Experiences of a Spaniard in Cuba

Cuba is undescriptable. I think it is a very interesting country to discover yourself. I believe it is important to go without any expectations and learn as much as possible. I heard a quote that sounds cliché, both from people who have visited Cuba and from Cubans themselves.

And it is true...

During the month I spent there, I met some other travellers. Some knew Spanish, some didn’t. Having studied Translation and Interpretation, I understood that a language is part of the culture and it is difficult to get to know a culture without it. I didn’t quite notice it until Cuba. Between the sociability, the difficult situation and the humour, if you can’t communicate with them fluently, I feel like you would miss out on half of Cuba.

I leave you some experiences I had that I find representative of the Cubans and their philosophy with Caribbean rithym.

If there is a problem, and it has a solution, then there is no problem. If there is a problem and there is no solution, it is not a problem.

I heard this sentence from quite a few different people. The first time I learnt it I was in La Habana, talking to Maité, the owner of the casa particular I was staying in.

Talking about Cuban History, she tells me that with this short version, she does not give a lot of details or attacks anyone, because she is just explaining History. She is not interested in politics. Whatever happens in politics and the conflicts between countries are “over there”. To them, day to day, it does not matter.

Some clients had asked her about the conquerors. Maité usually answers them “yes, they were Spanish. But they were not the current Spanish people. So, I could care less if someone is German, Spanish, Venezuelan, Japanese… At the end of the day, they are tourist, and the tourist is someone who goes to a different place to know another culture. That is it. I do not need to make anyone feel bad for History”.

It is a problem with no solution, so it is not a problem.

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade, ‘cause you ain’t doing guava juice.

Mayté invited me one day to celebrate her uncle’s birthday in an area of La Habana. She wanted to take a merengue cake she wants to take (pizza box size but taller, as in, with layers).

We take a bike-taxi. From there, we walk to a few stores near the Capitolio, because Maité wants to buy Cuban coffee and a soft drink. We can’t find coffee but we do get a bottle of a soft drink. We go to the stop where all the buses, colectivos, taxis, etc are supposed to stop. There is no colectivo to the place we want to go, so we take a bus that takes us to a place where we will take another bus.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We still have the pizza-sized cake on our hands. We get into the first bus, no air-con, all windows open and we get a seat. I have the cake on my knees. Maité is telling me about a story with some tourists and suddenly the driver stops abruptly. Plof. The cake has stopped at the seat in front of us. Luckily just on one side and it is not that noticeable. What about aluminium paper? Or a box? We found a freaking cake and part of a box…! that is already enough. Mayté tries to clean the seat the best that she can and my mission is to keep the cake save.

We get to our stop and we see a guy with a cake in his hands. Mayté looks at him and asks him where he got it. He tells her that it was from a bakery nearby. 

We laugh thinking about the adventure that the cake has lived. We take another bus, more crowded than the last. A nice gentleman helps us with the cake and keeps it above everyone’s heads until a nice lady takes it and puts it on her knees. We thank them and we get down from the bus not having to go to any cake hospital. When we’re already leaving the party, Mayté tells me that this experience of taking like 3 different ways of transportation is the Cuban way. At least, you meet people who helps you with the cake on the way.

“If life gives you lemons, make lemonade, Martica, because you ain’t making guava juice with that” she adds with a smile on her face.

Every single person you meet has their own daily fight
Back from a long walk in La Habana, I try to find a bottle of water, since mine was running out.  I get into one shop. No. Another one. Nope. Another. Nuh-uh. I ask to a waiter in a restaurant and he tells me yes, 1,5 CUC (what it actually costs in Cuba). When I get inside, they ask me 3 CUC. I keep walking and find a small paladar in a corner that sells us a big bottle of 1,5L at 3 CUC.
Meanwhile, my shoulders are close to burnt, even having applied sun cream, since in Cuba is as hot as summer in Spain. The small tube of sun cream in my carry-on is empty, and before I even came, I thought “I will buy a big one in Cuba, that way I’ll have for the whole month and won’t have to carry it all the trip to Cuba”. Following Spain’s and the UK’s logic, I go into a pharmacy. They don’t have. I go to a supermarket where I can see a variety of creams. They don’t have. I go to a store where they sell soap and creams. They don’t have, but they do have moisturisers and aftersun. Okay, “mija” but what about before the sun?! They tell me that maybe in the hotels.
I go to the most expensive in la Habana, Hotel Manzana. I ask at reception. They tell me that in the shops behind the hotel. I get inside one with beauty products. They don’t have. I go inside a similar one. They tell me just at the end of the next corridor. I start to see the light. I go inside and they tell me yes. They show me a 15 SPF bottle. That just won’t have any effect on my pale skin. They tell me “my love, we don’t need it”, to which I answer “I know, but you do have a lot of tourists”. They had another one 50 SPF, coloured with a very (beautiful, but useless for me) dark tone. At this point of the adventure, I give myself 1 minute to laugh in order for my eyes not to cry. If in a luxury hotel, they don’t have it, I’ll go back to Spain burnt…

When I go back to the casa particular, they lend me theirs. After a little while, the son of the family arrives and gives them Internet cards, adding that he had been waiting for 2 hours. They sit and starts scratching to see the password and then put it in. In the card itself, it says that you have to be very careful scratching, because sometimes it breaks and you can’t see the numbers. If that happens they will not give you another one or give you your money back. You see, they have already told you. The card itself has a card with a woman in a “zen” position. You can’t deny they already tell you. They are able to connect, but I can’t.

In Cuba, everyone has their own fight, but they don’t ever lose the smile or the joke.

Experiences of a Spaniard in Cuba
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