in other people’s Instagram pictures and their life. Social media can be a blessing to keep in touch with family and friends who live far away from us, but also a curse if we compare our lives to strangers who seem to be continuously on vacation.

Sure you can think “I’m going to get off social media and only focus on my life”, but we are human. It’s normal to have these feelings of wanting what other people have, specially if it looks as cool as being one day in Rome and the next in Thailand.

What has helped me it’s to be a tourist in my own city, thinking of ways to switch it up and not fall into monotony.

How?

  • Find a new coffee shop/restaurant
  • Find events near you (facebook groups, meetup.com)
  • Think of your hobbies and look for activities around your area
  • Go to a guided tour (some are even free)
  • Make your own guided tour: research about the History of your city
  • Try geocaching
  • Do some volunteering

Why?

It helps you feel refreshed, you see the city with new eyes and it takes you out of your confort zone.

El Retiro Park, Madrid, Spain

Side effects of travelling

“Oh, I don’t do that anymore, because when I was in X country #1…” “Oh, in X country #2 I found this thing that…” “In X country #3, things are way better…”(*read with annoying posh voice”) 

If you are anything like me, the above sentences would make you roll your eyes so hard it hurt. Or at least judge in a “selfie from below” angle the person saying those things. I used to be from the judging team. But I’m afraid I have slightly converted (hopefully I am not that posh/annoying) into one of those people now. 

This past year I have been travelling quite a lot, and first of all I feel privileged, lucky, grateful, humbled, all of the above and more for the amazing experiences. However, I also missed home. A lot of people only see the glamorised version part of travel that is trying new foods, meeting lots of new and interesting people, seeing amazing scenery… But we are not taking into account that maybe one day you’re not having the best time and just want a bit of your own country’s comfort food, or your sofa and a film or simply to vent out with a friend in your own language. 

And then you come home and you finally get the dish you’ve been craving for the second half of the trip… and it’s not as good as you remember, or it doesn’t give you the same sense of comfort that it used to. You meet up with your friends, but you don’t feel you can vent out as naturally as you used to, or you suddenly don’t find as many common interests as you used to. You go to your favourite spot in the city, but you don’t feel the same sense of belonging you used to feel. 

Travelling changes you and it changes the way you think. How could it not? You see different ways of living, different people, different foods… You are not the same you used to be and you feel a stranger in a world that used to feel like home. 

For me Spain and UK were places I considered to be my home. However, when I went back to Spain from living in London for 4 years, I didn’t fully understand how the supermarket aisles worked anymore or what to buy, I didn’t like how uncomfortable the metro seats are, I thought people talked way louder than they should… And then visiting London I hated the pollution I used to not even notice, somehow found the accent annoying at times, the fake politeness would get on my nerves… 

It is said that second times are always worse than the firsts… I reckon they are not worse, you are just more aware than you were before, and with a broader perspective comes… bigger responsibility(?). Sorry, that was my inner nerd speaking 🙂 When you have a wider perspective, some of the innocence when you see things for the first time is gone. You are left with the beautiful picture, sure, but the sense of awe is not there anymore. I am aware that change is a constant of life and that it makes us grow and become who we are. But it can be scary and confusing. Other people love it… And that’s okay too.

Are you saying you would have stayed in your country had you known the consequences? No.

So you are okay with being not particularly good with change but not living in your own country? Yes. Because life is short and the world too big for me to stay at one place only.

Isn’t it scary and hard? Yes. But so it is following someone else’s life path. I’ll tell you what though, you do you, I’ll be all over the globe doing me.

Solo travelling

Isn’t it scary?

It’s not my worst nightmare, to be honest…

Don’t you get bored?

No, my own company is delightful.

How do you do it?

I have already explained in this post. But I simply pack my bags and I’m on my way.

I just couldn’t…

Well… ¡surprise! You don’t have to.

More than 7 years ago my dream of going to Taiwan to learn Chinese started to take form. While studying Translation and Interpretation at university, I had the chance to learn Chinese. I loved the language and its history and culture have always been fascinating for me. I also discovered Taiwan. I started to watch Taiwanese TV series and distinguish their accent. I read all the blogs and articles there were and slowly but surely I started planning.

