My Cuban Confusion

by - 3:00 PM


Cuba. Land of communism and cocktails. The country had been on my wishlist for so long that I literally did a happy dance (in private) when I bought a ticket to Varadero. I spent a lot of time on the plane thinking and wondering about this unique Caribbean island. I wanted to experience it for myself, the classic cars, the communism, the Cuba Libres. I was filled with giddy excitement to explore a world so different from my own. But when I got off the plane, all I felt was... confusion.

Varadero's international airport was small and not the most professional one out there, but compared to that of Laos' capital Vientiane it was luxurious. Tour operator employees picked me and my parents up from the arrivals hall. So far so good. Then I spotted my first classic car - right next to Cubans with expensive-looking smartphones. Modern day technology next to a car that was already around in the 60's. My mind did a very poor job at handling that anachronistic image and became even more confused when I saw horse carts next to the highway on our way to the hotel. It was like seeing the entire past century compressed into a single day.

I spent the rest of that first day near Hotel Tuxpan. I only left it to explore Varadero's beach, which is 12 kilometers long and known as the most beautiful beach on the planet. That night I felt like I'd missed something on my walk. Like I hadn't seen the real Cuba yet. Sadly I didn't get the chance to see the real Cuba either, as we were welcomed to the island by a tour operator employee in the bar of the villa of an arms dealer who'd become rich during the First World War.


While I was enjoying my first Cuba Libre and realized I quite like the taste of rum, my dad booked us excursions to the Yumuri Valley and Havana. The bar's walls seemed to be closing in on me, so I stood outside on the balcony for most of the time. Something wasn't okay, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I was not seeing Cuba's real face and felt disconnected from the country I was visiting. It made me feel restless. The all-inclusive hotel was nice and way cheaper than any of our other options for a Cuba trip, but it struck me as a facade. An illusion made for tourists. I was so relieved when we left the hotel that day and walked to the center of Varadero.

I saw beautiful classic car after beautiful classic car in Varadero, but I still couldn't shake the feeling that I was living in a Cuban theme park. I still wasn't seeing the real Cuba I was longing for, but at least I was getting closer. I was just touching the surface, almost there yet still pretty far away. We took a cab back to the hotel that night. Not just any cab, but an old American car that would be perfect for a wedding. During the ride home, with music blasting from the stereo, something clicked. I broke through the surface. I felt the vibe of the island.


In the days that followed, I saw the Cuban countryside in the Yumuri Valley, I visited the city of Matanzas and walked through the streets of Havana. I got a feel for the country and its friendly people. I tried speaking Spanish, which the locals really seemed to appreciate even though my Spanish is rusty. I felt safe walking the streets and beach by myself. Even though I felt like I'd escaped the carefully crafted illusion, I knew that I still wasn't all there is to Cuba. But I was seeing enough. I was happy. Relaxed. And in a new way, completely confused about Cuba.

The new dose of confusion was injected into my brain during my visit to Havana. It was the sixth day of our trip and even though I'd seen poverty in the countryside, I felt like most places I'd seen had their shit together. The people were friendly and every single Cuban has access to excellent health care and free education. You'd think that'd give Cuba a solid base to build its future on. You'd think communism at least did this stuff right. So why wasn't the country flourishing? Cuba reminded me a bit of my blog in that way: the groundworks were in place, but success did not follow.
My tour guide on the Havana trip explained that Cuba could be a much more prosperous country if it weren't for the US embargo. For what seemed to be the millionth time on that short trip, I was confused. Why is this embargo still in place? Only the US and Israel are in favor of this thing. Is the US really still afraid of communism? Because if you ask me, you won't see the Cubans invade other countries to spread their ideology. They're too busy gradually introducing tiny capitalist elements into their society and making tourists feel welcome. I felt sad for the island that decided to do things their way and still gets punished for it on a daily basis. Sad the Cubans still don't get a new chance, despite Obama's efforts...


I remained confused about Cuban's political situation until the day I left. Its ideology fascinates me, but I didn't see a sign of it being a threat. The only things reminding me that I actually was in fact in a communist country were murals and the dual currency system. So my confusion stayed with me, came to the airport and traveled home with me to the Netherlands. Sometimes I still find myself wondering about Cuba's real face and future. I'm afraid I won't find answers to my questions here at home. Maybe I will find them one day, but for now, I'm happy I got the chance to see the place with my own eyes. Cuba welcomed me and showed me just enough of itself to keep me intrigued. It takes a very special kind of place to have that effect on me. I hope Cuba will intrigue you as well over the next few weeks, as I'll take you on a digital trip to my new favorite Caribbean island!

x Envy

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15 Fellow Ramblers

  1. Cuba sounds lovely, I am obsessed with travel posts recently! I love this xxx

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    1. Cuba is amazing. I have nothing bad to say about it. Except maybe that they don't have French fries in most restaurants.

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  2. I seriously hope to visit Cuba in the next year. I think this post confirms my expectations of it being a very contrasting place. I'm all the more intrigued after reading this. And I hope to sample the rum - of course!

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    1. I hope you get to go to Cuba! The contrasts are what makes it such a special experience. I'm sure you'll love the country and its rum ;)

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  3. I remember touching down there en route to the Dominican Republic and being completely lost as to what i was seeing. This was supposed to be a tourist site - there were burt-out aircraft hulls along the runway, we were designated 3 squares of bathroom tissue if we used the facilities and graffiti that translated to "communism or death" sprayed on a barricade. I have people in my life that go here every year, though and love it.

    Http://ashlovesfoodanddrink.wordpress.com

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    1. I WENT THERE THIS SUMMER AND SAME!

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    2. Woah, Ashley, that's such a crazy story. The places I saw were nothing like that, though I did see the graffiti. I believe it's legal though and that the government just asks artists to paint that kind of stuff. I don't think anyone actually takes the "communism or death" thing serious anymore.

      Nabila, you went there? I thought it was really difficult for people with an American passport to get into Cuba. Hope you enjoyed it :)

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  4. I have never been there before, but it indeed sounds confusing. I love how you write about your experience, it makes it sound 'real'. I've never been to Cuba before or very far from my own home (except for Thailand, which is like 12h with the plane). But I do want to travel. This post made me think twice about Cuba. It sounds wonderful and different from the place I grew up in, but at the same time véry confusing!

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    1. Your compliment really means a lot to me. Thailand is confusing as well, but not on the same level as Cuba. Or maybe that's just because I wasn't prepared for a culture shock when I visited Cuba, while I did prepare myself for one when I went to Thailand.

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  5. Yess the Caribbean is the best, pictures look amazing xxx

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    1. I love the Caribbean. The people are so laid-back and friendly and I love the music. Can't wait to go back, maybe to a different island next time.

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  6. Your posts are so descriptive, intelligent painting beautiful imagery in my mind, I always feel like I read a novel I can't put down. More posts like this please :) Thank you for sharing your Cuban adventure, I always wanted to go but had no idea what is looked like, sorry it was a bit confusing for you but at least you can mark it off your list of cities to travel. Talk to you soon <3

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    1. Thank you so much! I have more Cuban posts in my drafts, though they're not as serious as this one. I hope they will capture the sides of Cuba that I saw though. I don't regret going there and I don't think I ever will, but looking back, the place still confuses me.

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  7. Cuba is somewhere that I would love to visit! It has been on my travel list for ages and I really hope that I get there one day!

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    1. I hope you get to go there soon, because there's so much that could change with Trump in the White House and the Cuban leaders all being ancient.

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