Cuba – First Impressions

Hey everyone,

We are a couple of days back from our photo adventure in Cuba and beginning to feel rested and readjust to being a much different culture. What a difference and a change of clean clothes helps too! This post is the first of at least four or five from our Cuban experience. Besides I have over 3500 photos to review and process that I hope will help tell the story of the people we encountered. This post is about our first impressions and a bit of an overview. Much more to come.

There’s nothing like being there even though studying guide books, talking to others, and reading blogs helps prepare for the experience. And remember when going to someplace that you’ve never been to before, the brain is on sensory overload at least for the first couple of days. So what were our first impressions. First we were in a tropical country so the landscape was mostly green with lots of palm trees and other vegetation. Here’s a photo taken from the plane as we were descending in the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana (please note that on Friday February 12, Pope Francis and the head of the Orthodox Church met at this airport. First meeting in over 1000 years. Remarkable!). Another aside, saw lots of cows and sheep in the country, most destined for tourists, the Cuban people have limited access to beef and lamb.

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When departing the plane, the first thing one notices is that there are not jetways, down the stairs you go walking on the tarmac to the terminal. The terminal itself is not very big so planes are spaced by the Cuban government as not to overwhelm both the terminal and the passengers. Here’s our view when getting off the plane.

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Customs and immigration in some countries can be very taxing (including the US) but was fairly smooth and without any problems. Another aside, Cubans returning from the US or Cuban/Americans visiting Cuba will bring a lots of things on the plane for family and friends, like flat screen tv’s, small refrigerators, car parts, etc. Apparently, there are some enterprising business people who will make the buying trip to the US and resell when returning to Cuba. It’s way to get around the US embargo.

When exiting the terminal, this is the first site you see. I don’t know the story but it’s interesting none the less.

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After boarding our bus, we headed into Havana for lunch. Here a few street scenes taken from the bus. First note the two 1950’s cars, they are very common on the Island and a main form of transportation in the country besides the overly crowded public buses. Notice the vehicle between the two old cars, its powered by a motorcycle and has at least four people piled into the back on their way someplace. May cost them a few pesos for the ride. Most people live on the equivalent of $30/month.

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The other thing we observed were that the only billboards in Cuba are something that relates to the revolution. I suppose it keeps reminding people of whose in charge. This sign interpreted says: “(From?) Dreams came true emancipation.”

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For lunch we stopped at a paladar in Havana, a family run restaurant. Since 2010 when the communist government relaxed (a little bit) regulations on private run business, paladares have been on the increase first because of demand from the tourist trade and an interest in authentic Cuban food as an alternative to the government run restaurants where the food is often mediocre. Food is good at most of the paladars as they have figured out that good food and customer service will keep people coming back. This is photo of Donna enjoying our first mojito, one of many welcome drinks to begin the meal.

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As a final first impression, many of the buildings in Havana are crumbling although many are being rehabbed into the once beautiful buildings they once were. That’s happening even though building materials are in short supply, there isn’t a Home Depot anywhere on the island. Stuff gets used and reused until it longer works, then in some cases it’s turned into art!

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So these were our first visual impressions of Cuba. In coming posts, I’ll dig deeper in the culture and share some of our experiences with the people and of course more photos!

Until next week,

Tom

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