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Monday, 24 February 2014

Cuba - an adventure

One of the things I always do when I travel is to have in mind how I can turn my visit into a book, a magazine serial or a short story. Cuba where I visited this January is a fascinating place and I've already written the first chapter of a mystery. The country is one of excesses, not the sort of excesses we have in the Western world, for ours are all about having too much. Too much pollution, too much to spend our money on, too much consumerism. Cuba's excesses are quite different. Here is a quick photo trip so you can see what I mean. They are about excessively beautiful beaches (this one at Varadero, just 2 hours drive from Havana)
Of wildlife in its many forms, this frog somehow managed to get up to our second floor balcony in order to bask on our damp washing!
Of people who still use horses and carts for travel and transporting goods on a daily basis
Of the most fabulous hills over which you can ride for hours and hours along sugar cane plantations and acres of hills where you won't spot another person - we rode from 9am until 4pm from our Casa Particular in Trinidad. There was no health and safety check, no helmets or complicated instructions. Just a horse, with a pommel on the saddle to hang on to. The only question our cowboy Miguel (and he was a cowboy with a Stetson and the most wonderful kind manner, helping me on and off) asked, was 'do you have a bottle of water,' and that was it, we were off
But it wasn't all hard slog up those hills for our horses, or our backs and bottoms, as we broke the ride with a swim in a mountain stream under a waterfall
Cuba is also a country which has very few goods, hardly any shops and real deprivation, not least this sad little dog who desperately needed a home
I'm pleased to say, other dogs who live in Havana, in the big city had been taken in by a rescue home which feeds the lucky dogs and treats them for mange etc as well as sterilising them to avoid producing more dogs like you see in the country who live as strays and desperately need to be looked after. All the rescue dogs have labels on them identifying the district where they live. They are clean and flea free and belong to everyone and no one. Unlike this enormous rodent who was kept as a pet. I have no idea what it is, but it had extraordinary coarse fur and was very gentle. Fortunately we didn't see its teeth or we'd probably have been scared off!!
Havana is an amazing city, perched on a magnificent Bay looking towards the US which still has embargoes which cause much of the lack of goods in Cuba. There aren't even plastic bags when you go shopping and there is very little to buy. This photograph courtesy of a friend (thanks Colin!) shows the scene after a train derailment at Matanzas. Even sugar cane is scarce in Cuba which is absurd as they produce tons of it every year. It is however sent off to China to be processed and bought back in but there is still a huge shortage and a shortage of cash with which to buy it. Cuba is a communist country and shortages are something the people live with, being grateful for anything they can get. So, when a load of sugar was spilt on the track after the derailment word went out and immediately people came to sweep it up.
If you go to Cuba please take extra money with you and tip generously. For many people on a peppercorn wage, tips are a lifeline. I gave the lady who manned the loos at Cuba airport, my last 10 CUC note and I hope it made her day. Many people earn less than $15 dollars a month and CUC's which are the currency which foreigners use are particularly useful to the people. Everything is in such short supply that you often see people carrying cardboard boxes to utilise in fixing, for example, the roofs of the little bici taxis, or as here, newspaper used to make paperchains. Nothing is wasted and there is very little rubbish - we could certainly learn a lesson from them in that respect.
Finally we stayed in Havana, a beautiful city with amazing contrasts, buildings like this, which are virtually derelict, where you can see the sky through the roof. Amazingly though, people still live in them. You have to see Cuba to even begin to understand its many contrasts and anachronisms. Here, you might think is a country of many poor people but they seem blissfully happy. They are very close to their families, both geographically and emotionally, not having a huge amount of 'things' means I believe that they invest more time in the important stuff.
There are also, the amazing vintage fifties Oldsmobiles and Chevrolets which we rode along the Malecon. The Malecon is the sea wall where young and old in Havana meet, flirt, chew the fat, kiss and cuddle, go walkabout and enjoy the pleasant Caribbean breeze freshening the city.
But the best thing about Cuba is its wonderful people who are endlessly friendly, good natured, welcoming, happy and kind. So, Cuba is a country of excesses, but not the sort of excesses we know. It can be frustrating, particularly if you have booked a ferry or coach and the thing just doesn't turn up and all you get is a shrug of the shoulders when you ask when on earth it is due to arrive. Nevertheless it is a fascinating, vibrant and friendly place. Do go and see it if you can, preferably before it becomes commercial, like the rest of the world..... And look out for the book, once I've written it, that is!


margaret blake said...

Wonderful descriptions, Cara, makes me want to go there right now.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Sounds and looks fantastic, Cara, and just cries out for a novel to be set there!

Cara Cooper said...

Let's go together Margaret! I know you know Florida well, but it couldn't be more different.

Rosemary, I pitched an idea to my editor but she said the idea was too far fetched. But thinking about it again and with your comment encouraging me, another idea has popped into my head, so thank you for that!

Chris Stovell said...

I'll definitely be looking out for the book - what a fascinating glimpse of a completely different way of life. I bet the loo lady will never forget you - what a lovely gesture.

Sharon Bradshaw said...

A wonderful post, Cara, thank you for sharing so much of Cuba. It sounds a fascinating place and a lovely holiday too. I'll look out for your book :)

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