A Young Englishman’s Take on Cuba

An aspiring writer based in Honduras, offers his views and recounts his experiences of a week spent in Cuba.

By Ben Anson

HAVANA TIMES – Having been back in Honduras for almost a month now, the time seems to have passed distressingly fast since my return from Cuba. I truly do not know where four weeks have gone. The following are some of my observations of the Caribbean Island country. 

I travelled from San Pedro Sula, Honduras via El Salvador and then to Havana with many expectations and a lot of visions in my head of how the country would be. Particularly Havana. I found myself sat next to a very amiable (almost ‘simple’ for he really was overtly-friendly) Costa Rican fellow on the flight from San Salvador to Havana. He told me how he was heading to a place on the coast as he had met a Cuban woman online… Fair enough. The character had come equipped with a Costa Rica t-shirt, a Costa Rica hat and even a Costa Rica flag at the ready. This being so that the lady would recognize him at the airport.

“¿Tú crees que ella me reconocerá amigo?”

“Do you think she will recognize me buddy?” he asked at one point.

How the **** not? All he was missing was a fog-horn in which he could have announced his arrival.

“Seguro mano” I replied instead. “I’m sure bro”.

On finally arriving in Havana, which all in all was not a long flight from Honduras (where I’m based) – I was sadly met with a less than good first impression. The airport’s electricity kept coming and going and much to everyone’s horror we were forced to wait for well over in hour at security. I had never seen such a fiasco of poor organization and utterly useless personnel before. As the lights kept going off, their computer systems also kept crashing to which hilariously long breaks were taken by the security officials. They sat chatting, looking at their watches and telling jokes it appeared whilst hundreds of hot and bothered tourists stood in their immense lines – watching. Hoping for the signal to move forwards…

It was a very trying experience. Luckily I had arrived towards the front end of the lines yet I still waited for over an hour before I finally got my passport stamped. Something I then immediately took in were the female workers who sported fish-net tights with their uniform. These Cuban girls were certainly ‘well-equipped’ for the tights, it’s just they really did look out of place in a security uniform.

I then had to amuse myself in the airport for four hours or so as I awaited for my father and brother’s flight to arrive from London, England. I went up and down the three floors, took a few gazes at the Che-Guevara t-shirts being sold and drunk myself one too many beers. I say one too many as the heat was noticeably fiercer than that of Honduras, which doesn’t assist alcohol consumption. I also had to ‘get myself together’ for the sight of my father and younger brother (whom I hadn’t seen in two years). That was the purpose of the trip – a family reunion.

I listened quite intrigued to the Cuban accents:

“Ya tu sabe’ chicooo”

“Mamita que guapa tú te ve’”

“Gracia’ papito tú también tas bueno”…

The last two phrases came from a young girl and boy who were flirting on a staircase. Made me laugh. They were busy telling each other they good they looked. How nice. I sometimes wish someone would tell me how good I look. If I do…

Anyhow, those four hours certainly dragged. I was utterly fed up of going up and down the escalators after half an hour. All kinds of nationalities were present in Havana’s Jose Marti international airport. Italians, Spaniards, Brits, Asians and Latinos. I heard Central American accents, South American and Caribbean ones intermixing themselves in the small airport cafes. Some good prices yet I did get ripped off by an old prick who charged me $US1.00 for a ‘Presidente’ beer yet gave three Cuban pesos change… I was never able to spend that three pesos note as everyone contested me with “pero esto no sirve”.

“But this isn’t valid/good for nothing”.

Very puzzling indeed. Money in Cuba does take a few days to get one’s head around. There are two currencies: the Cuban CUC and then the US Dollar. Then there are Cuban pesos… To be honest I still don’t really understand how it works…

My father and brother finally arrived to which we had a good laugh accompanied by some swift British hugs – no need to overdo it after two years of not having seen each other. My father exchanged some British Pounds and we then moved out of the airport to search for a taxi. My Dad was very keen on gaining a good price and not being ripped off. Living in Honduras, I didn’t really give a mother if the Cubans charged a few pesos more. Latin America suffers immense poverty, life can be a terrible grind in this part of the world. Those few pesos extra could be what bought a child’s milk or what secured the month’s rent. One never knows. My father and brother had arrived with their Western European mentality though…

The drive into Havana was eye-opening. The high-rise socialist apartment blocks lined up alongside the very smooth highway. I will say that Cuba possesses some good roads from what I saw. Well-constructed indeed. The taxi driver didn’t speak much, he’d immediately settled for our thirty CUC offer for him to take us from the airport and into central Havana. So he did.

On arriving at the apartment’s location (a rented apartment – casa particular) we were immediately taken aback by the sheer grit and realism of the surroundings. It was very much a ghetto-like neighborhood. Crumbling buildings, filthy streets, stray dogs, bare-chested youth play fighting with hammers and beer bottles – “where the f*** has he brought us to?” – was the question.

I stepped out the taxi and moved over to a group of women who stood beneath what was supposedly the apartment – number 36. Being the only Spanish speaker amongst us I was naturally made interpreter for the week. In fact whenever someone approached either my father or brother a cry of ‘Ben!’ was always made. It tended to go as such…

“Ben what does she want?”

