15th April 2016 Havana City
Viva la Cuba! I have never seen so many hot cars and sexy bums all in one place! Arriving at Havana airport, all the security seemed to be young and fit Cuban girls wearing military style uniforms and fishnet stockings. Where on earth have I ended up? With my limited (and totally shit) Spanish I ordered a coffee, a Cuban cigar and then a cab.
We blasted flat-out through the crumbling facades of Havana, with Cuban salsa blaring all the way (luckily there is minimal traffic here, as the majority of Cubans can’t afford a car, let alone the difficulty in getting a permit to own a car in the first place…)
I hired a bike (a 50cc Chinese scooter-the only bike seemingly available to gringos) and started cruising around the streets that consisted of classic cars from yester-year, bicycle taxis and bombed out Ladas. Nearly everything with a motor belched out thick plumes of exhaust smoke, so I put out my cigar and deeply inhaled the wonderful Caribbean smog instead.
Havana is like some kind of post-apocalyptic scientific experiment-everything is just trashed and then a gleaming 67 Cadillac will appear out of the gloom, and then vanish into a cloud of its own exhaust.
The buildings are seemingly stitched together with wire and cheap glue and local fashion is a mix and match of the 80’s bright pinks, yellows and greens. It’s as if there was emergency clothes drop consisting of MC Hammer’s entire wardrobe and hand-me-downs from the Playboy Mansion. Leopard print and spandex are apparently still totally awesome in Cuba.
It also seems the establishment still regard westerners with some suspicion as there are random police stationed at certain places for seemingly no reason and no access was allowed. Political propaganda is absolutely everywhere, with slogans such as ‘There Can Be No Order Without Discipline’ and my personal favourite ‘Socialism or Death!’
These are superimposed with giant images of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro staring down at you, daring you to disobey. The communist government means well, but political differences with the USA and the ensuing financial embargo of 1960 has left the Cuban people as poor as can be, with school teachers earning less than $20 (500 pesos) a month and the average person earning anywhere between 300-500pesos per month ($10-$20)
Everything is subsidized by the institution. Government housing, shops, fuel stations, transport, and medicine. Contrary to this, the health care in Cuba is first class and palliative care is absolutely fantastic. (In the early days after the revolution, Cubans also received free ice-cream and movie tickets..)
It’s a very laid back country. People just hang out in front of their houses or in parks and chat, dance, drink beer and play games such as checkers or chess. I even saw a young lad pushing a hoop along with a stick and some other kids playing marbles on the sidewalk. No Xboxes or PlayStation’s anywhere to be seen. The sense of community and family appears to be very strong in Cuba and it’s quite wonderful to see.
There is limited access to the web, but they do have “internet parks” where you can purchase a card and get 1 hour of wi-fi for about 3 bucks (60 pesos) These ventures are a great thing as it gets people out of the house and to keep some semblance of community. Even when WiFi is eventually widespread to inner homes, I believe the Cuban people will still gather together and surf the web in a proper socialistic comradere fashion.
After countless cigars and salsa lessons, I gunned my 50cc beast full-speed (70kmph) into the Cuban wilderness and made my way to ‘The best beach in the world’ aka Varadero.