I had never visited a communist country before Cuba, and the reality check was unavoidable.
I was nearing the end of a six-week trip through the United States, Mexico and Cuba. I was tired, emotionally drained, and I longed for home, comfort, and routine.
We arrived in Old Havana late in the afternoon. Everything was the total opposite of what I was used to, even though I had just spent two weeks in another developing country. The roads were unpaved, the air was humid, and the people stared at my foreign self from all angles—I had only just arrived, and I was already feeling the need to escape.
Thankfully I had my lovely mum there to calm and console me. With her help, I unpacked, and we took a stroll along the nearby streets. The famous Malecon seawall which stretches eight kilometres along the coast of Havana was within walking distance, so we headed there—all the while I didn’t even speak to my poor mother, and my body was in tight discomfort. Hello, culture shock!
Over the next six days, we spent time in Vinales—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—riding horses through the vast valleys, learning about coffee, and making and smoking our own Cuban cigars. Well, mum did. I was still trying to heave myself out of this horrible slump I’d found myself in. We also visited Santa Clara to partake in mum’s fetish for all things Che Guevara.
During this time, we also managed to visit some gorgeous, sugar-white, crystal-clear water beaches, which—once with sand between my toes and a mojito in hand—lifted my spirits and made me feel more at home.
After the sun had soaked up our day and the last drop of goodness was consumed, we found ourselves back in Old Havana once more on the unpaved roads filled with young, lively and content Cubans, oblivious to the world beyond. They appreciated what they had and made the most of the dwindling daylight. It’s an admirable quality and one that I only wish I had at the time. To be in the ‘now’ and fully immerse myself in what was at my fingertips instead of wallowing in my funk is something that I will forever regret. Not allowing myself this freedom over those few days haunts me to this day. Looking back, there is a bounty of life lessons from that experience, and I thank the Cubans for being my teachers.
I had never visited a communist country before Cuba, and the reality check had been unavoidable—just as much as the lingering stares of voracious men passing by. The country, what we saw of it over those six days, was littered with people collecting their rations and standing in queues stretching into the streets to make it into the bank. Internet was barely an option and access to the outside world was a far cry from just pressing a button on a remote to a TV in the lounge.
It was an awakening for all senses, and I found myself thankful for what I have back home. Searching for daily items such as water and food was a task that took far longer than it does for me even to get to work each day—a convenience taken for granted in the developed world and one of which we should be far more aware. It’s worth taking a moment now and then to recognise our resources and creature comforts as the luxury they are.
Some locals—who we wouldn’t have met without the push of my mum—introduced us to fresh fruit and vegetables, which I had been craving for after weeks of processed food consumption. For someone who enjoyed mixing with the locals and bartering in Bali and Thailand, I found it to be a pain in the Caribbean country. I’m not quite sure why, maybe that I’m getting older or that there weren’t as many English-speaking tourists around me, or quite simply that I was exhausted and just yearning for home.
While lacking in what we would consider the bare necessities, Cuba is more than rich in colour, character and culture. It was the perfect bustling backdrop for me to fill my camera roll and capture copious amounts of cherished memories.
It didn’t happen straight away, but I can now say that I’m truly appreciative and humbled by the country that is Cuba. The air is filled with a passion and love that is infectious, and the mojitos are like no other!
While I was hit by culture shock and experienced one of the worst travelling blues I’ve had so far, I do consider it an eye-opening and truly valuable life experience. I hope that you too will be lucky enough to visit this unique country before its untouched character is taken over by the rest of the world.
Author - Courtney Taylor
Courtney Taylor is a Kiwi gal hoping to discover the world one bit at a time. She loves being active, outdoors, exploring and having loads of fun. Her Instagram is @cdare89 and you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.