“She says good morning.”

“Oh… alright then…”

Anyhow, we had indeed arrived at the location. Paying the taxi driver off we proceeded to enter the dilapidated building and thus climbed the endless stairs to the top floor. On arriving at the top, we were merrily greeted by the owners – a middle-aged couple. Very friendly and extremely talkative the pair of them. Especially the wife. She was the more involved of the two and on realizing I spoke Spanish I found myself engaged in many, many conversations with her for the course of the next three days. She loved a chat. A nice lady though. On meeting her daughter during our last day in Havana I was left somewhat wanting for I’d have enjoyed a few chats with the girl.

Anyhow…. Before I get carried away. We quickly settled in after our rather prolonged chat with the owners. I believe that they managed to tell us everything feasible about Havana in an hour. The chat rather tired me.

Our next few days in Havana were spent exploring. We took to La Habana Vieja, spending hours walking its cobbled alleys and sitting within its small bars and restaurants. Whilst the colonial architecture grasped my interest the many street vendors and hustlers constantly had my brother and father at unease. It can be irritating in the fierce heat, as one must barge their way past the endless swarm of hustlers from woman of a certain trade to young men desperate to get you into their restaurant…

“Hello my friends! Jou wan eat? Jou come here to eat yes? Mira chico – el menú – ¡el menú!”

Taxi drivers too incessantly honk their horns at anything white-skinned. White means money, the Cubans in Havana made it quite obvious that dinero was all they wanted. Who can blame them? To have come from Honduras and to have been shocked at the sheer level of poverty there – says a lot. Honduras, which is considered to be one of the poorest nations in the Americas – looks like Dubai compared with Havana, Cuba. A rather callous exaggeration but Honduras is undoubtedly in a far better state. Where I live, we’ve shopping malls, cinemas, proper supermarkets etc.… Good luck trying to find a supermarket in Havana.

Writer: “Hay un mercado por aquí cerca manin?” (Is there a supermarket nearby ‘manin’?)

Local: “No se”. (I don’t know)

Nobody knew anything. Nobody had any interest in helping. Not the friendliest of people the Cubans that I encountered. Especially not in Havana. Even in the second place that we spent time in – Varadero (a 22 km beach famous for its tourism) – nobody knew anything. I recall asking for juice in a cafeteria type place to which they said they didn’t sell juice. They being two young girls who didn’t quite tickle my fancy which was a rarity as those Cuban women on the whole – were most attractive. Anyhow, on asking where I could purchase juice, I was told rather fiercely that there was no juice.

It was said as if there was no juice in town… anywhere.

“Paja” I responded. A word used in Honduras which went over their heads. ‘Bullshit’. The word ‘pajearse’ actually means to masturbate in Spanish yet in Honduras it’s come to mean ‘bullshitting/lying’. How was there no juice in the tourism town of Boca de Camarioca?

There was. Two minutes down the road. A very ‘socialist’ supermarket (in Cuba it would be classed as a supermarket) had a few different flavoured juices on offer. It would appear that whilst Cubans were ready to receive tourist’s money, due to their disadvantaged lifestyles – perhaps a sense of resentment was there towards foreigners. I could not say that I found them to be a friendly people from most that I came across. Some individuals were, yes. However, I did notice a lot of differences between Hondurans and Cubans.

I recall once asking a Honduran fellow on the street where I could buy a football (soccer) t-shirt. That being the Honduras national team jersey. He smiled and motioned for me to follow him. That fellow walked me two blocks to which he then stopped and pointed to the windows on the second floor of a large store. I looked up and saw an array of football shirts. He then gave me a pat on the back and took off.

Compare that to the miserable Cubans I encountered on the streets who didn’t know anything about anything and weren’t at all willing to assist.

Moving away from discussing the completely dilapidated buildings and vile filth of Havana’s central neighbourhoods, the country itself from having driven from Havana to Varadero – is most beautiful. Lush and green, from the forested hills to the golden beaches, Cuba is without debate a Caribbean gem. The two taxi drivers who took us from Havana to Varadero and then from Varadero back to Havana – were both very interesting gents. I learned a lot from them.

From being educated on the island’s history to its rum, tobacco and sugar production, I also learned of how during the early 90’s many Cubans were forced to eat cats and dogs. This was a period in which Cuba suffered terribly from the USSR collapse. Their one strong ally back then. The US blockade having further added to the island’s crisis. One of the two taxi drivers made his contempt for the US quite clear.

“Cabrones e hijos de puta. Nos tenían aquí muriendo del hambre”.

“Bastards and sons of bitches. They had us dying of hunger here”.

According to many Cubans that I did exchange words with however, things are slowly changing for the better. So they say. Having seen the misery of life in Havana’s central ghettos; supermarkets without food, human excrement on doorsteps – I sincerely hope that they speak the truth.

If I were to describe Cuba using only one word – I should choose ‘unique’. I had never been somewhere with such a unique atmosphere and feel to it before. I shall say as well, that I would by no means turn down a second opportunity to visit for I feel that this is a place which grows on you with time. It displays a beautiful naked honesty; the good the bad and ugly are to be seen anywhere and at any time.