7 years later, even though, the plan had more side walks than high roads, I am in Taiwan. Proud of my self, thankful to life and happy.

But… all by yourself?

For starters, I think of myself as a rather introvert and empathic person. Large crowds stress me a lot. Being with someone 24/7 sets me in a bad mood. I need my alone time to recharge. This means that I have a high level of self knowledge and I know what I need and when I need it. I don’t hate having people around me, but I do need my alone time.

Also, it is my dream, it is very specific and it is very far away from Europe. It’s not that I don’t have friends who would like to come with me, but we each have our own lives. Some don’t have time, others don’t have money. If planning a dinner in a more than 10 people WhatsApp group chat living in the same city as these people is hard enough, I don’t even want to think about planning a trip. If you wait until all the starts and circumstances align, you’ll be your whole life waiting.

Isn’t it scary?

Society has programmed us a path since we’re very little and many times we just follow it without thinking twice. Most people live waiting for their day off and when it does come, they just lay in bed because they are tired of their 8 hour shifts. They don’t have time to enjoy a walk in the park or a day trip to a close by village. What I am scared of is to see myself bitter at the end of my life in a job that doesn’t fulfil me and surrounded by people as bitter as I am. 

I think we all have a comfort zone. At the beginning it is scary to get out of there, of course. But the minute you get out, that comfort zone extends to wherever you are now. Once you do something, next time, you know what to expect and you do it with more confidence. I moved out of home since I was 18, I did my Erasmus in France at 20 and then moved to London at 22… So I guess that helped.

Don’t you get bored?

My favourite pastime are reading or writing or listening to music. I don’t need that many people for this. On the other hand, There is this stigma in society of people who are alone (being an activity or travelling), they are lonely. With me as company? Nah. I like the person I have become and I am quite the company: intelligent, fun and a good person… What else can you ask for? I have amazing friends and family who loves me and supports me. I also have incredible dreams that I want to fulfil, though.

Also, believe it or not, you meet more people travelling on your own. The minute you have to ask for directions, or ask for food in a restaurant or ask for touristic places or activities… You have a choice: you starve or you talk to the waiter. If you don’t do it, no one will.

How do you do it? I just couldn’t…

You really don’t have to. I see life as a solo trip (accompanied at times). There are people who will be in your life always but others that go by. We can learn from everyone and they all can help us at certain times. But it is YOUR trip. A lot of times, “thanks” to social media, we see people with lives that, for us, look amazing. We then feel jealous because our life is not as glamorous. It happens to me with wedding pictures… and I don’t even want to get married!

I like to travel solo an I want to, but it doesn’t mean you have to. It doesn’t mean you are wrong. It just means that we are going to have a different path. And that is okay. If we all thought the same, just how boring would that be? (:

Cuban Santeria

During my trip to Cuba, I had the opportunity to talk to santeros and see and live their culture. I thought it was very interesting, so when I came back, I felt the need to share what I learnt as well as do a bit of research to learn more. Since it is a religion/cult that has been quite secretive from its origin, a lot of details vary from family to family. I am not santera, so this is a brief article done with care and interest.

“All is indeed a Blessing 
IF you can just see beyond the veils; for it is ‘all’ an illusion and a test, and one of the greatest Divine Mysteries of this life cycle.”

Ty Emmecca, the Divine Prince

Santería (in Spanish “The Way of the Saints”), also called Regla de Ocha-Ifá is a cult that was born due to the syncretisation of the Catholic religion implanted by the Kingdom of Spain and the millenary yoruba religion of African slaves (Nigeria, Benín y Togo) during the colonial period. It also has some characteristics from the Haitian Voodoo (animal sacrifices and divination). In colonial Cuba, because the Spanish only admitted Catholic religion, slaves had to practice their rituals in secret. The slaves identified the Saints with their African divinity or energy equivalent and practiced rituals in their own homes. The name “santería” comes from the Spaniards, who mocked the slaves for having such apparent excessive devotion to the Saints. Santería is very unknown from the outside perspective because it was practiced in secret and the knowledge was continued from generation to generation. However, it ended up being accepted in society for health reasons (healing ceremonies) as well as the development of music and afrocuban culture.

