When I thought of Cuba before I visited, I thought of what I think most people think of. Vibrant music, passionate people, bright colors, decaying architecture. My week in Havana, Matanzas and Varadero exposed me to many facets of the country. The hectic city, the quiet of the countryside, the serenity of the ocean coast and the undeniable beauty of it all. In just a few days I went from exploring the dark alleyways of Havana to sitting on a serene sunset laden beach in Varadero. The landscape of each individual setting is so different. Havana is full of loud boisterous people, yelling, honking, singing, grabbing you on the street to talk or buy or engage. The countryside, from my limited exposure, was different. Unassuming, quiet, modest. And the beach, much like our beaches, full of vacationers and travelers, a place for relaxation and maybe even some contemplation.
I love visiting new countries and learning about the way people live because in the end, it only reinforces how much we are all similar. We’re all worrying about our families, our finances, our educations and our careers. We debate the rights and wrongs of our country, of history and of our futures. Some may love to live in the city with the nightlife, others prefer the seclusion and slower pace of the country. It always strikes me how much every country is linked by it’s similarities more than it’s foreignness. We may decorate our homes or buildings with styles unknown to each other, speak a different language, have varying traditions, but we’re all people. Hopefully someday we’ll be able to normalize relations with the Cuba. We’re missing out by not being able to connect with each other the way we can with so many other people all over the world. We could learn so much from each other, even if it’s only how alike we all truly are in our cores.
Havana. Beautiful, historic and yes, not quite modernized. But in a lot of ways, it is already a saturated tourist destination despite a prevailing feeling of being completely untouched. You can see it in the kitschy women in exaggerated costumes hunting the tourists down in the streets and demanding pesos for pictures. In the men hawking Che Guevara hats on street corners. There is quite a contrast between the tourists and the characters, real and pretend, roaming the streets.
Taking photographs in Havana is interesting because everyone expects you to pay for their photo. I saw one man take a photo of a child playing in the street and the mother of the child immediately marched across the road, tapped him on the shoulder and demanded a peso. If you roam down the lanes of hundreds, and I do mean hundreds, of classic cars in the streets; the drivers will definitely expect you to pay to take a photo. I’ve seen a little of this in other countries, but here it is downright brazen.
One of my favorite discoveries about Havana are the random dogs, everywhere. There are probably as many dogs are there classic cars. They just trot about, bugging no one and no one paying the slightest attention to them either.
As evening approaches, people love to sit and watch each other. All along the sea wall and in the parks, just sitting. Watching. Not even conversing most of the time, but just, being.
Tonight we walked the side streets a bit, exploring through little out of the way corners. Since Cuba is in mourning until Monday, they were quieter than usual for a Saturday night. I was told there is usually a lot of dancing and musicians out until the early morning hours, rather than this quiet deserted atmosphere. But I didn’t mind, it was really peaceful and a nice way to end the day.