My boyfriend and I looked at each other awkwardly searching for… words, just any words. It was our first day in Havana and it had rained none stop, building to a monsoon and trapping us in the stairwell leading to some apartments in Havana Old Town. There we struggled to converse with a Spanish-only speaking man who had stopped to let us shelter in the door.
Overall, we were completely unprepared for our Cuba visit. We have both travelled a lot in the past and clearly had not realised how much we took for granted. Our main challenges included:
- Adapters. By the time we realised we only had a European plug we thought it would be easy enough to just grab one once we got to Cuba – no.
- WiFi. While a bit of pre-planning for the holiday is key, it’s nice to leave some room to plan once you get there. Maybe have a little Google? Not in Cuba, very few accommodations have their own WiFi and although you can access an ETESCA network in a park after buying a card, the weather may not hold up enough to make that an option.
- Language. I may have studied GCSE Spanish but I have heavily relied on the fact that even when I speak Spanish in Spain, when I stumble the other person will be able to save the conversation with their English. For visit number two, I need to pick up the Duolingo and relearn Spanish.
Despite our difficulties, Cuba has a rich allure. It was a worthy lesson in not taking things for granted and one I truly appreciated. The Cuban people were incredibly welcoming everywhere we went. Numerous times we were stopped in the street just so they could tell us something about the culture or a nearby building’s significance.
Lately it seems that Cuba has popped up a lot in destination guides with the pertinent question: should you go before it is too late? The question seemed irrelevant the more we explored what Havana had to offer. Cuban culture will probably not disappear under a veil of MacDonald’s any time soon. Fabrica de Arte Cubano, a gallery-cum-club showing modern art that offered a glimpse of what the up and coming generation of Cuban’s had in mind for their countries identity and Cuba’s identity is here to stay.
Back in the stairwell, noting the relentless rain, the man invited us up to wait for it to pass. After too much rum (I had a generous head start over the road at El Del Frente before braving the rain) we found ourselves being made coffee, introduced to salsa and even offered a room to sleep in if the rain would not let up.
The apartment was placed inside one of the beautifully designed colonial buildings in Havana Viejo, but inside tree roots were working their way through the building’s stonework and spilling out into the center. Doors were open – or none existent – and neighbours were living hand in hand with small rooms set up to hold all the essentials to keep an entire family.
We had little way of communicating with our hosts, a Spanish speaking family. They took the remote and turned Shakira up as a bridge between the Spanish and English occupiers of the room. We all sipped Havana Club, and the men pulled my boyfriend up to show him how a Cuban man dances.
Grateful though we were for our unique experience, we did not want to infringe on their hospitality anymore. We hailed ourselves a taxi collectivo back out in the rain that had remained constantly pouring from the sky and had formed a ravine through the roads.