Cuba: Latin America’s Marmite?

It’s funny how people either love or hate Cuba. On my travels I met several people who were thinking about going to Cuba (or Americans who wanted to but couldn’t go) and when they asked me what I thought of it they either said ‘oh yeah I’ve heard loads of people say they hated it’ or ‘oh that’s strange, everyone I’ve met said it’s their favourite country’. I don’t want to say I hate Cuba, because it does have its charms, and I feel that maybe my lack of Spanish, my very apparent foreignness (blonde hair and blue eyes might not be noticed in Argentina but in Cuba I kind of stand out a little) and maybe my travelling naivety (it was my was first two weeks out of five months) didn’t help me with the locals. I lacked Spanish confidence to speak to people, and I got too easily frustrated at the background noise of the ‘cigars? ride in an American car? Milk for my baby?’ mantra to really see the country for what it is and to appreciate it. But I do find it interesting that no one is on the fence about Cuba.

I also discovered on my second day in Havana that there’s not really a whole lot to actually do. But I was in Cuba, and I was determined to love it, so I got myself onto the tour bus (not helping the obvious tourist image) and prepared to soak up the city’s charms from the top deck.

I promptly fell asleep. The bus pulled in at the end of the three-hour ride and I woke up feeling like I really knew the city well. To console myself I went down to the famous ice cream parlour Coppelia. A massive spaceship-type building sprawling an entire block, Cubans spend hours queuing around it for this delicious treat, but as tourists are spending a currency worth 24 times more we get to walk guiltily past all the locals and sit there eating caramel helado while watching them standing in the sun waiting… and waiting.

After gorging on frozen cream and sugar I went to the famous Revolution Square to see Che’s face on the side of a building, then wandered along the Malecon, a sunset photographer’s dream, before almost being run over crossing the road seven times just to try to catch a bus that we kept on missing. Got a ride home in a little yellow mototaxi that almost killed us instead.

Havana seems to lack places to eat (or at least places that would serve us) so we plumped for the usual greasy chicken and chips before having a pathetically early night for a complete lack of things to do in our neighbourhood, bar watching the local kids play stickball in the streets.