As you know, we were in Cuba for a very short visit in early April, and little did we know that American’s cruising visits to Cuba would be curtailed so soon. I am so glad that we cruised to Cuba when we did, for as of June 5, 2019, there are new restrictions, and cruising to Cuba is banned for most Americans. Now, I’m not going to get into the politics of this restriction, but I am going to give you my view on what Cuba was like for me.
Cuba Cruise and Tour
We planned our Cuba cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas for months. HavanaCar.net was our choice as an excursion, since their price was so much better than a ship’s excursion. They had good reviews. I contacted Stefano in Miami, and decided to take a three hour classic car tour. We also took a three hour walking tour.
For me, going to Cuba was intimidating, mostly because it was so different from any other port that we had cruised to. I knew that we’d have to have a Visa, go through Customs to get our passport stamped, and then change our American dollars over to Cuban Pesos. And to top it off, there isn’t just one type of Cuban Peso, but two. I was very nervous to go into Havana. And all of my fears, and all of my nervousness, was for nothing. It was so very easy to get into Havana from the ship, and so easy to exchange our money.
Which brings us to the country and the people of Cuba. Frankly, I have mixed feelings about Havana. Old Havana was definitely old. It was beautiful in a lot of places, and since I love old architecture, I loved walking around and seeing the buildings in the narrow streets. I enjoyed seeing the old churches with their beautiful interiors. It seems maybe like the churches held up in Cuba the best over the past years, maybe with the Catholic Church’s help. They have beautiful parks, and I loved the Christ of Havana statue overlooking the bay.
But there were also parts of old Havana that were falling apart. Places where we could see greenery growing inside of buildings that were falling down. Streets where the homeless walked. People following us around and asking for money. A man pulling water up to his apartment with a rope with a bucket attached. No air conditioning in most of the buildings, making it miserable on Cuba’s hot summer days. And of course, classic cars everywhere, along with the fuel smell that it brings.
New Havana was definitely a contrast to Old Havana. Actually, it’s “newer” Havana instead of old Havana. Nothing new has been built there since Fidel Castro took over the country way back in 1959. But the buildings were nicer and the standard of living was better. Of course you see American and Russian classic cars all over, but you’ll also see brand new cars driven by government officials. The roads aren’t any worse than those I’ve driven in the US, and a number of the buildings are quite impressive. Revolutionary Square was a site to see. The architecture of some of the buildings was breathtaking. And then there was the propaganda about the Cuban Missile crisis that didn’t quite line up with what American’s are taught.
The Cuban People
My impressions of the people were somewhat mixed also. I did not get the impression that the Cuban people were happy with their past history. It seemed to me that they have to work really hard at side businesses to be able to support their families. Otherwise, it seemed, they won’t get paid enough to do that. I was told that doctors only make around $40 a month. I know that some of the necessities of life are provided to the Cuban people, but it didn’t seem like things were all that good for them. Just my opinion.
I’m also pretty sure that guides work on a commission basis. This was just how we felt as we were led on our tour. They may get kickbacks from businesses that they bring customers to. Even if the customer might now want that experience. Again, trying to support their family in the best way they know how to. But other than that, they’re just the same as people from anywhere, with hopes and dreams of a better life. And it makes me sad that life is going to be harder for them without the American tourists who just want to know more about what Cuba and its people is like.
I’m really glad that we went to Cuba when we did, but I don’t think that we would ever have gone back. Once was enough for me. But it’s an experience that I’m glad that I had while I could have it. And I wonder how long it will be till Americans can once again visit Cuba.