Havana, Cuba – The Place We Didn’t Go

For the last two weeks of June we were completely off the grid. No phones, no internet, no access to ATMs, nothing. We were so incredibly bored that we don’t even want to talk about what happened. Instead, we want to share a post from our friends Eric and Shauna who coincidentally spent those same two weeks in Cuba. Enjoy!

Introducing our dear friends, Eric and Shauna

Note: To maximize the feeling of the post, feel free to play the video below while reading.

We stood on the corner of the bustling street, hailing a cab with an outstretched arm. The shade of the multi-story buildings and gently blowing breeze were welcomed reliefs from the summer heat. A Chevy Bel Air rumbles to a halt in front of us and we climb onto the bench seat in the back. A young university student jumps into the front seat, sharing the taxi with us. The cabbie cruises down the strip while casually puffing on his cigar. A few minutes later we pay our $0.80 fare and he drops us off at our favorite ice cream shop.

This isn’t Chicago circa 1955, welcome to modern day Havana, Cuba.

Havana, CubaDue to the US embargo that has been in effect since 1960, visiting the largest of Caribbean islands is like being sucked into a wormhole and being spat out a half century in the past. Cut off from a good majority of the companies of the world, they have truly mastered how to make what they have last. As a walk down just about any street will testify, anything necessary will be kept in working order for generations.

Cubans also have more in common with Latin America than just an insuppressible desire to dance. These helpful and friendly people really make you feel like an honored guest in their country. A warm “Buenas!” is a familiar sound and the service, quality, and portion size of the food served in ‘casa particulares’ (private houses similar to bed and breakfasts) is incredible. Initially I thought we were really lucky with our accommodations as we traveled, but I don’t think lightning strikes four times in a row by chance.

Foregoing new paint and replacement window panes, the well-worn look of Havana’s buildings adds to its charm. It doesn’t take much to imagine what Cuba was like at its peak as the glory of yesteryear is apparent at every turn. Getting a guided tour of any neighborhood is as easy as being recognized as a foreigner and usually only costs you the price of a mojito. One such tour in Habana Viejo took us up the spiraling marble staircase of an apartment building used in the Cuban movie “Fresa y Chocolate” and ended at a bar that frequently acted as a venue for Buena Vista Social Club. It made us grateful for our Cuba holidays.

Cuban guy #1 that wanted a mojito – Picture UNRELATED as we were not in Cuba. *cough*

Cuban guy #2 that wanted a mojito – Picture UNRELATED as we were not in Cuba.

Cuban guy #3 that wanted a mojito – Picture UNRELATED as we were not in Cuba.

Much like the negative connotations associated with socialism in America, the remaining time on the embargo is quickly running out. Once dissolved, visiting Cuba will be entirely different. Tourism is one of the main sources of revenue for the country, grossing almost $2 billion dollars annually. As they continue to invest in tourism (especially in Havana), they become poised to return to the days of grandeur.

If you haven’t been to Cuba yet, I wouldn’t put it off much longer- lest you miss your opportunity to experience the country in its present, subtle greatness.

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Cuban flag - graffiti

Havana neighborhood

Havana Vieja

Mojito

Cuban neighborhood

Havana graffiti

Havana Vieja

Capital building, Havana

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Disclosure: The link in this post is sponsored.

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43 Responses to “Havana, Cuba – The Place We Didn’t Go”

  1. Kim July 13, 2011 at 12:26 am #

    Amazing! So jealous!!

    • Erica July 15, 2011 at 12:12 am #

      @Kim: It WAS amazing! More than amazing!

  2. Jaime July 13, 2011 at 12:46 am #

    Wow I seriously love this post. You managed to transport me to Cuba. It is on my must visit list. I will have to chat with yall soon to get all the details.

    • Erica July 15, 2011 at 12:12 am #

      @Jaime: I would be more than happy to give you all the information I possibly can. I think I’ve already convinced a few people to check it out.