49 thoughts on “A Young Englishman’s Take on Cuba

  • Sky… well aren’t you quite the character? Haha.

    I shall begin by thanking you for two things. For being extremely blunt and also for providing some good laughs. Just what I need at the moment – some good laughs. A favourite line of yours that I came across is was:

    “I’m a writer and an editor and I’m offering you my advice FREE AND GRATIS”.

    What a peculiar little sentence for someone so utterly bloody accomplished such as yourself. The ending… you chose I assume to try and assert some sort of bilingual knowledge – correct? You the wonderful God’s gift of a writer and editor are offering me your advice ‘free and free’…. Does that make sense?

    Just stick to English dear.

    As you so excellently picked out flaws in my writing surely it would have been wise to compose comments of a flawless nature? There are some more errors I saw yet I’m not as anal as you to go and list them…

    However Cielo…. I do entirely agree with you on one point. That being, that as a an aspiring writer I must be willing to take criticism and learn from it. Absolutely. No debate there. Thank you for your good intentions.

    Wasn’t keen on your more personal remarks… your suggestions that I must have some sort of disagreeable character and therefore deserved rudeness. I can assure you that I was entirely polite as I am indeed British and it is simply how I was raised. Nobody who knows me – I assure you – would describe me to the contrary.

    In fact, those few Cubans who were friendly and kind towards me all said “me pareces como un chico noble, me caes muy bien”. I assume you understand that… I’d imagine that there is very little you don’t understand in fact as you give off such an authoritative ‘vibe’. A writer and an editor indeed.

    Sky, would you be so kind as to offer some of your own writing samples so that I might read them and see for myself what an exceptional writer you are…?

    Of course, at the end of it, all that you have stated is simply your opinion. Many have enjoyed my article… Many being Cubans. Are you Cuban? It strikes me as nothing short of intriguing, how most of the positive comments are actually from Cubans who have completely agreed with my perceptions. How can it be therefore that so many non-Cubans on here are in disagreement with me?

    P.S. No in Honduras they do report widely on Cuba.

  • Quite the google search on Honduras there…
    I think that you owe Honduras more of an apology for such a callous copying and pasting of internet ‘facts’ than I owe the old prick who ripped me off. Of course Honduras has much to ‘clear up’ yet your ignorance shines brighter than a lighhouse in the fog.

  • Thank you Matt, I am very glad that you liked it!

  • Benny-boy… well shit that was dissapointing.
    Seems we’re in different leagues when it comes to comebacks.
    I have indeed been able to purchase some ‘nice cheap beers’ – thank you.
    Not as cheap and nasty as your middle school comments though.
    Good day.

  • Dear Daniela,

    I am sure that if we were ever to meet that we would get on very well indeed.
    The only opinions that I am interested in are those of Cubans and other Latinos like yourself.
    I am very grateful for your encouragement.

    Usted si me cae muy bien.
    I wish you all the best as well.
    Hasta pronto y cuídate mucho.

  • I agree with what you have written. I found Ben’s references to Honduras and comparing it in a positive light to Cuba a bit much as well. He scoffed at Cuba for not having supermarkets such as the ones he is familiar with in Honduras, but made no mention of the fact that Cuba is one of safest countries in the world while Honduras is listed in the World Report 2017 as being one of the most dangerous. I quote: “Violent crime is rampant in Honduras. Despite a downward trend in recent years, the murder rate remains among the highest in the world. Journalists, environmental activists, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals are among those most vulnerable to violence. Efforts to reform the institutions responsible for providing public security have made little progress. Marred by corruption and abuse, the judiciary and police remain largely ineffective. Impunity for crime and human rights abuses is the norm.”

    Worth a mention would have been that Cuba has no child malnutrition – unlike the UK, USA and Honduras! The statistics on hunger and malnutrition in Honduras are as follows: “Honduras is the third poorest nation in the Americas. One-third of the population lives below the poverty line and 1.5 million Hondurans or 20% of the population, face hunger on a daily basis. Malnutrition is especially problematic for children. In rural Honduras, 48% of the population suffers from malnutrition; 10% of infants born in Honduras are underweight as a result of malnutrition and one out of two children in the poorest communities suffers from stunted growth; 50% of children between the ages of 2 and 6 suffer from anemia; 29% of Honduran children under 5 years old suffer from slow growth rates.” I guess those fine Honduran supermarkets haven’t helped to feed the poor!

    Ben admitted that didn’t understand the two official currencies used in Cuba today. Why not? Isn’t the currency exchange rate one of the first things you must know when crossing a border into another country? The information is only a click or two away. 1 CUC (tourist “peso”) = 1 USD. Perhaps if he’d done his research he would not have felt “ripped off” by the price of beer. He wasn’t. If he’d looked up the cost of living for both Cuba and Honduras on Numbeo, he would have found that the price of beer (in USD) is less in Cuba than in Honduras.

