By Jana Jackson
We arrived in Cuba on July 26th and took a taxi straight into Habana Vieja (Old Havana). Along the way I noticed a flag hanging alongside the Cuban flag that was black and read with white text that said 26 Julio on many buildings. I was perplexed but left it at that. Once we got settled, changed, and came to terms of no wifi, we started to explore, but the city streets were desolate. It was only 3pm , where was everyone? With a little more prying and spanglish we found out that it was a public holiday in Cuba known as Movimiento 26 de Julio.
The next morning we were met by our tour guide Julia, she showed us around Habana Vieja, all the main “hot spots,” plus a few local gems. What I found most interesting about her tour was all of the importance she placed on dates. These dates seemed to have such importance to her. They told the story of Old Havana and how the city came to become what it is today. After a long day we parted ways and I felt more informed, curious and hungry to learn more, lucky for me, we were just getting started.
Day 2 & 3 We drove along the Malecon, explored Central Havana and Vedado, other districts within Havana. These two districts felt similar to what I know caribbean cities to feel like. I saw a few more markets, local stores, and many more local people. By now I had observed a few things:
- Everyone is extremely friendly and says“Have a great vacation in Cuba”,“Enjoy our great Country”
- Due to the tight restrictions on WiFi in Cuba no one is walking with their phone in hand, no one.
- Bring snacks from home if you are a snacker. There are no convince stores.
- The way of life is slow(in a good way!)if you go into a coffee shop, you sit down and drink your coffee right there. No to go cups.
On Day 4 we checked out of our Hotel in one area of Old Havana to another. We got on a bike taxi and headed to our next home: a local Casa Particular, which means, “private house”. These homes are private family run establishments , similar to a B&B as we know it here in North America. We stayed on the top floor of a colonial style home. Our host was Ronaldo , an older man who lived in the house with his wife, nieces and nephews. They had four guest rooms in the front hallway and the back halfway, divided by the kitchen, was for him and his wife. The upstairs for the children. I was shocked at the size of the Casa. Each room also had their own washroom. Staying in a Casa was the best way to get to know more about the local way of life in Cuba. I left more connected to how they lived and wish we had stayed in a Casa from day one.
In Hindsight, our short week in Cuba wasn’t enough. On the last night we were tried and ready to go home after early mornings and full days of exploring. However, upon reliving my experiences through these images, I know that I have just scratched the surface of what this wonderful country has to offer. Many people head to Cuba and go straight to a cabana on the beach. I encourage you to explore the cities you travel to, get to know the local people and understand their culture. These cities and countries have so much to offer us intellectually and culturally.
Hasta pronto, Cuba!