After the Revolution, some santeros migrated to Florida, Mexico, Spain or Puerto Rico among other countries. The Revolution also caused the State to separate from the church and therefore, santería has nowadays a better social status and it is not practiced in secret. Today, due to Cuban’s movement around the world, santería is not only practiced in Cuba.

Santería is based in the worship to ancestors who have died (egún) and the belief in an universal god who created everything. It is called “Olodumare” (which means “omnipotent” in the yoruba language) and it is referred as a feminine entity. Her power or energy is called “aché” or “ashé”. There is a Cuban expression which comes from this: “tener ashé” which means “to have ashé”, “to be lucky”. Olodumare communicates with human beings through manifestations of himself: the Orishas. These are complex mystical beings, whose essence can’t be expressed in an image. They exist in divine energy which surrounds us. Most of them had a human form and gained a “semidivine” status after death, just like the Saints in the Catholic religion. Each have their own personality and they control different aspects of everyday life. The Orishas also make sure each person follow their destiny that has been determined since their birth. Orishas themselves choose the person they protect since birth. If the human does not fullfil their destiny, they reincarnate and the Orishas punish them until they fulfil it. These are a few of the most important Orishas:

  • Obatalá: father of the Orishas, master of peace and purity and represented by Virgen de las Mercedes.
  • Orunla: also known as Ifá and Orúnmila, main fortune-teller the youruba’s pantheon, master of priests (babalawos) and represented by Saint Francisco de Asís.
  • Yemayá: mother of several Orishas, master of the seas and maternity, for she is the first mother of humanity and represented by Virgen de Regla.
  • Oshún: younger sister of Yemayá, favourite concubine of Changó, master of love, marriage, gold and the rivers, represented by Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, patron of Cuba.
  • Oyá: one of the favourite lovers of Changó and Yemayá’s daughter, queen of the dead, owner of the flame (fire), master of the cemetery and represented by Saint Theresa and Virgen de la Candelaria. 
  • Changó: cometed incest with his mother and had three other women, including Oshún and Oyá, master of virility, fire, thunder and lightning, he gives victory above any enemy and any difficulty. He is represented by Saint Bárbara.
  • Elewá: messenger of Olofi and other Orishas. Without him, nothing can be accomplished. He is the main fortune-teller deity for santeros. Guardian of doors, dead included and represented by Saint Anthony and Niño de Praga o de Atocha. 
  • Ogún: son of Yemayá, master of metals and any person working and represented by Saint Peter.
  • Ochosi: son of Yemayá, master of hunters and represented by Saint Norbert.
  • Ozún: always accompanies Elewá, warns santeros against dancer and is represented by San Juan Bautista.

Due to their faith in reincarnation, santeros believe that, within certain limitations, it is possible to chose the destiny of the next life before being born. This implies that there are some things that are set in life such as character, occupation, poorness or richness, intelligence, luck or misfortune and life duration. Therefore, even though it is not possible to change the destiny itself, one can make it worse by not following a prohibition or taboo of their Orisha, disobeying a deity or any witchcraft ceremony gone wrong. This why they use fortune-telling and divination ceremonies. Through fortune-telling, they discover why and the origine of the negative influences in their life and can then, be corrected. Not only the spiritual reasons for the countless problems and difficulties in life are discovered, like love, health and money, but also it is informed of how to solve them.

In Santería, there is a priest hierarchy. The highest priests are the Babalawos. Next, there are the babalorishas and iyalorishas, who are consecrated santeros with or without godchildren. The Iyawos are santeros who have consecrated and have been initiated for a year and the Aleyos who are unconsecrated believers. All of them are santeros and are initiated with specific ceremonies.

