Sunday, 12 August 2012

Cuba, August 2012

The Enigmatic Charm of Cuba

Cuba. Impossibly intricate and still trying to re-invent itself. Although just 90 miles from the USA, it has managed to make a stand against one of the most powerful countries in the world, for which I believe it should be commended. A whole generation of Cuban people has been sacrificed for the Revolution, which is being increasingly liberalized by Castro's younger brother Raul, the current leader of Cuba. A former Spanish colony, liberated by the Americans and now standing up against them, Cuba has a striking and complex identity. I have waited a long time to write this post as Cuba is my favourite country that I have been to (so far), and I didn't even know where to begin to be able to do it justice!

I'll start in Havana, the capital city where I began my adventures. The Capitol building, which you can see here, demonstrates a striking resemblance to a particular building in Washington,and this is due to the years of Cuba being a US protectorate. Therefore now it seems a little ironic to have a building like this in the capital of Cuba, but it's fascinating to see the effects of history resonating even today. Unfortunately, the Capitol building was closed for renovations and so I couldn't nose around inside, but it was wonderful to see the impact of Cuban history still having an imposing presence today.

The Capitol building also shone a light on a prominent issue in Cuba: the black market. It is estimated that the building will be finished in 2015, but locals were adamant that it would take much longer. Why? A lot of money can be made on the black market, and therefore some Cuban people will steal the materials that are supposed to be used for the renovation, in order to make some extra money. Therefore, the Capitol building will take an extraordinarily long time to finish.... I actually saw the same thing happen in a place called 'Baracoa' on the Eastern side of the island, where it had taken many years for the local church to be renovated. When I was staying with my host family, a late-night delivery of sand and other building equipment allowed a kitchen extension to happen... Again, languages were crucial in my understanding of all this and I was able to speak to the lady of the house and she explained to me why she was doing it and the impact of the black market in Cuba. I doubt she would have been so open with me if I hadn't spoken her language. As Nelson Mandela once said; "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart." 

After four hours of driving, we then made it to the Bay of Pigs, near the city of Cienfuegos (named after one of the revolutionaries Camilo Cienfuegos). Here you can see a photo of me in the Bay of Pigs itself. The water was a reddish-brown colour, you couldn't see anything through it. It smelt awful, like something was rotting. Despite this, I really appreciated the historic moments that happened here. The Bay of Pigs was a key moment for Cuba, as Castro was able to prevent what Cubans saw as an American imperialistic attack, and the Cuban people gained unity and strength from this decisive victory. I think that going to places like this make you think of the extraordinary, in ordinary places. How lucky I am to have travelled half way across the world to experience something like this, whereas some brave Cuban people came to the Bay of Pigs to fight for what they believed in, for the good of not only themselves but also of other people. One of the most appealing aspects of travel for me is being able to live, breathe and experience history which I have found in many countries.

I absolutely adore the above photo from Cuba (taken by a friend, please check out her blog here). It's a simple photo of a drill, left in the middle of an unfinished road. One of the many beauties of Cuba I feel is what the Cuban people themselves call 'Cuban time'. Far from the busy Westernized world of carefully synchronized watches, schedules and people running round desperately trying to avoid being late, Cuba runs by a different watch. It seems that the Cubans have inherited not only the Spanish language, but also the Spanish way of life. "Mañana, mañana" is a common cant, and the Cubans are relaxed and don't let the world hurry them along, like the whirlwind cities of the Westernized world. This was obviously great for a holiday, but I'm not sure I would want to live in a country with unfinished roads and buildings!

Our wonderful Gadventures group - amazing company and
thanks to our tour guide, David, we all had a wonderful time.
We were all kept very well entertained, informed and organised!

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