Cuba, through the eyes of a Mexican
Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to coordinate a tour in Cuba for a group of Australians, our partner Rubén, who accompanied the group for 10 days, tells us about his first visit to this incredible country.
What are your general impressions of Cuba?
Cuba is a beautiful country in so many ways. It’s green by its never-ending vegetation and rusty bronze, and brown with the land, coffee and tobacco. The locals are extremely friendly and warm, loud and fun. Driving out of the airport and into the city at first was a genuine travel in time as you submerge into a mix of ambiances that goes from the 20’s to the 50’s from sights of old majestic buildings and flaming European cabrioles and roadsters on the streets.It’s a very young country with a great pride for its History and culture; and regardless of the difficulties we may think they face as a country, the general theme is always a party and a joy for life that you can’t find just anywhere.
What surprised you the most?
I was very impressed to find out such a strong bond between its people and how fraternal they are with foreigner people, especially Latinos. Everywhere I was they would shout “Mexicano!” with a smile and called me a brother from a different land. They wouldn’t hesitate in hugging and handshakes were firm and long.
Also I couldn’t believe the fact that EVERYONE smokes cigars all the time, and most of the buildings have no restrictions for indoor smoking. It was surprising how they drink rum almost with everything, even coffee! They sometimes would just put a bottle of rum on the table for people to add by themselves, no measure!
Would you go back to Cuba?
Definitely! Spending a couple of nights at each city is definitely not enough to really get the feel of it. As I came back, I couldn’t help but feeling that I only got a mere glimpse of the culture, history and lifestyle of this unique destination.
Would you do anything different?
As I was leading a 15 senior travelers group through the country, naturally I couldn’t get time for myself. If I were to go back, I’d try to stay in one of the local “hostels” – private homes with no more than a couple of rooms to rent.
I’d also stay longer in some of the places and try to go as slow as possible. There are heaps of small and very interesting bars, art galleries, cultural centers and performances everywhere you look. Just wandering to get lost in this 24/7 festivity ambianceis the best way to find these gems.
What where the highlights of the trip?
The island as a whole looks like a national park. It is evergreen, although it has rapidly changing sceneries that go from great plains full of Royal Palms, the national tree, to pine forests with karstic-crumbling mountains.
Walking through its bustling streets and corridors you can find any kind of cultural expressions of a very proud society. We took a ride in a convertible Buick 56’ to the Revolution Museum and learned everything about Fidel and Che. I felt as if I was traveling back in time driving through the Habana Bay into the Old Town Square and staying in a 1930’s décor building that could’ve been easily taken out from an Agatha Christie’s novel, as my fellow tour leader Victor would say.
A highlight by itself, even though it’s located in La Habana. It’s an AMAZING spectacle with a live orchestra where several dances are performed, telling stories about the island and its culture. This loud and colorful allegory is a must-see in Cuba for sure. Listen to emblematic songs such as Guantanamera and El Manicero, and don’t leave early! After the show, the hosts get YOU on stage to enjoy a great night of fun and dancing.
Pinar del Río
You come out of La Havana driving west through a long freeway accompanied by Royal Palms plains in the scenery. A little over an hour after your departure, the scenery is suddenly changing to a pine forest surrounding karstic hills as it gives the best panoramic of vast valleys of tobacco plantations. You can visit the best tobacco farms in the island and learn to roll your own cigars! Priceless!
Santiago de Cuba
We visited Santa Iphigenia’s Graveyard, one of the biggest in the country and where José Martí and Fidel Castro memorials are located. Both of them are absolutely stunning and filled with allegories and deep meaning symbols, as well as surrounded by a strong martial respect ambiance. Another highlight is the house of Diego de Velazquez, an ancient property of a Spaniard conqueror, where you can appreciate the elegant Moorish components of design and valuable handcrafts from all over the world that use to belong to Velazquez’s personal collection.
Though brief, our visit to the Bay of Cienfuegos was marvelous. Driving along its shoreline accompanied by walking pedestrians on the pier by Paseo El Prado, was enough to fall in love with the city. French-funded Cienfuegos is the second most colorful city I visited in Cuba; it is a great place to spend the afternoon and watch beautiful sunsets while enjoying a relaxed and safe town. It is crowned by Palcio de Valle, a century old mansion with a great Moore influence and covered completely in colorful and whimsical patterns of tile.
If Cienfuegos is beaten as the most colorful town in Cuba, it has to be by Trinidad. A very complex and intricate city planning is the main feature here. It was built with narrow corners and 5-7 street conjunctions in order to successfully ambush bands of pirates and corsairs trying to raid the city for loot. When you visit, keep your eyes open! There’s culture everywhere. I really loved walking through the cobblestone streets all the way to Plaza Mayor and trying a traditional Canchánchara, a drink of ice, honey, rum and lemon juice, in the mere pub that created the cocktail!
As you can see, Cuba is a destination that has to be on your travel bucket list!