The initiation process is long and complex. It has several phases and it varies depending on the Orisha. First, it is necessary to determine which Orisha corresponds to the person who wants to be initiated. This is done through divination, by an initiated or a Babalawo to have more certainty. The preparation for the initiation include a special bath (similar to a baptism in the Catholic religion) and the initiated has to wear white for a whole year, as a symbol of a new life. In the initiation an Orisha is assigned formally, also identified as “guardian angel” and it defines the god and carer of the initiated. During this first year, the initiated must obey to certain prohibitions about the clothes, sexual relationships, good and everyday life. The initiation starts with receiving the necklaces and ends with the “sit” (asiento).

Every ceremony or ritual in santería starts with a bow to the dead, which extend to the eldest ancestors. It is believed that the dead can interfere in their lives, both to protect them as well as bother them. When the dead feel cared for, they take care of the believers. It is also believed that the dead are stronger than the living, so santeros take caution towards sad souls, “dark spirits” with ill intention. 

In several ceremonies, initiation included, music is an important character. Percussion rhythms, songs and dances are used to please Orishas and invite them to join the celebration. Through the drums, an alternated conscience state is achieved, known as “posession” and it is said that “the saint comes down” or that the initiated has “the saint on”. This refers to the Saint coming down and setting in the head of the santero. The dancers stop doing basic repetitive steps and shake or do specific and distinct gestures from the different Orishas.

Another characteristic of santería is the sacrifice of animals. In this cult, the blood of the sacrificed animals belongs to the Orishas, and therefore, to the creator god Olofi. It is a divine right. The killing of the animals is not a nonsense, it is done in ceremonies that are held with seriousness and respect. Only trained people are allowed to do it. When an animal is sacrificed in a purification ritual, it is believed that the animal absorbed the problems, dangers and bad vibrations of the person the ritual was done to. This is why this meat is never eaten, but eliminated according to a specific Orisha. In the initiation ceremony it is obligatory to sacrifice animals because “there is no birth without blood” and in the initiation a new life is “born”.

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santer%C3%ADa
  • http://www.conexioncubana.net/la-religion-en-cuba-2/santeria/502-la-santeria-cubana
  • http://www.ugr.es/~pwlac/G10_09Maria_Teresa_Linares.html
  • https://onlinetours.es/blog/post/1530/que-significa-hacerse-santo-en-cuba
  • https://www.britannica.com/topic/Santeria

My Experiences in Cuba

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?

– Spain.

– 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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Tourism in Cuba

The overall idea of Cuba is paradise beaches, rum, mojitos and old American cars. There might be some people interested in salsa or maybe know a bit about its History. I went to dance salsa and get to know a country I was intrigued by. It had been closed for years, so until you don’t go there yourself, you don’t really know what to expect. It doesn’t matter how many blogs, articles, documentaries you read and see. What striked me the most was the treatment tourist got.

For a Cuban, a foreigner, no matter where they are from, is rich. The starting point for this assumption comes from the minimum salary contrast. Taking into account that a Cuban doctor earns an average of 40 pesos (equivalent to 40 US dollars) per month, anywhere else in Europe is going to have a higher salary. So foreigners, are rich. How do they know the average minimum salary? Television, which the government is in total control of. Until very few years ago, there was no internet. Now there is, but it is still limited. Some people have done their research and have a wider point of view, but other generations don’t. They only know that any foreigner earns more than them, they are rich and that’s that.

The fact that there is internet in Cuba now and that the country has opened this recent years has make tourism to increase. Not everyone who visits Cuba is about that luxury holiday. There are more and more backpackers (myself included) who go to Cuba to explore and live the culture, rather than all included hotels, which was more usual before. I think this also influences them to think that “foreigners are rich”. Many times, even if they wanted to, they can’t travel. Sometimes it’s a money issue, others it’s a visa issue.

Another thing is the current situation of the country: escarce food and resources. Even eggs are difficult to get. If you want to buy more than what it is stipulated they can fine you because you are “hoarding”. However, you go to a hotel for tourist and you have an actual mountain of eggs for the tourists’ breakfast. Another example are the infamous cars. These old American cars work because of the way Cubans solve problems. It is very expensive to import a car, so they need to fix anything that breaks. 

