We flew in from Canada, we spent time there. We ate and stayed in a lovely hotel. Shopped around in a hired drive amongst the heavy snow and bitter winds. A tame escape compared to what was waiting for us in Cuba..
Upon arrival at a very small airport we dealt with absolute chaos, unable to cope with the influx of flight arrivals, tourist baggage and Cubans travelling in with trolleys laden sky high with imported goods, all of which need to be quarantined and examined before they are able to exit the arrivals lounge. It all looked makeshift. Dealing with this experience alone should have rung alarm bells for us as to what we where letting ourselves in for, an anticlimax to an exotic island portrayed by travel guides to be something it is anything but.
Cracked Windows, dated furniture, dusty air, cobbled streets and buildings that look war torn from the decades of wear and tear and the lack of renovation. Which isn’t entirely at the fault of the owners/local citizens. The embargo imposed many decades ago has meant minimal access to resources to rebuild or update anything. The beauty and the beast of this dated multinational, diverse city.
Havana/Le Habana is a city full of old character, so old it needs more than a wooden walking stick to hold it up, the hustle and bustle alone is enough to keep you awake at night, a noisy city, every turn you make. Don’t expect to come here for a quiet relaxed break in front of the coastal view. Expect live music on every corner the Cubans are full of musical talent and love to strum a guitar and flex their tonal range in the streets. There’s constant cars and lorries on the go rumbling down roads and building works, diggers, fumes and unregulated chaos.
Cuba isn’t a poverty stricken country it has the power to be something great, rich and beautiful in abundance enough for the local citizens to benefit in abundance. But from what I’ve seen and learnt upon my stay in Cuba and it’s diverse parts you would be hard pressed to feel it is any different to a third world country dealing with great strife hiding it well. With American Airlines soon to be flying in 20 flights a day come mid 2016 I can only dread to foresee the carnage as Cuba is already struggling with as the heavy load of tourism stampede over as I speak. An influx warranted from the novelty of current day Cuba which tourists are anticipating to change in hope of the lift of the embargo.
Booking a hotel here is a gamble, don’t expect luxury and a high standard of service. Most of the hotels which have a 4/5 star rating probably haven’t had an update since it was first opened. Our first hotel which was a 4 star boutique accommodation wasn’t up to par so we called our holiday rep to complain and we ended up in a Spanish chain Melia Cohiba which was a lot
better in comparison (was clean for a start) but for a 5 star needed hugely updating. Please also note the service industry here have a lot to live up to but little to compete and aspire to. Don’t expect food on time or room service to be anything but requested for several times before anything is fulfilled for you and even then you’ll be greeted with rude and ill mannered staff. You are an inconvenience, they don’t all need or care for the colour of your money.
What can I say…. My paragraphs of negativity are just sounding belligerent and bitter in amongst these innocent people who live in Cuba but my judgment comes from 10 days of experiencing relentless regret. I’d like to the say the food was fantastic. It wasn’t. I come from a background with huge food influences diverse and creative. I am also spoilt being a Londoner having dining experiences in a country with excellent gourmet options. I was eating for two but merely finished a meal for one.
I relished over the thought of fresh seafood being available and experiencing a few giant prawns and having a lobster everyday. Every restaurant we ate at became a hygiene worry. My tastebuds didn’t exist anymore food was so bland. And on one incredible unfortunate occasion our family was bed ridden for two days with food poisoning. Which then still lingered and left us less than our healthy selves for the rest of the trip. And I write this whilst six months pregnant needing a trip to the local emergency unit and after an hours wait in absolute agony I was administered with nausea tablets, acid reflux fluid and a shot in the backside for instant remedy. I could not thank the Lord enough for the sense of health I felt the next day, as the others took longer to recover. My husband reassured me Cuba has one of the best healthcare services in the world. Which I can believe and is great to be in knowledge of on a long holiday with a child in tow, but visiting a country which has a high risk of needing this healthcare defeats the object of a ‘holiday’ altogether.
