We did not go to Cuba last week. That would be illegal. We have an embargo and travel ban – that I fully support – against the Caribbean nation.
But, I did stand on the Caribbean coast and look wistfully at Cuba. I went to Cuba 12 years ago (what is the statute of limitations on light to medium treason?) and had I visited again, I would have returned to Havana and Trinidad to see how those places have changed.
I would have found that most of Havana has not changed much. The old town is bisected by the Paseo de Marti that connects the impressive Capitolio building to the beautiful Malecon. East of Jose Marti are grand colonial buildings, impressive forts and beautiful plazas. In my younger days, this area was run down and neglected, but I hear that nowadays they have pumped money into restoring the area, and there are many shops aimed at tourists. It would have been a surprise for me to see this.
West of Jose Marti, including the districts of Vedado and the area around the Plaza of the Revolution, not much has changed, or so I am told. The buildings remain in a state of photogenic neglect and the pace of life remains mellow. Take the natural chilled out vibe of the Caribbean and add in communism so no one needs to work too hard, and you have one mellow place. The Malecon is still lively at sunset with fishermen, joggers, tourists and locals enjoying the view over to Key West, 90 miles and an entire world away.
One change I might have noticed is that many Cubans now have cell phones, and they often congregate outside the fancy hotels poaching wifi. This is a major change from my first visit. Internet cafes still charge about $5 an hour, or about half a month’s salary for a Cuban, but they are finding ways to get online.
One thing that remains the same: classic cars are still everywhere. It is a testament to American craftsmanship and Cuban ingenuity that these cars from the 50s are still on the road. Incredible.
I’d love to go back to Trinidad. When I first went, there was only one good place to eat and I could only score a reservation one night. The state-run restaurants were all dismal. Now, there are over 90 private restaurants and tourists are spoiled for choice. The town is filled with the sound of Son music as live music from the cafes and bars spill into the streets. Songs from the Buena Vista Social Club are inescapable.
Trinidad is truly one of the great towns on Earth – it has a stunning, perfectly preserved colonial center that sits between verdant mountains and a quintessential Caribbean beach. Classic cars share the cobblestoned streets with horses and watching a sunset from a rooftop terrace is magical. No wonder tourists from Europe and Canada flock there. Americans like me don’t visit because that would be wrong. Beyonce and Jay-Z can go, but not me.
The government has also loosened some restrictions on tourist shops, and there is a disheartening amount of crappy tourist tat for sale in the center. It does bring in a bit of money for the locals and every bit helps when you earn about $15 per month.
Someday, I will go to Cuba again and take tons of photos of the classic cars, beautiful people and colorful old buildings. That day will have to wait until our government and the Castros resolve a problem that goes back to the Cold War days. I wouldn’t want to get caught and have to pay the $10,000 fine for going to a Cuba. The USA has similar bans and embargoes on countries such as China and Saudi Arabia who have worse human rights records. No way we’d associate with them.
Anyhow, here are a few photos I would have taken had I gone. Maybe if I ever figure out that statute of limitations thing I’ll
write about my trip go to Cuba and write about it.
Have you been to Cuba?
Holding a grudge for 57 years seems excessive, right?
The classic cars are almost worth the fine. I’m glad you were able to resist the temptation to travel to Cuba, Some day you;ll be able to travel there freely and see all those things in person. Great set of images!
Those cars would be worth the fine, I think. I had to scour the web for shots that had my style of photography for the site.
Jeff, just now James and I were discussing, “wait, did he really go to Cuba?”. We were both confused. 😀 But we came to one final conclusion: we really love your photos of present-day Havana and Trinidad. They couldn’t have been taken by anyone else. 😉
Thanks Bama. I had to search high and low on the internet to find photos of Cuba that had my style of photography 🙂
Cuba is probably like Myanmar that you recently visited. It has been isolated for so long that it is like going back in time. You’d enjoy it for sure.
Going to Cuba in March, so looking forward to it.
Enjoy! It is a great place.
Arrrgh I hate this post. It’s so fabulous! I wanna go to Cuba. I wanna go to Cuba so bad. And you just made it worse 🙂
PS I was not confused for even a second except for the statement that you support the embargo. That took me aback for a moment or two. Then I just kept reading 🙂
Good to know that you were not confused. You can fly over this winter while you are staying in San Miguel. You’d love it, or so I hear. I’ve never been.
I have been travelling to Cuba for years every year. I travel to Santa Maria. Im Canadian and we fly into Santa Clara. the bus ride is 99 minutes to the resort, and its 40 min on a causeway to the island but its a beautiful ride threw the towns, I will be travelling there this winter again. I dd not go last year as I travelled to Aruba and St. Martin but i truly did miss my new friends. for anyone reading this heck out santa Maria the beaches are like none you have ever seen. Friendly people. check out my blog I will be blogging more on Cuba in the near future https://westandbesideyou.wordpress.com
Thanks for the tips. I want to see more of the island but we had limited time. Santa Clara looks like a nice place. Thanks for sharing.
Great way to present your “nontrip.”
Great story and nice pictures. I was in Cuba about a month ago and still haven’t actually make my mind about what to think about it. Yes the Architecture in Havana is beautiful and the colonial houses in Trinidad, also getting lost in Havana will be a photographers paradise, (went with my wife so limited shooting), some of the people are also really nice, but I hated been treat as a walking dollar. Everything was about a cuc, smile a cuc, ask for directions a cuc, strangers approaching you to talk and after a few words a cuc. Yes is beautiful but actually I founded to be super expensive. I stayed in cases particulares which was very nice and not that expensive, but having dinner in any privately own restaurant was like eating in New York, and food was okay.
I agree, there are good and bad things with Cuba. The prices are artificially high and there are many people trying to rip you off. It is frustrating. But, at times I was able to get past the jinteros and meet genuine people and they are always nice, curious and friendly. I also miss capitalism. It is nice to be back in Mexico with shops that sell things we need.
Oh you are very clever Jeff. Yes we were in Cuba in 1994. It was the very first trip Dave and I took without kids. Although it was a resort vacation we consider it the beginning of our wanderlust days.
That wasn’t long after they started bringing in tourists. I bet it was a lot different then. I am glad it helped give you wanderlust.
We went twice to Cuba and LOVED it both times… You might enjoy reading our impressions of Havana and Trinidad and in particular, Remedios! Definitely helps if you speak Spanish!
I’ll take a look at your posts. Thanks for commenting and sharing.
Jeff, I suspect that having a US embassy in Cuba can only mean, with time, that the embargo will be lifted and it will become a new travel destination for US citizens (this assumes that that madman Trump doesn’t get into the White House – God protect us). In light of what has gone on in the past few years, continuing the embargo seems silly, but political memories are long. As soon as the ice melts, we’re on our way. In the meantime, have fun, relaxing holiday and a great 2016. ~James
You know, at first I thought Trump didn’t mean half the things he said and only did it for attention. Now, I realize he is crazy and believes these things. Hopefully when people actually vote he will go away.
I can seen US tourists going there en masse in the future, but I think we are a long ways off from large corporations building hotels and bringing rampant capitalism there. Although some things have changed since I first visited, socialism seems to have a firm hold.
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