What I find frustrating is that they don’t take into account other countries’ situation. Yes, Cuba’s situation is not easy. And yes, I am from Europe, where the situation is way better than other countries in the world. I am the first one to call myself privileged and I am grateful for the opportunities I have had just to have been born in Spain. Nevertheless, the situation that I have lived in Europe, not only in Spain, is that after finishing university it is difficult to get a job at whatever area you studied. The companies I applied to, have answered that I do not have experience, that I needed to get an internship and then, maybe we could talk. When you do find internships they are not paid and you work the same or even more than someone with a salary. I have ended up working in the restaurant/coffee scene because I personally don’t feed from oxygen. I have been lucky enough to have liked the job and also been able to learn and get promotions. 

The salary is higher than in Cuba. Yes. But you also have to spend more. In my case, I was working in London, not cheap. To make the math easy:

Let’s suppose I earn 1000 pounds per month:

– House: 500 pounds (renting a small room)

– Electricity, water, heating, internet: 100 pounds 

– Transportation in the Underground: 200 pounds (depending on where you live, and rounding up)

– Food: 100 pounds (rounding up)

You are left with 100 pounds. Pray that you don’t have any issues at your rented house or that no one’s birthday is coming up. You are working 45 hours per week, barely any holidays and no weekends (restaurant job). A Cuban could tell me “yes, but you have internet at home, the possibility to go to a supermarket and chose whatever you want to eat, a good transportation system…” Of course, but that does not make me rich.

If you spend a day in a random street in La Habana, you can see people sitting at the door of their house and not doing anything all day. Maybe they socialise with the neighbours, who have a small paladar where they sell coffee and pizza to the three daily clients. The other neighbour has a cock waking them up every day and sometimes giving them eggs. In the evening, 5 or 6 friends get together and play domino in the middle of the street, betting and drinking rum. With these things I don’t mean that Cubans are lazy. Not at all. Cubans don’t work 45 hours per week because they live in a “communist” system and work a certain amount of hours per week. The rest of the time they try to earn money from wherever they can find it, because the salary the State is giving them is not enough.

The other side of the coin is the treatment the tourist get. Cubans are really nice and open. However, the minute they hear your accent, they know they can get more money from you than from a Cuban. They take you then to a place for tourist. I experienced it quite a few times in restaurants and transportation. I spent a whole month in the island, so I was not about to pay the tourist price, specially for food. When I went to Cuban paladares and they heard my accent, they stared at me and was the last one to be served my order. In terms of transportation, they would tell me to use Viazul, a bus company. When I asked why, they would reply that “conditions are better” and the Cubans want to offer the best they can offer. I know that is true and I appreciate and am thankful for the generosity of giving the foreigner the best they have. But I am not asking for it, nor I needed it.

It’s confusing and frustrating because in Europe we don’t treat different anyone just because they are foreigner. The price is the same for everyone and the transportation is the one we all use. I would understand the treatment back in the days when tourism wasn’t as developed. But right now, I don’t think it makes sense.

I want to reiterate that it is my point of view and I think it is frustrating because I talked to different people and I understand both sides, the tourists and the Cubans’ point of view.

Brief History of Cuba

When the conquerors went to Cuba, they brought some products that did not exist in our agriculture so they made aborigines their slaves so that they worked for them. The conquerors had to bring slaves from Africa in order to work the land and being able to develop agriculture in Cuba. These slaves had their own language and religion. 

The conquerors mixed with aborigines, who started to dissapear because of massive extermination, forced labour and new illnesses from Europe, that they were not used to. The aborigines eventually disappeared and a new race was born, “creole”, when conquerors and slaves mixed. However, they were born in Cuba and they started to feel a nationalism for the country. A lot of them wanted to rebel against the Colony.

Big personalities start to emerge, like Felix Varela and José Martí, who started the first war for Cuba’s independence with their ideas. This started in 1868 until 1978, when the conquerors promised to leave Cuba and the Colony. This did not happen, so on the 13th of March, 1878, Antonio Maceo rebelled with the protest of Baracoa. For the next 10 years there were smaller wars until 1895, when the US decides to help Cuba to get out of the Colony, interfering in the war.

