I wish I had written about Cuba when I traveled to the island in 2018. I was only there for a day with my best friend on a cruise stop. It was the hottest day of the cruise, that I recall well. Sweat dripping into my eyes despite the smiles for the camera. But of all of our stops that gorgeous cruise trip, our one day in Cuba was my favorite. The problem is, as I flipped through old photos, I can’t remember everything that made the day so special.
Hence, why this is such an important post. What I do remember I will try to detail out here, and pray for another visit one day in the future that lasts longer than just a few hours.
Timeless is the first word that comes to mind, when thinking of walking the streets of Havana that hot morning. There was something quiet and timeless in the old cruiser cars, the signs that hung above shops on the streets, and the architecture run down by the salty air, but kept “nice” with a colorful coat of paint.
Rum, Cigars, and Coffee, oh my! The best part of learning about Cuba was a rum, cigar, and coffee tasting in an old bar where we got a mini dance and music lesson. The three biggest exports of the island, rum, cigars, and coffee (along with fish which we learned later on our tour that day), were cheap and good. We learned of the different grades of Cuban cigars– our guide told us to never buy the most expensive cigars offered because at the end of the day, whatever options are layed out, it’s still a cigar from Cuba. Romeo and Juliette is the brand we tried, not the most expensive, but still as pure as they come. I remember Tiffany, my best friend on the trip too, being able to light her cigar with ease, smoking like she’d done it 1,000 times. I on the other hand struggled with the simple task. As we learned, the correct way to light a Cuban cigar is with a little strip of cedar, that allows the cigar to burn, without contaminating the flavor. My strip of cedar was burning too fast before I ever really got the cigar lit, and burnt my fingers instead. I did get a small a taste of flavor for a couple of moments, enough to feel like a true tourist.
As for coffee and rum, the rum was CHEAP and a handle of the same rum in the USA would have been $20-30 depending on tax! In Cuba, I chose not to take the opportunity to get a bottle for just $5. Taught me a little bit of the price markup and taxes that make some imported goods so expensive. And the coffee tasted sweet, not bitter. Fresh Cuban coffee, having not sat on a shelf for weeks or months before brewing, probably allowed for the flavors of the bean to stand out. I thoroughly enjoyed that bit of the flavors that day.
Life in Cuba, our guide had lived her whole life where everything from cooking oil to meat was rationed by family size. She said her family (parents and a sibling) only got 7 oz of oil per month, which is not quite a cup. Imagine spilling that on your floor one day by accident, or using too much in the pan than necessary… It’s hard to think you can’t just go to the cupboard for more, but have to wait till the following month to get what you need.
As the country is growing to attract more tourists, they have programs that allow people to go to Hotel and Restaurant service school. A way to have a guaranteed career in the Travel and Tourist Biz if they don’t want to continue their education after high school. Handfuls of 20 year-old (ish) men and women walked in their uniforms, and when I asked the guide about if school was still in session, though it was the middle of July, she informed me that training to work in a restaurant or hotel is the thing to do after high school. That and like her, becoming a tour guide.
And finally, I thought it was fascinating that Hemmingway spent so much time in Cuba fishing, writing, and living. We stopped in the hotel he used to stay and live at when he was on the island, and even saw him shaking the hand in an old photo with Fidel Castro. It was in Cuba that he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, the work that turned him into a household name.
I suppose I remember quite a bit considering our cruise ship was docked for a total of 7 hours, before moving on to Cozumel, MX. The beauty of writing is it forces you, me, to remember with words in a way much different than passively flipping through photos, and I am so grateful to have all of the memories of that day.