19 May 2011

Cuba, first impressions

Let me begin by saying that I left for Cuba a little more than 12 hours after President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. I watched the news anxiously waiting for Obama to make his mysterious and important announcement from my hotel room in South Beach Miami, and was shocked, as most people were - though I didn't take to the streets like some of the people in my hotel's neighborhood. Yes, there were fireworks in South Beach.

Monday May 2 also happened to be Flunk Day over at my Alma Mater, and I definitely felt tinges of sadness as I experienced my first Flunk Day away from Knox College - but I quickly pushed those feelings aside as I boarded the plane from Miami to Havana.

The fight from Miami to Havana is a little over 40 minutes - and it's honestly mind-boggling to realize that Havana is only 90 miles away from Miami. I will admit that I didn't do any serious research about Cuba, knowing well that I'd be absorbing an overload of information as I tasted, traveled, and experienced the country on my week-long visit.

Here are some of my first impressions that I jotted down in my journal upon my arrival:

1) Cuba is about the size of Pennsylvania. I had no idea it was this small!
2) Cuba has about 11 million people living in it - that's roughly the same population as the Chicagoland area.
3) There are about 1,400 Jewish people living in Cuba, mainly in the city of Havana.
4) Note to self: Do not be easily offended or turned off by things. (I wrote this after having to pay a dollar to buy toilet paper in the bathroom at the airport)
5) Toilet paper and toilet seats are a luxury that I grew used to in the U.S., but quickly got used to not having while in Cuba.
6) I smile too much. I smiled at the customs check-in, and was told not to smile.
7) Revolutionary Square is kind of ugly and very dated but very important. There is a sculpture of Jose Marti, a Cuban revolutionary, scholar, and author in front of it that looks like a Rodin. I liked it a lot.
8) "Havana is beautiful, weathered, and run down. Such color and life. Can't wait to have a taste."
9) Mojitos are better with crushed cane sugar and lots of soda water.
10) Patience is a virtue - especially when traveling in a group.
11) I really like bathrobes.
12) Not knowing any Spanish is to my detriment, and I should probably learn Spanish when I get back to the States.

Both our bus driver and our guide did not know that bin Laden had been killed. They had heard some sort of a rumor regarding bin Laden and the US, but had no confirmation of his death 24 hours after it had happened. Strange how a country's government can control the information entering and exiting the minds of the people living within it. We are lucky (I think) to know as much as we do concerning world events.

My opinions and feelings toward Cuba as well as my lifestyle in the United States changed dramatically with each passing day on my visit, but this is a fairly honest recount of what it felt like upon arriving.

Monument building and sculpture of Jose Marti at Revolution Square
 A municipal building with a sculpture of Che Guevara's face on it
Mom and Che
Another view of Revolution Square
A room with a view, view from our first hotel room
Lush trees from the park walk below
Gussied up for dinner and a view of the Capital 
Mom before dinner and a view of the Capital


  1. ive been eagerly awaiting your posts about cuba! EVERY time i travel to a spanish-speaking country, i VOW to learn spanish when i return home. my goal is to be semi-fluent by the time i'm 30....which is next year, so i should probably get on that.

  2. I love that you and your mom both wore tuxedo ruffles to dinner! Mother-daughter coordinating.

  3. That is a lot to process in a mere week. When I first saw your photos on Facebook I was in awe of the architecture and color of the country, but clearly there are things that cannot be conveyed through photos and your honest words here are helpful for my understanding of Cuba. I wasn't even aware Americans could travel to Cuba and even though that is an evidently incorrect assumption, it's clear that things are still another world there.

    Bathrooms in other countries are always a fascinating experience and so telling about the country you're in. Even in Europe you have to pay for public toilets in some form or another. In real public restrooms (in train stations, in parks, etc) you need to pay .30pence.

    But what you wrote about the Bin Laden news was equally intriguing. I never would've thought that the information was the restricted. How did you identify with what was going on in the US at that point when you were out of the country? I have to say that processing Bin Laden's death was difficult even in Scotland because no one seemed to understand just how symbolic it was and the amount of emotion I felt as an American.

    I can't wait to read more. Please post about the food you ate, yum. The sentence about mojitos here is something I will keep in mind ;)