    Domestic Beer (0.5 litre draught) 1.01 CUC ($1.50 in Honduras)
    Imported Beer (0.33 litre bottle) 2.00 CUC ($2.50 in Honduras)

    So why complain? The beer may be cheaper for Cubans paying in Cuban pesos, but tourists pay in CUCs. It’s too bad this didn’t meet with his approval, but in Cuba tourists must pay in CUCs and not pesos. Did he feel he should have had preferential treatment perchance? I hope he has since discovered that he was not being overcharged but merely paying the normal tourist price. He owes the “elderly fellow” an apology.

  • Since you ask, let’s start with the first sentence:
    ‘Having been back in Honduras for almost a month now, the time seems to have passed distressingly fast since my return from Cuba. I truly do not know where four weeks have gone.’
    – Grammatically incorrect. You are the subject of this sentence, not the time.
    ‘As the lights kept going off, their computer systems also kept crashing to which hilariously long breaks were taken by the security officials.’
    – i) the computer systems do not belong to the lights, inaccurate use of ‘their’ ii) ‘…to which hilariously long breaks were taken…’. To which, what? The jist of what you are communicating is just about apparent but this sentence is very poorly constructed.
    ‘Paying the taxi driver off…’
    – were you really paying him off or simply paying him? I’d guess it is the latter.
    ‘ To have come from Honduras and to have been shocked at the sheer level of poverty there – says a lot.’
    Here, ‘there’ relates to Honduras, which is not your intention and inaccurate use of hyphen.

    There are many more.

  • Good read
    Prefer someones impressions than just someone heaping praise and being political correct.
    Cuba being criticizing isn’t always received well as it’s connected to criticizing it’s lack of freedom.
    Best thing about Cuba is it’s relatively safe to visit and not too expensive.
    However it’s going nowhere with the layers of restrictions the CCP impose.

  • jajajajaja

  • Boy, Ben, where to start? Well, I’ll follow your lead and just tell it how it is….I found this to be one of the more turgid articles about ‘discovering’ Cuba I have ever read. Anyone has a right to express themselves but if it is for general consumption and you want to impress with your writing well, for me, this was well off target. As an aspiring writer you need to be prepared to take criticism. Especially if you put it out there, you have to be prepared to have it come back at you, so try not to be defensive. I’m an editor and a writer and I am offering you my feedback free and gratis.

    I found some of your comments painful (offensive/clumsy….), from the ‘simple’ label of your fellow passenger to the several comments you make about women. You are young but there is no need for your writing to be juvenile or hackneyed (Caribbean gem? Lazy). Don’t forget The very basic rule of writing of ‘show don’t tell’.

    That you had no idea about (interest in?) the country before your visit – especially being based in Honduras, do they not report on Cuba at all? – is gobsmacking. The power outages, the decay of the buildings, the problems with getting food are written about and featured in the news and in documentaries/current affairs – and indeed Havanatimes – over and over again.

    Perhaps you were unlucky; perhaps you regularly met people who were having a bad day. Perhaps people you thought were locals, were not. Perhaps they simply didn’t take to you and your ‘forma’ (I can’t help but feel a sense of superiority leaking out from your writing ‘miserable Cubans..who didn’t know anything about anything’. Gah!): Cubans are pretty good judges of characters. You just revealed much more about you than about the place or the people you were writing about.

    I do hope that you go back and write about it again. I really hope that you spend more time in the vile filth of Centro Habana, which is one of the most unique places in the unique place that is Cuba, is definitely not a ghetto and certainly has plenty of buildings that are not completely dilapidated. And I really hope that having ticked them off, you would avoid tourist spots such as Havana Vieja and Varadero. If you really want to experience the best that Cuba has to offer that is.

  • Ben, I mostly agree with your initial impressions about Cuba. I have visited the island more than 30 times. I used to live in Cuba and I am married to a Cuban woman with Cuban American children. I was surprised the first few times I saw Cuban female airport workers in their tight green miniskirts with fishnet stockings. I don’t share your observations about the roads. Especially in Central Havana. I find Cuban people to be no more or less friendly than people anywhere else. I look Cuban so until I speak I am treated like a fellow Cuban. Of course, Cubans who live in the country are more friendly than Cubans in the cities. But this is common everywhere and not just in Cuba. Your observations about the infrastructure and crumbling buildings is spot on. I have had friends die in collapsed buildings in Havana. Don’t get me started on this subject. I am not surprised at the resistance to your article that you received from other foreigners. They don’t seem to realize that their experience is different than the experience of a Cuban. As I mentioned, because of my appearance, I get treated like a Cuban. Worse, like an Afro-Cuban. Still, 3 days is such a short time, your opinion of Cuba is mostly superficial. I have also been to Honduras. The poverty in Honduras, depending upon where you are, is dramatically worse than anything you will find in Cuba in general. Crime in Honduras is much worse largely because of the easy access to guns, drugs and street gangs. I am surprised that you didn’t comment on the relative safety you should have felt in the streets of Havana. Anyway, I hope that you visit Cuba again and write about it. It will be interesting to read how your opinions change…or not!

