We began our journey into one of the few remaining realms of socialism or what’s left of it. We landed in Havana in total excitement of facing our assumptions and envy from others who have never set foot in Cuba.
With thanks to the Internet, travel magazines, blogs and small talk, we formed a romanticized image of Cuba. We imagined beautifully lit streets and boulevards that sparkled with positive energy. We imagined strolling down the legendary Malecon as live bands wooed us with heartfelt performances. We imagined sitting in cafes looking over the Malecon (harbor) and eating delectable meals blended in flavors that revealed Cuba’s multi ethnic background. We imagined feasting our eyes with decorative buildings that radiantly unveiled Cuba’s culturally rich past. We imagined drinking the best mojito on earth. And finally, we imagined people living Che’s revolutionary dream and almost cajoled ourselves into believing that a world free of contradictions exists on an island lying between the Atlantic in the north and the Caribbean in the south.
We followed our tour guide, Ernesto, and half- Russian driver, Vladimir to our six-seater Hyundai van. Not only were we taken aback by their half-hearted un-Cuban-like greeting, but also by the extreme darkness of the interior, the result of putting together pieces of the broken rear window with black masking tape and a cardboard. Ernesto was a total introvert and Vladimir, well, drove wildly. We drove from Havana in the West to Santiago de Cuba in the East and stayed the night in Trinidad and Camaguey and stopped by Pinar Del Rio, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Las Tunas, Bayamo that proudly commemorated its founders.
For once my imagination did not fool me. Yank tanks and Ladas that have been running for a couple of decades were ubiquitous. While some of them smoked up, snored metallically and died down on the side of the road, defeated drivers waved at passing cars. Hitchhiking is legal and safe.
We approached the desolate 8km Malecón parallel to several historical monuments, squares and worn down residential buildings with cracked hues. Purple bougainvillea and the sun light flicker on the sea added life to the negligence. We headed to Hotel Florida, a converted residential mansion built in the 1830s, nestled right in the hustle and bustle of the old town. Cheek by jowl, buildings with delicate balconies opened to narrow lanes that undeniably displayed everyday life.
Oblivious to the latest gadgets and technology whatnot’s, Cubans carried out passionate loud discussions jazzed up by guffaws, music, foot taps and good natured banter. They lived momentarily in satisfaction of having their basic needs met and exhibited a fascinating aspect of communal living. Underneath the surface, Cubans possessed different attitudes; one of contentment, hope or the struggle to find a way out.
We time traveled back to sometime in 1950. The only machine you will need is Air France, Copa Air, or Virgin Atlantic. So, for those who believe in fantasy flights, time travel is legit.
Meanwhile, I purposely edited the pictures below for a 50s effect. Colorful pictures of Cuba are a little out of date. Don’t you think?