"I had never visited a communist country before Cuba, and the reality check was unavoidable."
I was nearing the end of a 6-week trip through the States, Mexico and Cuba. I was tired, emotionally drained and feelings of home, comfort and routine were cementing themselves firmly in my mind.
We arrived in Old Havana late afternoon. Everything was the total opposite to what I’m used to, even if 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 abort.
Thankfully I had my lovely mum with me to calm and console my worked-up-self, so we unpacked and took a stroll along the nearby streets. The famous Malecon seawall which stretches 8km along the coast of Havana was within walking distance, so we headed there - me not even speaking to my poor mother and my body 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 filled with salt in my hair and yet another 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 drunk, once more we found ourselves back in Old Havana on the unpaved roads filled with young, lively and content Cubans oblivious to the other world that is out there. They appreciated what they had and made the most of the daylight that was still left for them to revel in. It’s an admirable attribute and one that I only wish I had had at the time. To be in the ‘now’ and fully immerse myself in what was at my fingertips is something that I will forever regret for not allowing myself this freedom during my stay. Life lessons were at an all-time high, and I thank those blissful Cubans for teaching me them.
I had never visited a communist country before Cuba, and the reality check had been unavoidable, just as much as the glaring eyes of voracious men passing by. The country, what we saw of it over those 6 days, was littered with people collecting their rations and standing in queues rounding out the streets to make it into the bank - as of which I assume the rest of Cuba is the same. 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 were a task that took far longer than it does for me to even get to work each day. A task that is taken for granted in the developed world and one we should be far more aware of and consider our resources and creature comforts and a luxury.
Meeting locals - that wouldn’t have happened without the push of my mum - they introduced us to fresh fruit and vegetables, which I had been crying out for after weeks of processed consumption. For someone who enjoyed mixing with the locals and bartering in Bali and Thailand, I found it the polar opposite 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.
For a place that is absent in what we would consider the bare necessities, Cuba is more than rich in colour, character and culture - items of which we are often lacking. It was the perfect bustling backdrop for me to fill my camera roll and capture copious amounts of cherished memories.
It didn’t happen straightaway, 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 self is also overtaken by the world that is out there.
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.
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