April 19, 2016
In 2015, my husband and I, along with two close friends, traveled to Cuba before the imminent “Americanization,” that many fear will dilute the culture of this historical nation. Change is undoubtedly “in the air” in Cuba, yet exactly what those changes are, remains rooted in speculation. This said, our first day in Cuba truly encompassed what life in Cuba is today.
Upon arrival at the airport, our friends introduced us to Jorge, a young Cuban they befriended the previous night. Jorge offered to drive us to Trinidad, a city roughly 200 miles from Havana. 15 minutes into our trip, Jorge’s hoopty broke down— my girlfriend and I stood watching on the side of the road as our husbands pushed the car in the hot sun, praying it would start. Stranded on a curb, with our luggage and a big ol’ stamp on our foreheads that screamed “TOURISTS,” we hailed a government run yellow taxicab and headed to the bus station. Our driver offered to take us to Trinidad for a non-negotiable $250—Jorge was charging $100. When we arrived at the station, buses were no longer leaving for Trinidad. With no phone or internet, our options were: 1) Forfeit our prepaid accommodations in Trinidad; pay additional accommodations in Havana; and $80 for a next day bus OR 2) Get into a taxi that was clearly hustling us, but would arrive in Trinidad that same day.
Taxi in the Cuba
What began as a skeptical exchange between the gringos and the Cuban, ended in a meaningful cultural exchange between five people. In those next 7 hours, we ate, talked, laughed, and, unexpectedly, witnessed our new friend receive a tragic call from his wife— his best friend of 30+ years had died unexpectedly from a heart attack. In true Cuban spirit, he opened his heart to us while still displaying great strength and resilience. By the time we arrived in Trinidad, being overcharged no longer mattered— there was an unspoken understanding of why. We were all saddened to hug our heartbroken friend goodbye.
While it is very difficult for an outsider to fully comprehend the idiosyncrasies of Cuban culture, one thing is clear: Systematic restructuring will not change the “essence” of what it means to be Cuban. This essence is defined by heart, hospitality, and ingenuity that make survival possible in a collapsed economy, isolated from the outside world. This essence remains the most palpable energy in Cuba.
Words and Photography :
Owner and Founder of Cultural Fare
Taste. Share. Connect