  • Michael you took the words out of my mouth

  • Funny article. I like how you dished it out raw. Havana is a unique experience. It is frustrating, invigorating, depressing and uplifting all in about 15 minutes. Thanks for writing!

  • Very you’re welcome Ben. Of course I will love to write my comments on your future subject. I glad that you like my joke.. I will let you know when I have another Cuban joke.. Lol.
    Please Keep writing. Don’t worries about negative people. They are incapable to write. No everyone have the talent.
    Thank you for your article..
    I wish you all the best…
    Hasta pronto.

  • Ha Ha.
    Nice comeback Benny-Boy.
    Hope you’ve by now managed to to find yourself a nice cheap beer someplace.
    Cheers kidda.

  • End the Blockade Against Cuba!

  • Dear Daniela,

    Thank you very much for your comment, do not worry about your English or the grammar – it’s most understandable and well-expressed. In fact, yours has been the BEST comment on here. Why? Porque usted es Cubana. ¡Que no joda esa gente! Your view is one of the only ones that we should be taking seriously because you speak of your country and your people. You know how things are in Cuba better than any of us. People here, from Dutch to North Americans telling me I’m wrong and then you come along to defend what I wrote.

    Thank you very much.

    The stories you told give a perfect example of how I found the Cubans to be, I found them most interesting and amusing and I can imagine everything that you said. Especially the one about the taxi and the hotel resort. I would like to say (I do believe it was said in article) that there are genuine, kind and amiable Cubans out there – I did meet a few. Especially women. I had a good conversation with a Habanero taxi driver who told me of how nice Cubanas are. That being, the way they look after their husbands and children. I am sure that you are no exception.

    The joke was excellent too by the way. I did enjoy that.
    Please feel free to comment on anything I write in the future.
    Cuídate mucho amiga. Ya tu sabes.

  • I’m terribly snobbish. I live in Honduras after all…

  • Interesting how the Cubans commenting (in both English and Spanish) are stating that I am in fact – mostly right.

  • Sorry, this guy is a bitter, snobbish Englishman and should go back to visit the Queen! He didn’t see the real Cuba, and what was the problem with the 1 hour line up in immigration when he had another 3 or 4 hours to wait for his daddy and brother….go home, brother!

  • I am sorry to hear that you were so disappointed in Cuba when you returned there, Daniela, but the truth is that everywhere has changed. Once you leave home and go to live for years in a foreign land, you also change. One can never go home to the same home ever again because the home that was once known and loved is not there anymore, and you are not the same as when you left it. You are still Cuban, but you have changed, haven’t you? I am not Cuban but over the course of the years of my visits, I also saw many changes. In my opinion, it wasn’t “the system” that changed Cuba, but the very rapid increase in tourism. During my first couple of visits (of about six weeks each), I was not treated as though I were “money with legs”. My speaking fluent Spanish (Spanish Spanish) probably helped. This occurred in my more recent visits and then only in cities. Why? I’ll tell you exactly why. It was on account of tourists’ failure to distinguish between quality and quantity. They, from their “culture of more” with their excessive quantities of consumer goods believed that Cubans were poor and in need of their help, so they started bringing gifts and recommending to friends and in their online blogs and in travel guide books that they do likewise. I know, for example, a married couple who take luggage to Cuba crammed full of stuff to give away and they return home with only a small carry-on. Cubans learned quickly that tourists were rich enough to part with things that they themselves could never afford to purchase or even find in Cuba. The expectation of gifts from tourists grew as did their in-your-face requests on the street for money and literally for the clothes on your back and the shoes on your feet. We foreigners created this begging. We also upset their economy. Many foreigners go to all-inclusive resorts where alcohol is “free”. Since alcohol at home is expensive and either free or cheap in Cuba, they would invariably give bartenders a $1 tip. Bartending became a much sought after job because one could make $200 a day at a time when an average Cuban resort worker made only one dollar a day. We created a great imbalance.

    No one here has yet mentioned prostitution, but it is well known that old North American men have taken full advantage of poverty, and that Cuban women have taken advantage of them. In resort areas, everywhere to be seen are old men with a lovely young Cuban woman on their arm. This is just another way that foreigners have changed Cuba.

    When I first travelled to Cuba, tourists were required to have booked a place to stay prior to their arrival and Cubans were not allowed to stay in tourist resorts. This too has changed, and not for the better.

    When you grew up in Cuba, was cow’s milk readily available everywhere? I have travelled across Cuba from the east coast to the west and also to every country in Central America and lived in one of them for 14 months. Everywhere I have found it very difficult to buy anything other than imported powdered whole milk. I take my own in powder form when I travel to that region. Cuba is not exactly cow-raising country, so why would you expect to find milk in abundant supply? The thing is that you have now become accustomed to a country that over-produces milk. Cuba with respect to milk availability has not changed, but you and your expectations have.