In 1902, the US writes an amendment that says that the US can intervene in the political, economical and social issues of Cuba. From 1902 until 1958, Cuba was corrupted politically; there were 5 governors at the same time (Percantia) a governor that lasted for 100 days (Grau), governors that auto proclaimed they were the governors (Bastista). In 1953, a young lawyer with a group of young people decides to assault the Moncada base, the biggest of the whole island. Fidel Castro.

Even thought it was not a big victory, this act served people the function of knowing there was a leader that could go against the dictatorship and tirany at that time (Batista). Fidel was incarcerated and exiled to the East. He spent years in prison until the president of Cuba at the time gives political amnisty. Fidel Castro had met other revolutionary people who shared his ideals, among others, the Argentinian Ché Guevara. They buy a boat and they arrive in Cuba with 82 revolutionaries. Fidel installs himself in the mountains to try and liberate the country from there. His brother, Raúl, and other young people go to the islands in the centre of Cuba. Between those two places, they start committing different acts to start and liberate the country. In 1958, Batista had lost the connection with the North Government, is taken his money away and he goes away from Cuba, allowing the victory of the new government of Cuba. 

In 1959, Cuba is a small island in the middle of the Caribbean who had broken any relations with the US and it was alone, in a crisis by the dictator. Cuba asks for international help and the Sovietic Union is the one who answers. The URSS sends a boat with men to work in Cuba as well as petrol. This makes Cuba to start following the ideas of the Russian comunism. During those years, they did negotiations with the Russians (chocolate in exchange of petrol). In 1989, when the Berlin Wall falls and the communist current is no longer in full force, Cuba is left alone again and in a crisis that was called “special period”. The Cuban government had to take measures to recover its economy. The most importante one was tourism, without forgetting public health, public education, technology or researches, which were the ones developed with the revolution.

Nowadays Cuba is developing biotechnology and construction material, while keeping its principal industries like rum, tobacco, etc. Diplomatic relationships with other countries are also helping in recovering: Canada, Spain, Italy, Japan, France, Brasil, Venezuela o China.

Newbie in Vietnam?

So… I booked a flight to Ho Chi Minh from Taiwan because it was cheaper to go through Vietnam and then back to Spain than it was to fly from Taiwan to Spain. However, it was not a backpacking adventure in South East Asia, it was a stop by destination for me. Bear in mind that I was carrying a carry-on suitcase with wheels and a small back-pack for my laptop and few more things. My clothes were for city-life in Taiwan and the weather was similar(ish). Spoiler alert: I was NOT ready or prepared.

If you are planning to visit Vietnam, here’s a list of things I wish I knew before I set foot in Vietnam:

  • Money: VND (Vietnamese New Dollar). ATMs charge a high commission, so I would suggest to take out what you are going to spend in one go so that you are not charged twice. In some hostels and touristic places you can pay by card, but cash is the most common practice (local markets, restaurants, museums).
  • Traffic: There are motorbikes EVERYWHERE. Beeping, screaming, speeding, stopping, people sleeping on them on one side of the road… There are traffic lights, which cars generally respect, but not motorbikes. So, I personally waited to cross the street until a local Vietnamese person was standing next to me. I did not feel safe to cross by myself until after 5 times. You need to start walking really sure of yourself, don’t make eye contact with anyone, and never go back. I was told this by another traveller and it kindda worked.
  • Pavement: Vietnam was literally at war 50 years ago, so even though it is open now, you will see broken pavement and buildings often. On top of this, there is no walkable pavement. Well, yes, but full with people selling fruits, vegetables, food trucks, motorbikes, badly parked cars… My little stop by Vietnam just went to level 10000000000…
  • Luggage vs Backpack: Vietnam is a city made for backpackers. Between the traffic and the streets, wheeled luggage was the WRONG choice. Unless you are going to a resort where you don’t leave the place, be smarter than I was and take a backpack.
  • Shopping: Clothes are really cheap in Vietnam and there are plenty of stands and markets where you can buy stuff. However, you have to bargain with them. When they see a foreigner, they immediately assume that you will have a lot of money, so they will ask for a very high price. I didn’t buy anything, so I don’t know how low you can go, but it is a matter of trying.
  • Weather: Depends on where you go, you will need more or less warm clothes. Ho Chi Minh was 30ºC and Hanoi was 20ºC in March, 2019.
  • Exploring: I wouldn’t recommend the cities, but the country side is breath taking. I went to Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi and Halong Bay. The highlight of my trip was Halong Bay. If you have the chance, I heard amazing things about Sappa.
  • Culture: I read several articles on Vietnamese culture and etiquette and it helped understanding where they came from in all sorts of situations. For instance, I learned that they take very seriously when they host someone, so in hostels and hotels they will treat you really well. If you have an issue, they will smile and nod, even if they don’t agree, which can be frustrating if you are angry. But they generally aren’t confrontational and find it embarrassing to have an argument in public. I don’t consider myself knowledgeable enough to list all the cultural differences, so feel free to ask Google.

