First, we will cover some of the Cuba Interesting Facts that one should know before traveling here.
Right now, I’m sitting at a local cafe in Belgrade, Serbia, sipping lemonade, and, conveniently enough, they are playing a song from the Buena Vista Social Club. My memories from Cuba immediately rushed in. And let me tell you, this is not the country one should describe in data and facts (even though there will be plenty of those in this series, of course). This is the island to be referred to with genuine emotions.
I don’t think that anyone who visited can be indifferent. I mean, it’s Cuba – with sunshine and palm trees, white sands, mojitos and rum, crazy rumba rhythm and bongos, and people chilling outside, smiling, chatting. They are not wealthy, but here you will find the real meaning of the saying that “money isn’t everything”. Such proud, positive, well-educated, and friendly people! Actually, I felt like traveling to visit my distant relatives. Cubans will make you feel like being among family.
Cuba Interesting Facts
I see that more and more people are coming to Cuba from around the world lately. That’s great news for the country that is mostly relying on tourism since the 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The US is also starting to lift the embargo that lasted for more than 50 years… If you still haven’t been and you were planning to for many years, this is the time to go.
The country will change in time, which is great news for people there, they will have more options and better opportunities. But – the country will change. Who knows what will happen with all the Cadillacs on the streets and old Havana facades? I believe that Cubans will find a way to keep their tradition, but still, go now if you can.
What to bring
In this first post, we will deal with the essentials, a few tips, and Cuba interesting facts. There is one thing that I have been reminding myself not to forget to put down on paper. The thing that nobody told me about when I went to the island and I wish someone did. I don’t really know if the situation has changed much since I visited years ago, but here it goes.
Due to the poor economic situation, Cubans do not have a lot on their shelves. Of course, you are not going to look for designer clothes here, but there is also a lack of “trifles” like pencils, cheap plastic jewelry, makeup, social games and toys, and sweets, chewing gums, bonbons.
Every time I was asked for bonbons by smiling children on the street (they prefer those in colorful wrappings), and after I gave them all the chewing gums I had (which I bought at the airport in Frankfurt) and after I saw their sad faces when I wanted to give them money instead, I was so sorry that nobody told me to bring a suitcase full of sweets in all the glittering colors!
I was fortunate enough to meet a girl from Canada who was going home and had a lot more of those with her. It was her second time in Cuba and she knew what to expect. So I took over her sweets to share them in Havana. Those smiling faces were such a reward.
A song for – a pencil
Also, I was approached by a couple of ladies who wanted to trade their necklaces. Mine was just a cheap thing I brought with me because it went well with a couple of my outfits. It was mostly plastic. So I turned over to them not really being able to believe they wanted “that” necklace. In return, they offered a necklace of lined-up seeds, made totally of natural materials.
There was another occasion when two charming elderly gentlemen came up to me, seeing me writing something in my little notebook. (That was the habit I had while being a journalist, always carrying around a small notebook and a few pencils in my bag.) One of them pointed to his shirt pocket (he had a pencil there) and then to my hand.
It took a while before I understood that they were interested in my pencil. Again – a plastic little thing. We don’t know what to do with those back at the office and here are two lovely Cuban gentlemen for whom this was a small perk.
So, I took all those pencils out of my bag (being so happy that I had so many, unlike the bonbons). I even had a few I got as advertising material with inscriptions like “Press Office of the Republic of Serbia Government” (in Serbian, of course), that they thought were “so stylish”. I gave them all away.
And you know what they did? They took out two guitars that were put against the small wall and gave me a song. A couple of cute elderly gentlemen, sang away in the typical Cuban manner, smiling like having the time of their lives. They were not “paying” for the pencils, of course, but rewarding me, returning the favor. I was so touched and felt proud for being in such charming company.
We just waved to each other after the song was over (while five or six pencils were now sticking out of their pockets) and I knew that I am not going to forget this scene.
Cuba Interesting facts
Whenever you go strolling around the city of Havana or any other town on the island, try to have a few coins at hand. If you don’t have bonbons, pencils, or lipsticks on you, you can always offer a pesos or two. Have in mind that only Cubans who work in tourism and at hotels (as waiters and bartenders even though they have high degrees in history, politics, languages, etc) can get their hands on the so-called convertible pesos (it equals one US dollar).
“Regular” pesos, the official currency in Cuba, were almost worthless. People got paid in Cuban pesos and could only buy vegetables on the market or rice and flour. Everything else was expensive and required convertible pesos. So, these pesos were not easy to obtain. And around 10-15 of those coins – that was a monthly salary for many. That’s another one of those “Cuba interesting facts”.
Also, even though you might be in all-inclusive resorts, which are frequent in Cuba, and you don’t have to carry money around the hotel, still, try to bring some and tip people who serve your lunch or bring you cocktails at the beach. They are proud but will accept tips for the service.
So, be prepared, and be aware that you are heading for a unique experience. A trip to Cuba is something you will remember for life.
If you have already visited, let’s remember this magical island and its people together. If not, let me tell you a story or two via this travelogue. It all began in Havana…
The full Cuba SERIES