David Strittmatter

Cuba – what I should have known 


Last week I arrived in Havana, Cuba. A long dream came true; I’ve always wanted to travel to a Caribbean Island. 

When I was thinking about Cuba, I imagined a very relaxed but energetic atmosphere, fresh fruits and vegetables, delicious mojitos and Cuba Libres, beautiful beaches and hot temperatures. After landing at the airport, though, I immediately experienced every downside of traveling to this country. 

What a backward country

It took 2,5 hours to pass the border security although the same number of people at an average airport would be through this process after 20 minutes. Everything here takes so much longer.

Since we got out of the airport after sunset, it was already dark. Yet, the air was hot and very humid as it just stopped raining. Unexpectedly unpleasant feeling. 

Arriving at our apartment (Airbnb), we were friendly welcomed by our host. At this time we were starving as we hadn’t eaten since the day before. So, we asked where we can withdraw cash and have dinner. He gave us great recommendations. When we tried to obtain cash from an ATM, however, all our credit cards were denied. Subsequently, we searched for alternatives, asked people on the streets where we can access cash. Every other ATM was dysfunctional as well. As all the restaurants rejected credit cards. Since we could not exchange our foreign cash – all foreign exchange cabins have already closed – we went back to our apartment again. The next day I was looking for alternatives. When I was at a bank, they told me they could not withdraw cash because the computers could not access the central bank server. Here in Cuba, you cannot rely on any kind of device or technology.

Moreover, internet access and groceries are highly limited. You can only buy 3 hours of internet access per day (you have to buy cards with an access code which allows you to use the internet). And when I went to a “grocery store”, there was no water anymore and, for example, there were only 3 packages of pasta available.

Happy ending?

Driving from Havana to Trinidad, I finally had enough water, cash and enough internet cards with me. I already saw major parts of Havana and I slowly began to really enjoy my stay here. The locals and other tourists were very kind, nature looked magnificent, the weather was awesome and the food was great when you knew where to eat. So, I was looking forward to getting to know this country more and having a pleasurable time. 

Trinidad felt like medieval times: Cobbled streets, horses are the main way of transportation, houses seem older than the United States, lots of farms and livestock and nobody appears to care about time. 

We went to the beach there. I’ve never seen a more beautiful one. White sand, warm temperatures, calm, shallow, and clean water, wonderful pal trees – just awesome. The next day we took a tour to a waterfall by riding horses. Incredible experience.

From now on, though, our journey only got worse. Food became worse and worse. Most restaurants charged prices comparable to German ones. The restaurants we visited, however, delivered food on a very low level. Additionally, I’ve never been served so badly in my life.

Our host, people in Trinidad and people on the internet recommended us to go to Varadero (a major city in Cuba). It would be even better: Better food, beaches, drinks, nature…

Unfortunately, they were so wrong

Varadero is like an abnormally but badly commercialized paradise for package holiday tourists. The beach and coastline is enormous. The best parts, though, are only available for guests of those innumerable hotel resorts. Moreover, they are overcrowded or empty. 

I’ve never had such problems because of the food like in Varadero. It was almost impossible to get decent food although the prices were relatively high. Additionally, 95% of the restaurants had very slow and unkind service. Dishes were bad copies of western food. Local food was virtually impossible to order. Almost every day I had pain in my stomach which became even worse in Varadero.

Moreover, the weather in the north of Cuba was colder, blustery and cloudier. We wanted to undertake a trip to the coral beach and snorkel. But due to the strong wind, we were not allowed to go into the water.

Unfortunately, I did not meet any tourist (backpacker or hotel resort traveller) – and I met a lot at the airport – who look at their trip positively.

All in all, I am convinced that Cuba can be a great experience. Yet, I strongly believe that it requires the right amount of preparation or very low expectations. Cuba’s nature, people and climate is wonderful. There is a lot to discover and to try. Nevertheless, everyone who wants to travel to this country should anticipate the backward and “tourist-abusive” atmosphere, otherwise, the trip will not end positively.

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