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?