Sunday, March 25, 2007

Impressions of C*U*B*A

I do not believe that I managed to get an adequate overview of the whole country of Cuba in my short stay there, especially since most of it was on a resort relatively isolated from the everday life of most of the residents, but here are a few impressions, some light-hearted, some a little bit deeper.

1. There are no windows. Virtually all of the houses that we passed as we drove through the country had no windows. There were only shutters of various kinds and at times, open squares in the wall. Most doors were open as well.

2. Many yards boasted a cactus hedge which kept the desired animals in and the less desirable, out.

3. Despite a lovely tropical climate, the land seemed tired and dry, the foliage and grass brownish instead of lush green. There were, however, some outstanding flowers and cactus that were flourishing because of attentive care.

4. Guards and fences were common sights at most establishments. Our resort had a guard and guardhouse at the beach gate and a 24/7 guard just outside our building. There was even a tall wire fence separating our resort from the neighbouring one. Most companies of any size that we drove past had a guard house, several people standing or sitting at the front, a fence around the perimiter, and perhaps a guard tower if it had a large yard.

5. According to one of the Cuban animators at the resort, there are no laptops, ipods, or cell phones allowed into the country (unless you are a tourist). The Cuban people are not allowed to bring them in.

6. While we enjoyed a multitude of channels in our hotel room, we were told that the Cubans only have state channels accessible to them.

7. Billboards and books were mostly political propaganda, especially about Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. One book available in a souvenir store was entitled "The Real Story of Cuba." The first page stated that at no time had Cuba ever instigated any violence against the United States, yet it had been the recipient of much harm and injustice from that country. Another book that I was tempted to buy just for interest sake was "Fidel and Religion." T-shirts and hats mostly boasted Che's picture.

8. Transportation was a wondrous mixed bag. We saw horse-drawn carriages, buses that were really just a truck with a big open box in the back, vintage cars that have been kept on the road and repainted, many motorcycles with sidecars, lots of bicycles, carts drawn by oxen, and of course, some newer European cars, though these were in the minority.

9. The people were some of the most endearing, friendly, open, and generous folks I have ever met. When asked, most of them loved living in Cuba, though one young man seemed to have his sights set on exploring more than the world he knew. I never heard one complaint while I was there, except from people on vacation.

10. Military service is mandatory for men, optional for women.

11. All of the workers on the resort that we came into contact with spoke at least 3 languages, and often more. They were fluent in Spanish, English, French, and sometimes Italian and German as well.

12. The resort we stayed at had been built for wealthy Russians who vacationed in Cuba (when Russian was still Communist as well). The resort was older and in need of a few updates, but it was clean and well-utilised.

13. All the Cuban workers at the resort worked 6 days a week, usually for 12 hours. They got paid less than any workers that were brought in from Italy.

My overall impression of Cuba was that though it has a bit of a tired and run-down exterior, if you scratch beneath the surface, you will find a vibrant and passionate and hard-working, though fun-loving people who could do much with their situation if they were only given the chance.
Last photo: One of the great animators, Jordan, helping me with archery.

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