‘Cuba was the opposite of everything I imagined’

By Kirrily Schwarz

Ficheiro:Flag of Cuba.svg
Most reviews are glowing - painting a picture of a time-capsule.
Most reviews are glowing – painting a picture of a time-capsule.

Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba in March 2015 was historic, marking the end to decades of hostility between the two nations.

Just five months later, in August, the first commercial flight left American soil for Havana, opening the island to mass tourism.

It’s become one of the world’s hottest destinations, with many rushing to visit before McDonald’s and Starbucks appear on every corner.

Most reviews are glowing – painting a picture of a time-capsule with excellent food, cheap drinks, beautiful beaches, lively culture and friendly locals.

OK, infrastructure is lacking and there’s hardly any internet, but so what?

For Tahsir Ahsan, it became a very big deal.

The 24-year-old travel agent recently visited Havana, penning an article called: “Cuba is actually a terrible place to go”, news.com.au reported.

He planned a spontaneous trip with two friends, and thought he’d check out the city for a few days, but he ended up bailing almost immediately.

“We were there exactly 27 hours, we got there at 4pm from Miami, and left at 7pm the next day,” he admitted to news.com.au.

A soldier is silhouetted against the early morning sky as people holding Cuban flags wait for the motorcade transporting the remains of Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba. Photo / AP
A soldier is silhouetted against the early morning sky as people holding Cuban flags wait for the motorcade transporting the remains of Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba. Photo / AP

“I knew there would be no internet, and to be honest I wasn’t even looking for internet. The only reason I needed it was because so many of our plans started failing.”

First, their bags never made it to Cuba, and not one of the people they asked at the airport knew where the baggage office was.

When they were trying to find a representative from their airline, they noticed a group of people were trapped in a glass lift, banging on the door.

“I quickly ran up to the desk and informed them that I thought people were stuck in the elevator to which the lady just responded, ‘Yes.’ I chose to fight my own battle,” he wrote.

Second, they booked a non-existent AirBnB.

When they told the taxi dispatcher the address, she said it didn’t exist, and when they called the number attached to the booking, the phone had been disconnected.

“Myself and my friends, we took about US$600 dollars ($861) each for two or three days. We weren’t able to use credit cards or ATMs, but other people told us that should be enough,” he said.

“When our AirBnB fell through, the hotel was $600 a night. Eventually we found a casa particular (a private home that rents rooms) for $45 a night, but then we had baggage issues. The airline said we should just buy what we needed and they’d reimburse us, but we were worried about running out of money.

“That’s why we left so quickly, we needed to get somewhere we could use our cards.”

Tourists ride in a classic American car past a balcony decorated with Cuban and U.S. flags in Havana, Cuba. Photo / AP
Tourists ride in a classic American car past a balcony decorated with Cuban and U.S. flags in Havana, Cuba. Photo / AP

Ahsan first became interested in visiting Cuba when he heard it described as a “time-warp”. However, the reality was more decrepit than romantic.

“The roads are just terrible, they’re crumbling. The pollution is terrible because the cars are so old, and it just smelled like a gas station.

“I expected it to be lively, in that there’s a lot of culture. Throughout the day, most of it seemed more like just another city. Everyone was just going about their business.”

The hosts at the casa particular gave tips on what to eat and where to go.

“Everyone was really friendly, I wasn’t expecting that. We were told Cuba is a country that kind of oppresses their people, but everyone was extremely friendly and they didn’t hassle us or anything like that. They were all willing to help.”

However, food was another tremendous disappointment.

The walk-up restaurant his hosts recommended was tiny, and the line was so massive they couldn’t see what food was being served.

“It turns out it was hot dogs!” he laughed. He and his friends opted to pass, and ended up wandering around until they stumbled on a hotel restaurant.

“At 11 o’clock at night, not much was open, so we ate there. They had burgers, spaghetti, pizza – they didn’t have any Cuban dishes, just international cuisine,” he said.

His friend ordered spaghetti, but the sauce was so bad it was inedible. Keen to avoid the same experience, Ahsan ended up eating plain white noodles.

The next morning, they were keen to have a totally different experience.

However, their accommodation was fully-booked, so they had to find a new place to stay.

A quick survey of nearby hotels and casas particulares revealed every single room in the area was also sold out.

“It was a comedy of errors,” he said.

“It kind of goes to show that Cuba itself has been blockaded by the US for the past 50 or 60 years, but they’ve been open to everyone else for years.”

He and his friends made an executive decision to bail, booking tickets that afternoon for Cancun in Mexico. It’s a well-developed tourist hot spot, often considered to be an equivalent to Bali in terms of beaches, cuisine and partying.

Ahsan said he wouldn’t rule out a return trip to Cuba, but in lieu of basic infrastructure such as internet, he’d be much more organised.

“Six of my friends were actually in Cuba at the same time, but I couldn’t organise to meet up with them unless we were online at the same time.

“Don’t try to go there and wing it, because it’s not that kind of country. I’d probably go back later, with someone who’s gone a lot of times so I could experience it differently.”

Source : news.com.au

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