Cuba is something spectacular, but remarkably complicated. If you follow my Instagram, you may have seen my recent pictures of lush greenery, classic cars, and colorful houses. What those pictures didn’t show were the troubled history of Cuban-American relationships and how genuinely the Cuban people want to repair and rebuild to where we were before the Cuban Missile Crisis (or at least Obama-era relations). Socialism aside, Cuba is not a country of individual wealth. Trade embargoes and conflict has made life challenging for those without reliable income or professional skills for decades. Of course, it’s a complicated issue, and I’m neither a historian nor political scientist. Trying to observe and converse with locals with a neutral lens was occasionally a challenge, considering recent events at home. That being said, it was a fascinating and inspiring vacation I would recommend to anyone!
Cars, Cars, Cars
Cars in Cuba are no joke! I assumed there would be at most the occasional classic car in Havana. As soon as I landed, I witnessed parking lots half-full of classic Chevy, Pontiac, and Ford sedans of yesteryear. Many were generally bland shades of black and beige (likely in-between repainting and repairs), but some were stunningly vibrant. Our tour guide told us that “Cuba has no mechanics, but it has many magicians” and that most of the cars you see on the road are built of three or more vehicles, some not even the same make and model. We rode around Havana for two hours in a lime green ’56 Chevy Belair that had a purely decorative dashboard (we quickly learned that most classic cars had no functioning odometer, speedometer, or thermometer).
The Champagne of Cigars
I rarely have a cigar outside special occasions, and visiting Cuba is a very special occasion! From Cohiba and Montecristo to custom-rolled Robustos, I had a different cigar each day of my visit. Cohiba, Cuba’s largest brand, were a favorite of Fidel Castro. Che Guevara loved the heavier Montecristo cigars because he could smoke just one cigar a day due to asthma. Winston Churchill was quite fond of Romeo y Julieta and given his own signature vitola (unique measurement) in 1946. While these feel like random bits of trivia knowledge to you and me, they are common knowledge to many Cubans. In Viñales I learned that many farmers like to use honey as a sweet and natural filter. There is so much to learn about cigars I could talk about them all day, now!
Cuba is Complex
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, there’s a lot going on with Cuban history and culture. They are proud, but struggling, people who respect their culture while admiring Americana. They want to rebuild relationships and work away from the mistakes of past generations. Many want to distance themselves from questionable actions by their dictators (all while praising them with a forced smile). Keep an eye out for other Cuba-related content! I spoke with local artists and residents of Havana to hear their personal stories and perspectives. Until then, remember to wander and ponder!