Hanoi & Halong Bay

I leave my luggage packed, I have breakfast and ask for a taxi to the airport. I find it hard to believe that I will be able to do the trip back to the airport in time, so I don’t risk it. After a short flight to Hanoi, the second biggest city in Vietnam at the north of the country, I arrive to the hostel in bus. This time the GPS on my phone is working, thank God and all the dragons in Taiwan. In reception, I ask about different day trips that you can do from Hanoi and I pay for one of them.

Since there is a day in the middle, I try to explore the city, as much as traffic lets me and I discover a lake with activities going on as well as local markets and a Chinese temple, which I did not visit. I walked to a park and went for a coffee. Vietnamese coffee is quite popular and famous. I don’t think it’s because of the coffee itself, but for the way it is prepared. The most usual ways were iced black coffee (with sugar added) and iced coffee with condensed milk. Condensed milk was first used because during the war period there was no fresh milk. Following the same principle of using condensed milk instead of fresh milk, there is the “egg coffee”. At the beginning, it tasted too much like egg and it was not that popular, but the recipe has been improving and it became a thing in the 80s. I personally think it is like an espresso with a thick cream on top.

After the exploration day in Hanoi, a bus picked me up to go to Halong Bay, which is an area in the coast considered World Heritage by UNESCO. The hostel made it really easy to cancel a night so that I could do the tour of two days-one night.

After a 4 hour ride, we get to a port, where we take a small boat that will take us to a bigger boat where we would be staying the night. We leave our things in the room and we get lunch. After that we get an hour break and they took us to see some caves and a beach. The caves are inside the big mountains that come out from the sea. The guide told us two of the theories. Legend has it, a dragon landed on that area and that is why there are so many mountains. According to Vietnamese (and Chinese) mythology, dragons don’t spit fire, but energy. With that energy, stalactites and stalagmites were formed. Now, from a more scientific point of view: tectonic plates and a little extra info; I heard other guides saying that some scientific think that there might be some fossils of monkeys or trees in the caves.

When we got back, we had another hour and a half break and then dinner. With a full belly, we went up to the upper deck of the boat that had a terrace where we sitter and talked: three Spaniards, an American girl, a Turkish guy, two Swiss and two Germans. Most of them were backpackers travelling South-East Asia. Each had started before or after and from one side or the other. Some were starting and some were finishing. It was a really awesome night getting to know like-minded but all sorts of different people.

Honestly, the tour was a bit expensive, but waking up to that freaking paradise was kind of priceless. Looking back, I would have liked to do some research on the company because the guide told us very few details, in my opinion and they took us to very crowded touristy places. After breakfast they took us to the Pearl Museum, which I thought was interesting, but I wouldn’t have gone, should I had had the choice. Specially because at the end, they led us to a pearl shop in case we wanted to buy something for our family and friends. We went kayaking for an hour after that. I was paired with an old German man, so we went really slowly and relaxed taking in the breathtaking scenery.

Back in the boat, we took our things and waited in the terrace for lunch and the small boat to get back to Hanoi.