I’m standing on a rooftop in a village I had never heard of in a country I didn’t think I would visit.
The quick online image search beforehand and the romantic idea I had of Cuba should’ve gone accompanied by in-depth research of the current state of the country. Parts of the landscape are gorgeous, the current situation is dreadful.
Cuba: Nice weather, everyone is dressed in Gucci and Versace and wrists are dripping with gold. People are so relaxed that they’re sleeping in the streets. Yeah… The clothing and jewellery are about as real as the open air bedroom is comfortable.
Anyone saying that Cuba is this worry and trouble free country where everyone is friendly and helpful has either been staying at government owned resorts or has hopped off and on a cruise ship.
I rent rooms at private owned houses outside of the touristic centre and collect a reality cheque. Endless queues in front of the nearly empty supermarkets, an hour of walking for a bottle of water and daily electricity blackouts throughout the entire country that last hours and hours.
Not wanting to rob the population of their scarce supermarket products nor wanting to sponsor the government I eat at family owned restaurants. On average two dishes on the menu are available. With every bite or sip I take a passerby asks me for one to.
And I bat an eye with every street vendor thinking I don’t understand the Spanish they’re speaking with their friends when they charge me two to four times the usual amount.
Walking around the streets of Havana and visiting other places on Cuba’s tourist itinerary I get confronted with the current situation. In two weeks time, in six different places, I have three sincere conversations. All other chats are requests for money disguised as genuine interest.
After a few days I’m more than happy to leave Havana and make my way to Viñales, a village in west Cuba. Kind people give me a warm welcome and do their utmost best for their tip. Vic the tourist. Your personal bank has arrived, señores.
A horse ride through the beautiful, nearby Valle del Silencio is a highlight. During all other moments I feel either uncomfortable because of the constant begging, ambivalent for being in a country that’s clearly struggling and suffering or sad for what Cuban people have to go through.
Standing on the rooftop I take a sip from the half filled cup of coffee and admire the surrounding scenery. Contemplating, thinking how I am going to have to spend an entire month here. Simultaneously realising how fortunate I am for having the opportunity to leave.
I move eastwards, visit Che Guevara’s mausoleum, and catch the bus to the way less touristy Santiago de Cuba.
I take a seat in the back of the bus and greet the people sitting behind me. A decision that changes everything.
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