As I have said before, I was very fortunate to travel to Cuba with my awesome coworkers this past January. (Yeah, my job is awesome!) For the better part of 50 plus years, Cuba has been off limits to Americans. And, to be perfectly honest, I never really knew much about Cuba, just that we couldn’t visit there. It was never really discussed in Social Studies classes nor did we make it that far in my history classes. So needless to say, I was pretty clueless about the goings on there in the past AND present. This trip to Cuba was eye opening in more ways than one.
When visiting Cuba, there are definitely some things you should know before going over there. There are also things I wish I had known before I went! Here is my list of things I wish I had known before going to Cuba:
Boy, oh boy did my 8 years of French NOT come in handy in Cuba. I have never felt so inadequate as I did in Cuba for not knowing a language. Of course I have visited many countries where I could barely say hello (oh hey, Hungary!) but it hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized I literally could not communicate with a large portion of the population. And boy did I want to! I felt terrible that my poor colleagues literally had to translate everything for my benefit. We were having such in-depth conversations that were truly fascinating and all I could do was twiddle my thumbs and say ‘Hola!” and “Gracias!” I really, really, really should have done more Duolingo before visiting Havana. Sure, you can definitely get by without knowing Spanish in Cuba, but then you aren’t having a truly authentic experience. You want to being talking to the helpers/housekeepers in the ‘Casas Particulares‘ or to the local convenience store owner selling you a 50 cent beer. I probably lost a lot of the deep conversations, and for that, I really wish I had known more Spanish before going to Cuba.
2. ‘Read’ up on more history of Cuba
This I canNOT stress enough. Make sure you do your research before coming to Cuba (well duh!) and actually do more research on the history. A lot of people skip out on reading too much about a country – I know I have gone into a country without knowing a thing about it (here’s lookin’ at you, Hong Kong!). As I mentioned before, I honestly didn’t know too much about Cuba. Sure, I knew about the Catsros, Che, cigars, a revolution, an embargo, and that American’s couldn’t visit. And, that is about it! Luckily, one of my colleagues mentioned reading some books about Cuba/from Cuban authors – which we all downloaded/bought before the trip. My other colleague, Christie, told me about Cuba Libre – a documentary series on Netflix. I also knew that Anthony Bourdain had visited Cuba for ‘Parts Unknown‘ – also on Netflix, so I gave that a go, just to learn a bit more about Cuba. I still didn’t know enough before going, so I cannot stress the importance of learning more before you go.
3. The men can be a bit overwhelming
Now, now, before you get all up in arms about this, this is my opinion. I never felt unsafe in Cuba – I live in Chicago for crying outloud. The people were very friendly, they wanted to make sure we were having a great time and help us get around. We were six girls traveling without guys and funnily enough, I tend to stick out as American. Not sure if it is my size, super blonde hair, or loudness, but everyone knows I am an “American”. I must have an tattoo invisible to me on my forehead saying “American” because guys would come up to us left an right and say ‘Americans!’. We would get cat-calls while walking the streets and men would tell us we were beautiful left and right (okay, to be fair I could definitely get used to that and it was a nice confidence booster!) They were never lewd, however, like some of the horrible stories you hear coming out of the US. But, the thing that got overwhelming would be when we walked out of a bar or restaurant and swarms of men would instantly be around us. Asking us questions, seeing where we are going next, etc. My coworkers and I would be enjoying the view, chatting, or getting fresh air, and guys would appear out of nowhere. Like I said, I never felt threatened and they never gave off the feeling that they were going to harm us or had any sort of ill intentions at all. It was just personally overwhelming, and so when there was 20 guys surrounding us after a night of salsa dancing, one of my co-workers and I had enough and decided to go home.
Like I said, this is my personal opinion and I never felt unsafe nor were the Cuban men disrespectful in anyway, it just wasn’t something I was use to. According to the Unlocking the Mystery of Cuba group I mentioned last blog, Cuban men love women (we are pretty awesome!) and that they love women no matter shape, size, how loud they are, etc, but apparently Cuban women love men just as much according to the group and a few guy bloggers! Love is in the air in Cuba – something I need to get used to apparently!
These are just some of the things I wish I had known before going to Cuba! Have you visited Cuba? What did YOU wish you had known before going? Let me know in the comments below!