We couldn’t find any supermarkets. As far as we knew or could tell there isn’t enough import export of goods for supermarkets to even exist. Even basic snacks are not available you will be lucky to find a can of Pringles. Packets of pasta and flour is all you can survive on in terms of self catering and alcohol, alcohol stacked and full to the ceilings. All we hear about is government restrictions, rules and regulations limiting food supply. All these people were missing where ration booklets.
En route to Trinidad a 4 hour road journey from Havana. Once off the quiet freeway we pass rural landscapes of basic housing and farming surrounded by water. I have no idea what to expect upon arrival, I have been told the casa booked is quite nice and contains self catering facilities which is ideal seeing as the past few days majority of us have been suffering from food poisoning from our trip to Viñales.
We came to visit here off the back of reading how it is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I can’t describe to you politely how disappointed I was. Being well travelled I have been to the most idyllic beaches in the world, Philippine islands and Fiji islands is to name a few, Trinidad was by far in no competition. Not just littered by garbage but by tourists who have condensed in to this one beach. A sea of pink fat red lobsters roasting over a dirty unkept beach. I can hear disco beats in the distance and an MC yapping away, in terms of holidays this is my worst nightmare come true. How could lonely planet get it SO wrong.
Maybe I have been too spoilt in my travels and have forgotten how to enjoy the lesser luxuries in life and to just go with the flow or maybe I disillusioned myself with an exotic Cuba that just wasn’t reality.
I have been counting the days until our private car arrived to pick us up. Bringing our long two days stay to an end with a 4 hour road trip. Fortunately for a change I can report a pleasant stay our host in our casa was lovely but there is not much to do in Trinidad. Not much at all. I nearly died of boredom when one day I was awake by half five no thanks to my toddler and was awake until nightfall with absolutely nothing to do but read.
On our last day in Trinidad as we packed our car and as our driver struggled to drive out the small Unesco cobbled area, I noticed locals in bare makeshift supermarkets stacked with rolls of bread and other sparse produce. It reminded me of refugee camps I’d seen on the news being handed out basic rations. But in this case the locals don’t get hand outs this isn’t a refugee case. Questions arise how do people survive? They have no access to a lot of basic everyday products that we in the western world would need to live for day to day life. I came to the conclusion that if you do not have or not know of a better life you never needed it in the first place. The Cubans are happy as they are, the island and the primitiveness is their comfort, having no external national influences keeps them content.
As much as I have hated nearly every second of this holiday, mainly with the dread of counting down the long days and not feeling any closer to departure, I can’t regret an experience. I have to take away with me something positive and be of course grateful to have had the opportunity to fly here and live a quality of life better than a local citizen. I am absolutely looking forward to my home comforts eating good food until I feel satisfied a feeling I miss, and maybe if I wasn’t 6 months pregnant on a ‘holiday’ unsuitable for me and my 2 year old child which had been planned after the possible lift of the embargo then maybe I could have really enjoyed Cuba. But this I will never know as unfortunately I will never be back.
Cuba will take several years before it stabilises itself and can fully accommodate to the influx of tourism that will be coming in from the US. We experienced first hand the beginning of this tragedy which is only set to get worse.
If you must visit Cuba please ensure:
Check accommodation availability for dates of interest before booking any flights
If you want hygiene and adequate standard of living book nothing less than 5* always have a good look through photos but don’t be surprised if they mislead you
for longer stay take some provisions with you such as packets of noodles and dry snacks
I didn’t pack the above but took peppermint tea with me and probiotics which will help any stomach in need
Do extensive research on areas of interest but do not wholeheartedly rely on it always have a back up plan
Pre book. Prebook cars, restaurant reservations and day trips.
Obtain local information as much as possible
And for the above to be possible brush up on your Spanish as much as possible as it will get you farther than English
If you are travelling with children, take dry food packets, such as instant noodles and snacks. Young children are more sensitive to environment and diet change and their eating habits will suffer
If you would like to self cater, pack for it. Don’t expect to find it in Cuba.