As I spent one month in this incredible destination, I decided to share my stories, experiences and tips separate in different posts.
First of all, I have to mention that Cuba is a very unique, in many aspects different, hard-to-understand country. While visiting it you need time to get the real essence of cuban way of thinking and mentality.
The marks of the Spanish colonization and the Soviet Union can still be seen in the architecture, what gives a bit confusing image about – mostly – Havana. The lack of basic food articles may seems unbelieveable but still: it is true. On the shelves of the stores you can find several types of local tomato sauce, rice, pasta (penne or spaghetti), some biscuits, marmelade and never ending choice of rum. The meat, chocolate or the shampoo are definitely luxury items. Everybody can decide, that it is the result or failure of the communist state or of the economic blockade of the USA. Anyway, one thing is sure: Cuba is something, what you have to feel, to taste and to touch, simply you have to arrive while traveling.
Since I was a child I wanted to see this remote country. Watching movies with cuban scenes I always was so fascinated: how they can be so happy, so life-affirming, if they are so poor, so „not free”?
After spending here a month I got the answer and even memorable moments, experiences.
1.My first encounter with the Yoruba
Miramar was one of the most famous districts of Havana full of noble hotels, restaurants providing glamorous events in the 1950s. Nowadays it is a small empire of embassies and secret parks. For architecture lovers I recommend just walking around to see the charming examples of colonial style.
I personally loved these fabolous houses, villas, which hide cigar smelling secrets from the good old days, but for me the biggest experience was something else: seeing a unique ritual, which was creepy and magical at the same time. I wanted to see the sunset – like always – but instead Afro-cubans came to the beach holding a rooster, knife and wooden musical instruments. They started to make music, to chant or kind of sing while sacrificing the live rooster for the God. The animal blood sacrifice is important to connect to spirits – orishas – as well.
This mysterious, secret „world” impressed me, though most of the people are thrilled with horror seeing a sacrificial ritual. It was my first encounter with Santeria while sipping my very first cuban mojito. Santeria is a pretty common religion in Cuba, which combines spanish catholic elements with african Yoruba.
2. The cuban recipe of happiness
I know, this is maybe the most difficult question to answer in the whole world, but still the version of the Cubans is very close to my heart. My opinion is, the meaning of happiness is very subjective depending on biological, psychological, or religious aspects. It can be so different on every corner of the world: while the one seeks for happiness buying a luxurious car, the other find it in balance and harmony.
Seeing the poverty, the destitution and the endless smile, the spiritual freedom of the locals at the same time – the freedom given by Cuban music – I tought, I was sure, they are happier than any rich man. The food, I mean the availability of certain articles is limited or simply they do not exist. Some items are for us normal, trivial, whilst for them it is unavailable, equal to the luxury. They live often in abandoned houses and villas, which old sparkles we can only imagine. In Europe it would be defined as homelessness. For them it means to have roof over their head instead of nothing.
Walking the enchanted streets of Havana I tried to find the answer, the secret of this enviable, joyous mentality. I was sure, they are not satisfied with the system, but they are blissful for sure. Finally my afro-cuban Spanish teacher told me, what is their philosophy, the cuban repice of happiness: „We have cigar, rum and salsa. Everything else is irrelevant.”
The first two things symbolize the elements of pure pleasure, while salsa is something unique, something elusive. It is definitely not just a dance or music. This dance without conventions, rules and the Cuban rythm fly you to a different world. Into the world, where everybody is equal, carefree and delighted. When I saw them dancing, immersed in the spicy melodies, I felt they were simply happier, richer than anyone else on this earth.
3. The creativity in povert
Seeing the broken down houses, the lack of food and simply the indigency, I wondered:
- How the Cubans can afford these amazing old-timers?
- Where do they get eggs or meat from?
- Where do they buy all these amazing fruits and vegetables?
Well, I can safely say they can repair everything. In the majority of these wonderful cars hide different parts of the legendary Russian Lada. I am not sure, what was the „more special” adventure for me: visiting the cuban, dusty streets sitting in an old, classic Cadillac or taking a 3,5 hours drive to Vinales by a rotten, but glamorous Lada, which gives you absolutely a pinch of Russian-feeling.
The way to buy eggs, meat in Cuba was a real mystery for me. I lived in a fabolous house of Miriam and her husband, an old, extremely interesting cuban couple. Living with locals, I had the opportunity to take a look into their everyday-life and moreover into the fridge. To have the fridge more or less „full” they need to have realy good relations, maybe a well-developed network. Through this network they have chance to get this precious items, even if it means an all-day search. The fruits and vegetables are less hidden treasures of Cuba. Wherever you are, you will always find a Cuban selling fresh delicacies. The screw part is that it can be bought for local money (CUP) only. About money exchange you can read in my related post Tips&Tricks for Cuba.
I find honestly admirable, how they navigate in this labyrinth of survival bringing out the best of everything.
4. „La vida se vive una sola vez, cuando te mueres, es que te llevas.”
No worries dear Readers! I will translate this marvelous thought for you, but I had to write it in Spanish, to give you the sense, the melody of this beatiful language. This theory or more philosphy was told by a cuban guy introducing me their mirth seasoned life and explaining me, why it is so important to live every moment of our life.
I mentioned some of the cuban „Happiness-Bubbles”, so I do not want to repeat myself. But my opinion is, that the above sentence crowns the whole cuban way of thinking. If I try to translate it, to give you the chance to feel the noble simplicity of this idea, it sounds like this:
„You only live once, when you die, this is the only thing, what you take with you.”
The long and short of it is, that no matter, what happens, you can still smile and live your life to the maximum. Every day. Every minute.
5.Just take a sit and arrive!
It might sounds a bit weird, but I wanted to heighten the word „arrive”. In order to understand this matchless country, it is important, not to rush, not to hurry. The real essence of Cuba you can get through seeing, understanding and arriving.
Slowly we forget to stop. Simply take a rest and look around. The Cubans still know the secret of relaxing or rather the small delights of life. The children still know, what it means to play outdoors, to enjoy running while taking deep breath, to share small „childhood-secrets” with each other. The people still can talk to each other, dance with each other immersed in the magical sounds of salsa.
Due to poverty and restriction of WiFi – not supported by the government – I experienced moments full of life. Without phones, skyscrapers and luxury.
I would summarize my Cuban Experiences in a very short sentence, which can also be a feeling or way of thinking:
They don’t have nothing, yet have everything.