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Cuba: Time Stands Still

Cuba: Time Stands Still

“I land in Cuba and arrive in 1959.”

 “Going to Cuba is like stepping foot on the set of  ‘Grease’.”

“When you go to Cuba you need to set your watch back 50 years.”

These are the  kinds of things written about Cuba  and yep, they are all true.

I visited Cuba in January on a program through Backroads—a well run travel company….….and wow, did I see examples of time standing still.

Cuba has been off the travel menu for most United States citizens for a long time but in 2011 the licensed “People-to -People” opened the doors for legal travel.

It is a country stuck in a time-altered 1950s. They have limited internet.  Less than half of the people have cell phones.  Television is limited. Twitter and Facebook are blocked. No credit cards. There are major shortages of consumer goods and food.

Cuba: Going back in Time

No Fast Food. No traffic jams.   No huge  billboards promoting a consumer culture.  Instead we see faded murals and billboards leftover from the Revolution providing a surreal backdrop to the time warp feeling.

 Cars in Cuba

Cuban Icon: Old Cars

And then……there are the cars.  Truly in-your-face Cars.   We were expecting to see a few old ones, but wowy, zowy, it kinda looked like a vintage car show all of the time.

Cars in Cuba

Cars in Cuba

 Cars in Cuba

Cars in Cuba



Why? Since the Revolution in 1959 and the US. embargo in the 1960’s, Cubans have not been allowed to buy new cars. And they haven’t been available.

So, the streets are filled with “Yank Tanks’” as they call them—the classic American cars from the 1950s  in a bouquet of vibrant colors .

The Cubans have hung onto them through the decades and kept them running somehow.We also saw horse and cart, while they look cute and quaint, they are genuine modes of transportation for many Cubans.




Another example of “frozen in time” was a visit to a pre-revolution pharmacy.  While it looks like a fabulous museum display in a place like Greenfield Village in Dearborn, it is an example of  what happened during the Revolution.  It was nationalized and taken away from the long time and successful owners and then shut down. Apparently no one touched it for decades.

I imagine the owners weren’t too happy about that.

Recently it has been opened as a museum.  I imagine there are many businesses  like this around Cuba. While interesting to go back in time to see, it made me sad.

Cuban Pharmacy-frozen in time






The largest baseball field in Cuba was an eye-opening experience.. …..especially since  Cubans love baseball.

I enjoyed the opportunity to see  a team practicing on the field, visit  their version of a baseball museum and chat with some young fellows,  wondering  what they would  think of an American stadium and all the hoopla . They really have no idea.

Cuba Baseball




Young Baseball players Cuba


Organic Urban Garden

A poignant moment for me was a conversation with the Isis Salcines,  a young woman at an Organic Urban Garden on the outskirts of Havana. This Mother of two assists  in running  the organization  and speaks English very well.  The Cubans have become experts in organic farming, out of necessity, because of the scarcity of fertilizers and pesticides.

She  took us on a wonderful tour of the urban garden where the members of the  cooperative grow food for themselves and to sell to restaurants.  But what struck me was what she said in a private conversation after the tour.

I asked her if she had ever left Cuba. She said she got special permission to go to a Slow Foods Meeting in Italy and the Cooperative raised the money for her trip.  While she was there, learning about the  international movement to promote growing and eating local foods, she visited a McDonalds.

She was the only person in the group who had come from all over the  world who had never experienced this obliquitous restaurant chain.  I asked her what she thought……she smiled and wrinkled her nose in response. No words necessary.

Amazing when you think she lived all of her 30 some years a scant 90 miles from Miami.



 I will end with more photos of the Motor Museum on the Roads of Cuba.  I have over a hundred photos…..seeing them was a little like seeing the  cows on the road in India.  I’d ooooh and ahhh every time and grab my camera to capture the moment…….at first such a novelty.  While I got used to the seeing the old cars,  I never got tired of them.











Thank you for joining me today and come back to next week for more on my Cuba experience.  If you have been to Cuba, I hope you will add your observations in the comment section.  Thank you.   




Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Ruth Butler
    Mar 17, 2014 Reply

    I had no idea Cuba was so cut off from the modern world. Imagine the research possibilities.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Mar 17, 2014 Reply

      My sense would be working with the Cuban government would pose challenges.

  2. posted by
    Mar 17, 2014 Reply

    What great pictures, and very timely! I am forwarding to Tim!!!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Mar 17, 2014 Reply

      Thanks Cindy. I’m excited that Tim and a group of friends are going to Cuba in May.

  3. posted by
    Judy Bereza
    Mar 17, 2014 Reply

    I have been looking forward to your “series” on Cuba.
    A fascinating introduction – I had forgotten that cars were
    so colorful in the 50s.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Mar 17, 2014 Reply

      Thanks, Judy. I appreciate your comments.

  4. posted by
    Mar 18, 2014 Reply

    Your photos are awesome! I felt like I was in a moving automobile museum!!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Mar 19, 2014 Reply

      You are right. We were able to ride in several beautifully restored convertibles. It was run and a treat for Jack who grew up in the Detroit area in the 1950s. He could identify most of the cars.

  5. posted by
    Brenda Stringer
    Mar 19, 2014 Reply

    Fascinating stuff, Susan. Poignant and yet really amazing. brenda

  6. posted by
    Mar 19, 2014 Reply

    Susan, I have always wanted to go to Cuba, to see what I could see, but I too am really surprised how much out of step with modern times they are – I had no idea. Usually when going to less developed countries, we are surprised at how up to date they are, in part thanks to the internet. So, I am really quite shocked, such a shame for a country so close to US and with so many ties here. Will be interesting when Raul Castro steps down in 2018. Thank you for enlarging my world with your travels!

  7. posted by
    Susan J. Smith
    Mar 19, 2014 Reply

    Thanks for the comment. While the Castro regime probably wouldn’t agree, the lack of infrastructure, modern life, food, goods, transportation, etc. is impacted by the government. Everything is run by the government. Obviously lots of problems. Raul is loosening some of the restrictions allowing Paladars (privately run restaurants in homes) and some small business operations. The people who benefit in Cuba are the ones connected to the tourism industry.

    Yes, it will be interesting to see what happens when Raul steps down.

    If you are interested in Cuba, a great book to read is Marc Frank’s “Cuba Revelations.” He’s an American Journalist who has lived in and reported on Cuba for 20 years.

  8. posted by
    Liz Smith
    Mar 19, 2014 Reply

    Susan, What a wonderful job you have done. The trip was amazing and your photos and commentary are spot on. I will be referring my friends to your blog when they want more details about our trip.
    Thanks so much.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Mar 20, 2014 Reply

      Thanks so much. I loved getting to know you on the trip…..will always remember the “easy walk” I took with you. You remember–the one we had to scramble up a muddy hill. We made it though.

  9. posted by
    Cuba: Decline and Decay | DesignDestinations
    Mar 25, 2014 Reply

    […] it is not good. Actually the situation is dire.  Wretched.   We visited Cuba in January 2014 on a Backroads “People-to-People” trip.  About 100,000 Americans experienced trips like ours in […]

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