    I am an English-Welsh combo. I married a Canadian and after living in England and various countries in Europe, Asia, North Africa and Latin America he wanted to move back home to Canada. HUGE mistake for me. I really loathe North American values and their so-called culture and always dreamed of returning home to live. I went home to England and Wales for up to two months every year for over 30 years and every year I saw more and more changes until it became almost unrecognizable, at least in urbanized areas. Country folk, like the rural people in Cuba, remained more or less untouched but everywhere else changed. It is overrun by tourists and immigrants and it is no longer the home I once knew. Once you leave home and live overseas for years there is simply no way you can go back home to the home you once knew ever again.

    How you are treated in any country depends upon your behaviour. I dress down so that I am obviously not a “money with legs” type of tourist. I avoid western tourists, don’t hang out with tourists on the beach or around the pool, and I don’t go to bars. I like to stay in a small place near Guantanamo Bay where there is a permanent population of only 400 people. I like it there because the coast is very rocky and this keeps the beach set, families with small children, and motorized annoyances such as speed boats away. Often I use my room in the resort as a base and go away for a few days to Baracoa or the mountains in Guantanamo province. I once went to Havana and while it was an interesting experience I would never want to return there. I can understand why Ben didn’t like it. But Havana isn’t Cuba, and there are plenty of places in Cuba that have not been spoiled by tourism and western tourists’ attitudes.

    As for people who have commented here and expressed their views on the friendliness of Cubans, you have to realize that many of these people have also travelled to other countries as tourists. We therefore can compare Cubans and their friendliness and helpfulness with that of other people we have met in other countries. Cubans are still pretty close to the top of my list of friendly, helpful, smiling people, and Cuba remains one of the safest countries in the world. It still has a lot going for it even if it has changed.

  • hear hear!

  • I have been to Cuba 6 times from 1989 to the present time. When the Cuban people find out we are from the US the first they will say I have a relative or friend that lives in the US. They like us as individuals not the way our government treats them. I have been there for a month at a time and have a very good feeling for Cuba and the people. The US and Cuba are bound by a lot of ties from past history. The Cuban people have always been friendly. You are wrong about the Cuban people they are wonderful. US needs to End the Blockade Against Cuba!!!

  • Yes Bill, I am sure. Thank you for the double-check. So what’s your deal with the beers? AA member is it?

  • Thank you very much Juan. I will!

  • I apologise if the ‘language’ took you aback, I really don’t think that there was anything too explicit but we are all different. I can believe you there, I am sure that if I were to go back and find myself in the places you describe then I would be writing a very different article. Thank you for your comment, very true what you say. I do hope you weren’t insinuating that I am a jaded European tourist though…

  • Someone who has finally understood. Thank you.

  • Now!! $1 for a Beer i nutting to Complain about. He got the $3 peso back why!! the Beer is less than a $1.
    The $3 peso was about $.03 an 3 cent cant spend nowhere in the world lol

  • I have been going there for 14ys and i understand most of the stuff he said.
    Buy it is the most peacefull plac that i have ever been.
    Keep an eye out for, “Cuba Getaway” coming soon!!

  • I glad Ben tell his story in Cuba. Because this is a reality!!! Is true the cuban money is so confuse. Even for me. When I lived at home the cuc didn’t exist. So I glad to heard the government will make official only one currency.. Don’t believe me.. Maybe is only street gossip.. Lol
    Well my time is almost done. Soon my babies woke up. But I want to made note that I am not complaining about my people or my culture. I only tell my experience and my view. I glad I am not the only Cuban in this comments group. Lol
    And like me so many Cuban outside home feel the same way. Believe me..
    Thank you Ben for wrote your experience. I really enjoy. I sent the link to my sister. I am sure she will enjoy it too. Don’t take personal people opinion. You writing and expression are interesting. Specially when you describe.. Very creative and rich how you express yourself. I love the part when you describe how is Hondura and compare with cuba. Is good. Because I totally I agree with you..
    When we are upset we call name to people. I do too. I looked for a taxi in cienfuegos. I negociated with the taxi driver, he said 5 cuc . But I soon he saw my blond husband.. Is not 5cuc anymore is now 10 cuc… Of course I showed my Cuban temper to taxi driver… Lol.. Is not fair.. And they are the want complain if someone is racists.. But why the fare changed with the skin color.. He is blond and white.. So what??? My husband get upset so many time.. And Ben is polite compared with him.. Lol I understand Cuban need to survive but are thinking because you live in another country you are rich.. Oh they are smart and the Yuma are stupid!!! Is not fair.. Again for those people who stay in the hotel and casa particular. Keep your opinion. I don’t want to listen. Don’t argue what you don’t know…
    I have a Cuban joke… A Cuban guy died.. He go to the heaven but he got bored and decide go to hell. the diablo tell him. Stay for couple days if you like you stay permanent. So the next couple days he has a lot the food. Beautiful people around. Best attention, everybody happy, laughing. The beach extremely beautiful with very white sand. The Cuban guy decide to stay.. So immediately he took his decision, everything change.. The beach, the people, everything beautiful disappeared.. And he asked to the diablo.. What’s going on??? The diablo said : like Cuban you should know that one thing is a turist and another… a resident.. Lol..
    I hope you guys understand my joke. I tried to translate this joke to English.. But sometime translated is not that funny.. Plus my English grammar is not that great.. Lol I hope that you got Msg. Doesn’t matter how many beer Ben had.. Cuba has two faces.. Some people is treated like tourists, some people is been treat like residents..
    Please respect every one experiences.
    Thank everyone for sharing.. And please don’t take personal, be glad that Ben and others sharing theirs experience…. Every day we learn something new.. All the best everyone!!! Hasta pronto.

