This is merely a translation of my travel journal that I wrote during my visit to Cuba in 2014.
So, why did I think it was a good idea to visit Cuba? Maybe the weather, the cheap rum, that I heavily romanticize the book ”Rum Diary” or just a fascination of the communist doctrine. And maybe because I found a really cheap flight ticket. Yea, it was mostly because of that to be honest. I was planning on going to Cambodia at first but I’m pretty good at keeping an open mind. I flew to Varadero which is the main tourist destination in Cuba, but also the most boring one. If you are into all-inclusive and beaches it’s a good place to be though.
My original plan was to spend the night in Varadero before continuing to Havanna but that was before I ended up sitting next to Pedro at the airplane, a cuban gentlemen now living in Sweden. We started talking and I found out that he was going to visit his family and friends in Havanna. He had already a rental car waiting at the airport so without hesitation I asked if I could join him on his journey. He said yes and little did I know that this spontaneous change of travel plan would result in a number of unpleasant events later on.
Furthermore I found out that Pedro left Cuba at 20 years of age to study russian in Kiev and also working as an interpreter outside Chernobyl right after the disaster. Later he ended up meeting a swedish girl somewhere in Europe and eventually settled down in Stockholm. Once every year he visits his family outside Havanna and so our paths randomly crossed. The flight proceeded smoothly and after the border control we made our way to the chinese rental car which gives you the exclusive feeling of being in a tin-can on wheels.
As we started rolling a surprisingly open discussion about Cuba and its political position followed. About hope versus hopelessness that probably had latched a tight grip on many entrepreneurial ambitions. Pedro opted for laziness to be a factor for the lack of individual ambition but I kinda doubted that it could be seen as general explanation for the situation. The debate whether Fidel Castro brought more good than bad to Cuba is a complicated one and I decided not to go there. Instead I decided to tried to find out more about the culture and eventual ”not-to-dos” since this was my first real trip on my own outside Europe.
The noticeable desolation of the larger roads that we passed was somehow compensated by their diversity. Horse trailers, tractors, bikes and animals all merged together and even if there in theory is a given way for the traffic to run it’s not always practised. Outside the window enchanting green hills is mixed with barren landscapes and sporadic settlements. The air is hot, slightly humid. We pass small villages, towns and industrial areas. As we’re getting closer the afternoon turns into evening and Havanna starts to reveal itself. Parti-colored houses, colonial architecture, old american cars and the sun that slowly starts to set, depriving the palm trees of its shadows.
So, here I was, in a place that only a day ago had seemed like a distant dream. At first impression unpolished but charming like a rugged old man with Casanova-esque features trying his best to be flirtatious. My faith in that senor Pedro would be well-connected was mercilessly dashed. It had been almost 30 years since he left Cuba and his parents lived a couple of miles outside Havanna. He had an old friend with rooms for rent but he couldn’t remember the exact adress so that didn’t help me much. I decided to put my hope into the hotel I had booked for the next day, but arriving in an unknown city at a friday night without a plan would soon prove to have been a bad idea.