“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 DesignDestinations.org 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.