Shabby Caribbean meets retro Soviet in one perfect package
Chartering in Cuba offers a wealth of experiences, but be prepared to have to fend for yourself—and watch out for shoals!
IIt was a bit of an unexpected flashback. After all, it had been decades since I lived in the old Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) and yet the feeling that bubbled up was the same. I stuck my camera out the bus window to capture yet another of a dozen billboards dotting the pockmarked highway that bisects Cuba. This one shouted “Por Siempre Fidel”— loosely meaning “Fidel Forever.” In keeping with the Soviet style aesthetic, it had a star, although most others featured the leader’s profile or some muscular woman wielding a wrench.
had waited a long time to visit Cuba, and chartering there just added to the allure. Flying in, I noticed unkempt fields and haphazard government-sponsored farms. (I didn’t realize it yet, but they were the harbingers of the provisioning woes to come.) A weird Big Brother vibe mixed with the laid-back friendly ease of the Caribbean, it was eerily similar yet completely different to the days of my childhood.
Our first evening in Havana set the tone—one that’s uniquely Cuban, teeming with activity, music and curiosity, especially about Ameri- cans. Our first stop was Floridita, a tourist bar where a bronze statue of Hemingway always has a fresh daiquiri placed on the bar, just waiting for the author to take a sip. Hemingway’s “favorite bar” is a great marketing tool throughout Cuba. Each has a fuzzy black-and-white photo of the man himself, sometimes accompanied by Castro, other times on his boat Pilar, ready to cast the hook.
As we strolled along the evening streets, two things became clear. First, there is no bad place to point the camera. The buildings and the people in Havana are as authentic as it gets, and everywhere there are street musicians and vegetable vendors. Second, there’s a feeling of security here. Maybe it’s due to the strict government control and the ever-present policia. Maybe it’s because Cubans seem to love Americans. Everywhere we went, people smiled, tried out their English and let us take their picture. Even the very serious-looking and well-armed Guarda Frontera officers relaxed once I learned the magic word when pointing to the camera— guapo— handsome.
We spent two days in Havana, which is about three too few. The