  • Well… Well.. Usually I don’t write comments because I am a busy mami. I have twins babies, plus my English is my second language and not so good on it. Please keep your negative opinion about my English grammar.
    First I start tell you my experiences with Cubans and in Cuba… I have to tell you I am a proud Cuban!!!! I speak my Spanish with the same accent they do, I know my country, I know my people and still any time I comeback from Cuba.. I am so disappointed.. I can’t imagine, what poor Ben been through when everything was new from him. Seriously people Cuban are not friendly anymore… The system changed them. I didn’t leave in the country for 15 years.. Any time I comeback from visit I get upset because is not what I remember… Is not what used to be… I lived my first 28 years in El verde caimán (green caiman) means cuba, that’s how some Cubans call home. And I miss home so much. I miss people, the food, the friends.. But everything change, is not even remotely close to my memories. I blame the system..
    Ben is right people doesn’t know anything. Most the time with money I can’t find food. My fist trip with my twins was when they were 5 months. Was horrible.. I can’t not find milk, I can’t find juice, my husband is not cuba, so I was like Ben hard to understand with money on hand and imposible to find food or drink.
    La habana is a capital city. Thank God I not from there. Because since I was the kids I didn’t like it. Is old, is dusty, people is to busy, they thinking because they are “Habaneros” they are better.. is expensive too. Compare with others provinces. I am from cienfuegos. Small province, not to much turist, very local Cuban place but still people ripped me off.. Lol
    For those comment that I read before about how nice and friendly Cubans are.. Bla Bla Bla.. Woke up guys.. You are a turista in Cuba.. You have dollar $$$ of course if you are in the particular house or hotel. Everyone will be very friendly and smiling. Some people even told me histories about Cubans invite them for dinner at home.. Of course… Because at the end everyone wants gifts, invitations letter to leave the country. In the end they want something!!!!! Is a human been, Cubans are not different!!! I lived there.. I know how they thinking.. Even me if I don’t bring enough gifts I heard complaints.. That’s what Cuban does expecting… Expecting… Lol so for those people with good experiences in Cuba.. What I know they probably were very generous in change smile and good customer service.. Please let Ben tell his experience without negative comments, because he speak Spanish probably people treat him differently. Same way they treat me.. Lol.
    Ben next time you go to Cuba pretend that you don’t speak español y verás el cambio.. Escucha mi consejo. Lol example. Before have my twins. We went all inclusive hotel in Varadero. Because my husband doesn’t speak español, we speak English.. In the hotel people was smiling and joking, we always tip everyone.. All good. UNTIL the bantender asked me what I am from?? Like I said I am proud of be cubana!!! So he couldn’t believe me… Until I started speaking Spanish… Next day.. My guess is the bantender tell in the looby, the looby tell the pool guys and the news go around.. Como un chismoteo… At the time Cuban people wasn’t allow to stay in the hotel. My all point here is that since I said I am Cuban.. People change.. Very sad.. Because is my own people.. But they didn’t treat me with the same “love” that before when they were thinking I was a “yuma” (turist)

  • Are you sure that you were in Cuba? Maybe too many beers…

  • Ben , as a seasoned traveler to Cuba , I was initially taken aback at your crudeness of language, but then i am a mature female , you are a young buck. These were your initial impressions – of Habana. The OTHER Cuba. I used to visit friends there and i could see how fish net stockings on security guards and nurses (yes nurses) would get your attention. And the 3 tiered money system can be confusing. The roads are nice (But then they don’t have the vehicles we do to ruin them). Many of us have been to the Other Cuba, the rest of the island where there are no jaded European tourists to irk the locals. The Other Cuba is what fascinates me and grows on one. Take the train across the island and you will see what i mean. These are very proud , resourceful and tenacious people who survived the 90’s (The Special Times) after USSR crumbled.

  • Another point of view that also tells the truth about cuba , I’m Cuban and I enjoyed the writing , good and bad people like everywhere in the world
    Please keep on writing your impressions

  • Okay, good Peter – I didn’t. Seems people aren’t understanding that my experience was different…

  • Not at all offended by the word ‘dick’ – Nick. Funny how the word rhymes with your name. So Nick the dick – let’s use some ‘big boys words’ if we’re going to start insulting each other…

  • Such as?

  • This is the pot calling the kettle black! I agreed with Michael Ritchie’s suggestion, and I almost took the time to expand his advice to include that you take English grammar lessons because there are quite a few glaring errors in your article.