  3. Mica July 13, 2011 at 2:08 am #

    While I am glad you had a great time, I will not be visiting Cuba anytime soon. One half of my family is cuban, the other half puerto rican, and well- I think anyone that visits Cuba is doing it all wrong. Communist Cuba is a sad place to be unless you are a foreigner visiting as you only get to see what the government wants you to see. My brother goes every year to visit our relatives and bring food and supplies, and the videos he brings back make us get teary eyed always. How can anyone visit a place where locals and foreigners alike are not allowed to be on the same beach? Its horrible and sadly even though hopefully Fidel will soon die already, his horrible sons will just continue the tradition of being fucktards. I think if everyone boycotted the place and stopped the tourism, maybe the people would have a chance of a revolution within the government. I don’t know. Probably not. In any case, I made a promise to my cuban grandmother and I will respect that promise till the day I die. My father was forced off the island in the mass exodus that was the Mariel Boat Lift. He works like a dog here in the U.S. because he was not allowed to bring anything with him-not even the paper that said he was educated enough to get a good paying job. Nothing. Its sad and every time I read about someone going to Cuba, I just wish they would go to one of the other dozen carribean islands that are just as beautiful. I love yall, dont take this comment the wrong way. I just have such a strong opinion about travel there because of my family and the horrible way that some of them are still forced to live.

    • Erica July 15, 2011 at 12:14 am #

      @Mica: I know you love us and we love you! It is all good. I completely respect your conviction in your statement. When family is involved I know it can change everything. Thank you for leaving your true feelings as a comment – it is much appreciated. I don’t expect everyone to agree with the things we do. Much love! <3

  4. Odysseus Drifts July 13, 2011 at 2:46 am #

    I’m so glad you did not go to Cuba. That would have been very wrong of you. But those 2 lawless friends of yours sure looked like they were having fun! 😀

    • Erica July 15, 2011 at 12:15 am #

      @Odysseus: SO WRONG, right? Or so wrong it is right? <3

  5. Windwalker Duo July 13, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    Having not been there myself, I couldn’t agree more with your statement about it’s going to change. They’ve already seen some significant change in just the last couple of years, and it’s only going to increase. Glad you didn’t go and didn’t enjoy yourselves.

    • Erica July 15, 2011 at 12:16 am #

      @WD: I would never expect to be so lawless as to go there! It has already surprised some people when I reported that some citizens are walking around with iPods.

  6. Orlando F. July 13, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    How is it that with an “embargo” in place you were able to visit the island, walk around, eat in paladares, and foreigners invest $2 billion a year with growing tourism. What is the embargo?

    • Erica July 15, 2011 at 12:17 am #

      @Orlando: The statistics confuse me as well!

  7. Pamela July 13, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    I’ve been waiting for this post! 🙂 Would love to hear more about your experiences (especially political/social) in the place that shall not be named when you guys get back to Austin, if ever, ;). Did you see any samba dancing?!?

    • Erica July 15, 2011 at 12:18 am #

      @Pamela: There are a few more posts as well! Believe me, when we get back we have a long night of MexMarts and talking to do. As for Samba, not really but a hot, muscular Cuban man danced with me!

  8. Evan July 13, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    This is really fantastic guys. Your friends are some seriously awesome people! I’ve written numerous papers on Cuba and the embargo. The place is fascinating. I would dearly love to visit – especially before the place opens entirely back up.

    • Erica July 15, 2011 at 12:19 am #

      @Evan: Don’t we have the most adventurous friends ever?! I think if Eric and Shauna go back, Eric wants to do a documentary.

  9. Dani | Globetrottergirls July 13, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    I can’t believe that you guys DID NOT go to Cuba!! We should’ve gone while we were in Playa del Carmen last year, I could kick myself that we didn’t, because I think you’re totally right that Cuba will change quickly once the embargoes are not there anymore.

    • Erica July 15, 2011 at 12:21 am #

      @Dani: I think a lot of people definitely consider it but it is quite the costly affair. I think we easily took off one month of our trip. All good though.

