Cuba is a country of rich history, beautiful beaches, cigars, and revolution. You might say there is something for everyone. The old cars may symbolize the scars of the past but the people are the hope of the future as they continue to strive to make their lives better.
One of the interesting sights to see in Cuba is that there are no billboards or advertisements around. All you have are propaganda signs to promote the government "messages". Because it is communist in nature, all government vehicles in Cuba belong to the country so if someone is driving a government car and sees someone on the road looking for a ride, they are required to pick them up! There was little public transportation: all we saw were dump trucks picking up people along the road when we were out in the country. No one was homeless but most didn't seem to have much more than the minimum in some places.
I think the most interesting thing I learned about was Hershey's influence and presence in Cuba. You can still take a train tour out to the old Hershey town and see the remains of what was once a big industry that supported hundreds of people, growing and processing sugar. When the embargo was put in place, all the land and businesses owned by American companies was taken by the Cuban government. Unfortunately, the government did not continue the production and the town became a ghost town.
The beautiful waters of the Caribbean were full of fish and aquatic life for Scuba Steve. Even I could wade out only about 10 yards and see lots of coral and fish right off the beach. It was the first time I had seen turtle tracks in the sand; they look like weird tire tracks! We had to wait until we went to Costa Rica to actually see them mating and laying eggs but definitely worth the wait!
You can't go to Cuba without going to the places where Hemingway hung out and cigars are made. You also have to have your picture taken with cute Dachshunds! One of the most interesting stories we learned about was the role of Hershey in Cuba. They have a small museum and a chocolate store in downtown Havana. You can read about here if you want to learn a little more.
It was amazing to see Cuba as we had always pictured it in our minds: still in the past, people living lives without technology, and the history and culture still alive. On the other hand, it was sad to see what governments had allowed to happen because of personal interest because the people were warm and welcoming and the country has so much potential and resources.
We were able to help the growing economy by staying at casas particulares, local homes that act as "bed and breakfast" hostel. As the government allows the people to start to work another job (after their assigned government job), they are able to try and save money to get ahead and improve their lives. We also got to meet "real" people and get a personal look at their daily life.
Our journey took us through the towns of Maria la Gorda, Cienfuegos, and Trinidad. It was amazing being able to see Cuba from an insider's perspective but it was also sad to see the lack of progress and control on the people. All the people we met and stayed with were super friendly and wanted the best for their country. Government controls have been reduced from the days of the revolution, according to our guide, but the people still have to work extremely hard to try to get ahead.
All photographs are copyrighted and the property of Cathleen L Carpenter Photography