Before I started this trip, Cuba was the one country I wanted to visit above all others – for the history, the buildings, the cars, the salsa and the rum. And the rum. And a little more of the rum.
The country has absolutely lived up to my expectations in all of those aspects, but the one thing that has really exceeded my expectations is the goodness of the people here.
They say that it’s the people who have the least that give the most, and I would say that’s very commonly the case in Cuba.
I find it upsetting to travel in a country where my taxi fare from the airport (US $25) is more than the average monthly wage, but there’s not a hint of resentment from the locals towards the disgustingly rich tourists who come and flaunt their money here.
Yes, the tourism brings them more money, but that’s not the reason you can’t walk down the street without people stopping you to talk, it’s because they are genuinely interested in speaking to you, offering advice and making friends.
One of the great things about Cuba is that ‘casa particulars’ are the most common place to stay, not hotels or hostels. These are houses where the family has two or three spare rooms, with anything from one to four beds in, to rent out to guests, and it results in a much more homely experience.
None of my casa owners have spoken English, and my Spanish would be basic for a four year old, but we’ve still managed to chat and they have all been incredibly kind not just offering a place to stay but advice about the local area, incredible home cooked food, and an insight into their lives.
My travelling experience has been incredible, but one of the bad things about backpacking is that you are always slightly on your guard, just waiting for the next person to try and scam you.
Being in Cuba has made me feel guilty for having that cynicism, because here it seems that most of the time people really are just being nice.
There have been several occasions where I’ve hated myself for being so suspicious, and it actually upsets me now to think about how untrusting I’ve been.
For example, one day a man on a motorbike tried to start a conversation with me and I ignored him, thinking he was a typical sleazy guy trying to talk to a girl on her own.
The next day he approached me again, this time when I was sat on the edge of the road, upset because a taxi I’d booked hadn’t shown up and I had no way of getting to the next town.
He asked me if I remembered him, then proceeded to do his best to find me another taxi, and failing that gave me his drink, his food, and his extortionately expensive internet card so I could talk to my boyfriend.
He suggested I rent a bike for the day, told me all the best places to go, and introduced me to all his friends in the evening. And the catch? Well none, he was just trying to help and even told me I had to stop saying thank you because it was just what any good person would do.
A few days later I arrived in another town with no idea of where to go, what to do, or how I would spend my day. While getting breakfast in a bar a man started talking to me, who happened to be an English speaking tour guide on his day off.
He recommended I take a horse drawn taxi to some of the best sites in the city – but also came with me to explain all of them as we went. He took me to his friend’s salon for a manicure and pedicure, had lunch waiting for me when I was done, and took me for drinks with his friends. He didn’t leave my side until I was stood in front of the bus I was getting on at the end of the day, and once again nothing was asked for in return (although I obviously did pay my way throughout the day, I’m not that much of a scrounger).
It would be easy for a cynic to say well these are Cuban guys hitting on a young girl on her own, but for a start most of you haven’t seen jut how fat and unattractive I’ve become, and I genuinely think they would have done the same for anyone.
I don’t have and endless supply of money to just throw away, but being here has made me realise that it’s not always the most important thing and sometimes you should just let it go.
An argument with a bicycle taxi driver about the cost of a city tour actually ended up with me going back to find him later in the day to give him more money. Two or three dollars clearly means a lot more to him than it does to me, and he did spend two hours cycling his arse off to drag me around the city, to help fun him through university, so I felt like a pretty shitty person for even questioning the price in the first place.
Apologies to anyone who was hoping to hear how I had a new Latino husband, broke both legs trying to salsa or had got caught up in a drug smuggling cartel – there’s still plenty of time for all those things in South America – but I really want everyone to know just how amazing people in Cuba are, and hopefully inspire one or two of you to visit for yourselves.