  10. Lorna - the roamantics July 13, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    WOW guys!!! looks like your *ahem* friends had a blast! my friend *lorne* really wants to go before the embargo is lifted as well! *her* ex-*wife* *francis* lived there for 3 years while *her* dad was the minister of latin american affairs! *she* hung out with che guevara’s grandson and had the buena vista social club over for dinner. *lorne’s* been jonesing ever since seeing the gorgeous photos of classic cars, the architecture, and hearing about the food, music, dancing. good on your *friends* for taking the risk and doing it right! ;D

    • Lorna - the roamantics July 13, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

      oops- make that *his* ahahahah ex-*wife* 😉 dumb pronouns!

    • Erica July 15, 2011 at 12:24 am #

      @Lorna: I think you blew our minds with that story. Thanks for the support – I was so glad that Shauna and Eric were able to experience this!

  11. Adam @ SitDownDisco July 14, 2011 at 6:11 am #

    Jealous of Eric and Shauna. Although Shauna sure looks like a man in one of those pics… One of the places I long to visit is Cuba… Not many places do that for me.

    • Erica July 15, 2011 at 12:26 am #

      @Adam: You know, some women do have facial hair…

  12. Heather July 14, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    So glad your friends had a great time! I read the first two lines of this post and was wondering what in the world happened to you two, but I was happy for the “guest post” 🙂

    • Erica July 15, 2011 at 12:27 am #

      @Heather: 😀 I’m glad we could help out with the guest post. I mean, no one would want to read what WE went through.

  13. Akila July 14, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    Well, it sounds like you really missed out by *NOT* going to Cuba. [I am going to be really interested to see what happens when they finally lift the embargo because it definitely is going to happen at some point.]

    • Erica July 15, 2011 at 12:35 am #

      @Akila: I think that quite a few people are going to rush to Cuba when that happens. Not only to visit long lost family, but they have quite a few resorts and a very nice beach.

  14. jasmine July 17, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    wow!!! i can’t wait to meet your friends “Eric and Shauna!” 😉 I am in love with this particular region and do worry about what will happen when the doors fly open.

    excellent photos!

    • Shaun July 20, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

      @ Jasmine – Luckily Eric and Shauna have a few other posts too!

  15. dtravelsround July 18, 2011 at 11:24 pm #

    Wow!! You two, first, are hilarious. Second, I really hope to one day not go to Cuba.

    • Shaun July 20, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

      @ D – You totally shouldn’t! It’s absolutely not one of our most favorite places ever. >_>

  16. Camels & Chocolate July 19, 2011 at 1:25 am #

    You guys KILL ME. I “didn’t” go to Cuba in 2007 myself!

    • Shaun July 20, 2011 at 8:17 pm #

      @ C&C – That is a damn shame. It is phenomenal…. from what I hear.

  17. Ayngelina July 19, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    So so jealous! I need to figure out a way to get there this year, although I say that EVERY year.

    • Shaun July 20, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

      @ Ayngelina – Well, if it helps motivate you at all, I’d bump it towards the top of your list and try to get there before the embargo drops.

  18. Federico July 19, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    When I wasn’t there (because it was a dream) in 2006 I I had similar feelings afer visiting Havana. It was interesting to see how there were people pro and anti Fidel (actually saw him too) , with very strong convictions in both cases. Did you know that McDonald’s already own a building in the malecon for the day they can open business?

    • Shaun July 20, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

      @ Federico – Holy shit, I had no idea that McDonalds owns property there. Although, that is a brilliant business move.

  19. Vi July 20, 2011 at 3:39 am #

    I agree you shouldn’t wait if you want to visit Cuba as after lifting embargo it probably will became just another Cancun.

    • Shaun July 20, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

      @ Vi – And the last thing we need is another Cancun. 🙁

  20. Stephanie - The Travel Chica July 22, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

    Everyone who has been says to hurry up and get there before it is open and things start to change. Sounds like a great experience.

    • Shaun July 23, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

      @ Stephanie – Cuba surprised us everyday. It was absolutely phenomenal.

  21. Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_ July 23, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    I’ll be in cuba next march… stay there and wait for me okay? Beers on ME!

    • Shaun July 23, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

      @ Lindsay – Oh, man… if we could, we would! Maybe we’ll see about coming back then. 😉

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