  • The major problem here though, is that the writer couldn’t care less about you taking offense. I don’t know you. Why would this concern me? An elderly fellow who rips me off is going to be described as an ‘old prick’. Spending $1 on a beer is not the issue – it’s being ripped off. What did you fail to understand there? As for the ‘sexist remarks’ I assume that you are one of the many out there who subscribe to today’s overtly-PC standards… Entitlement and narcissism as well… not sure how you came up with those two words but judging from your name ‘SIG VAN RAAN’ I would assume that English is your second language. I shall quickly educate you. To be irritated at having been ripped-off does not mean that one suffers from a sense of entitlement nor narccisism. Nor does describing women by the way. Choose your words more carefully in the future or even better – just stick to commenting in Dutch…

  • I can only further suggest my friend, that you sort your English out before suggesting that I quit my writing career. “That you not quit your day job”. Try forming a proper sentence and then we’ll discuss what better ideas you may have for me. Maybe fishnet stockings is the new look you should be going for then.

  • Thank you for the advice on approaching people, very kind. Considering that I only spent a few days in Havana – do tell me – what more would you expect other than a ‘surface view’? The article focuses enitirely on my impressions. Perhaps a second read-through would assist…

  • Excellent. I’m pleased to hear that. I however, did not have the same experience. Thank you for sharing.

  • To suggest that Cuban people are unfriendly is odd.
    As a (not quite so young) Englishman whose familiarity with Havana and Cuba goes back for the past quarter of a century I would have to suggest that the fella who wrote this article comes across as a bit of a dick.

  • On my many visits to Cuba and Havana, I found it safe, pleasant people always willing to help. Well done Cuba!!!!

  • I have also been to Cuba five times and have travelled from the east to the west coast. I travelled alone (single woman) by tourist and local buses, worker’s trucks, small boats, the Hershey train, and by bicycle and encountered nothing but friendliness and helpfulness from everyone I met. No exceptions. Once, on a very infrequently travelled road near Guantanamo Bay with no sign of people or any human habitation, I biked over some vicious thorns and got a puncture – 14 km from my hotel. Suddenly, people emerged from the vegetation on either side of the road to offer assistance. A couple of men went off somewhere with my bike and others took me home with them to meet their families and have a cup of coffee grown from beans in their own garden while I waited for the men to return with my repaired tyre. I tried to pay them for the repair when they returned, but they didn’t want to accept any payment. Of course, I made them accept!

    All repaired, I set off again for the hotel but just 8 km later I had another puncture. It turned out that the verges where very thorny plants grew had been recently trimmed all along the roadway and the wind had blown them onto the road. So with not a soul in sight on this second occasion, I resigned myself to pushing the bike for 6 km in 33 C heat. I had walked perhaps 500 m when a horse and cart came rolling by. The driver upon noticing my flat tyre stopped for a chat and within a few minutes my bike and I were packed into the cart and on our way to the hotel.

    Another time I was on a bus that was slowly driving through a small village and stopping every now and again to pick up passengers. A pig ran out of the undergrowth right under the wheels of the bus and was killed. Did the driver drive on? No. He stopped the bus and went in search of the owner to explain what had happened. No one on the bus became impatient with the delay of almost an hour. Instead, everyone was upset about the pig and concerned about its owner because raising an animal or two contributes to a family’s income and losing one can cause hardship. Everyone understands this. I could tell from passengers’ comments that they felt the loss as though it were their own.

    These are just two of the many examples I could give of the delightfully friendly, helpful, hospitable and caring way that Cubans treat their fellow human beings. Of course, it helps to speak Spanish, or even just a bit of broken Spanish, but one’s attitude always speaks louder than words. You’re right. Whatever attitude you display is reflected right back at you so you only have yourself to blame if you encounter unfriendliness.

    Yes, a lot of infrastructure is crumbling in Cuba, but we have to remember the decades old embargo that is responsible for this, and look beyond it to the beauty and culture of the country, and the indomitable spirit of Cubans.

  • “Aspiring writer”?
    I can only suggest, Ben, that you not quit your day job.
    By the way, I find the fishnet stockings charming.

  • I have been to Cuba five times – I have found them to be the friendliest folks and indeed the most humorous.
    What angered me about the article was the cavalier and somewhat sexist way he described women as girls and referred to two young girls as”not striking my fancy” – he refers to the security guards as “girls well equipped for their fish net tights”. He refers to an “old prick” who sells him a beer for $1 – as if that’s a rip-off? The “Old prick” may be someone’s father – husband – grandfather – trying to make ends meet.

    Sure he’s accurate in describing the crumbling neighborhoods – so stop complaining about spending $1 for a beer and try to appreciate the beauty and the cultural legacy of this country. His rants . gave validity to only one thing – the entitlement and narcissism he displayed may explain why people he encountered
    weren’t friendly to him.

  • Have to agree with Patrick. I’m based in Havana and I find Cubans to be very friendly and helpful. I don’t know how you approached people but maybe try doing it differently.

    Staying in Centro and only visiting Habana Vieja doesn’t really give you a full sense of the city. I live in Vedado, and that neighbourhood along with Playa/Miramar and others are very modern.

    I’m actually surprised to hear someone who has spent so much time in Latin America to have such a surface view.

  • I have no idea who you met, but Ive been to Cuba twice and they were the friendliest and most humourous people I had ever met,

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