Philly Gringos visit La Habana
A lot can happen in sixty years. A man walked on the moon. People started to watch television in color. Doctors stopped recommending smoking. There have been inventions from Atari, Apple, and Microsoft. The internet was invented. We have driverless cars. And can you believe it, businesses and citizens from the United States (under certain regulations) are allowed to visit and do business in Cuba again?
Everything I mentioned certainly happened in the United States and many other places around the world, but for better or worse Cuba is a touch like visiting what it was like to live sixty years ago. This is not to say that Cuba is not modern, as they certainly are, just not at the level most Americans are used to. The majority of cars are classic cars, many houses are well “worn” and patchworked in order to be livable. The internet is not easy to access. If and when you do find access, it is not reliable. Finding information of where someplace is or where to eat is not a “Google” or “Yelp” search. Everyone recommends that you ask a taxi driver. Many people respond, “Taxi should know, they know everywhere.” These were just a few minor adjustments and I actually enjoyed them. What I saw and loved that was really different was the absolute lack of visual and audible garbage advertisements and constant grab for attention from some sort of marketing, while walking and driving. It was a relief. You could view the world as is, without trying to be sold something. You would see many kids running around playing, not staring at screens of one sort or another, with nothing but pure joy on their faces. Nature is embraced. Food was fresh and delicious, and the lack of junk food was welcomed instead of having it pushed in your face at every convenience store. The people were extremely warm and hospitable especially when they found out we were from the United States. They assumed we were Dutch (which I took as I compliment, since it meant that I did not stand out as a typical American tourist). When we said we were from the United States, a millisecond of shock registered on their faces, but immediately afterward most would respond, “We are so happy you came to see our home for yourself. Please tell your friends to visit as well.”
Our main base during our stay was the Starwood Hotels and Resorts brand “Four Points by Sheraton” the first American hotel and leisure company, headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut to offer hospitality on the island. The resort is situated in the affluent Miramar district of Havana. The pool area was beautiful, the staff extremely friendly, the room spacious, and the breakfast buffet was varied and tasty. By Cuban standards these were very high end accommodations. For the rack room rate of $800 a night (around $500 a night online), one certainly expects more though. This may change over time as it is evident Starwoods is working hard to improve the conditions and services offered at the resort, but certain aspects of the stay just do not make the grade yet. They may be better suited to offer concessions of some sort for booking Four Points Havana that you can use at another resort worldwide or Starwoods points credit to be used at a later date.
I am happy I was able to visit Cuba now. You can tell Cuba is changing and it will look a lot different in the near future. In Miramar there are signs showing that a sandy beach is going to be built where a beautiful natural reef exists now. In Old and Central Havana, China is building hotels, rebuilding the markets, docks, and train stations in several locations around the city. The agreement, as we were told, is that China is going to completely own these properties which was previously unheard of in Cuba. They have been permitted to use Chinese workers and bring in Chinese products and produce. This could be a deal with the devil as the United States knows all too well. I checked the labels of everything we were consuming and purchasing, it was comforting to see that at least eighty percent of everything we were using or buying was directly grown, produced, or made in Cuba. When dealing with China, this will change rapidly and probably not for the better, when it comes to the quality of products or economic gain for the people of Cuba.
To be able to walk, talk, eat, and be entertained in a mostly socialist style economic system was a priceless and educational experience. There are no easy answers to which lifestyle is better or worse. It is not possible to weigh which is right and which is wrong. Even after traveling the world, visiting all seven continents, the solutions to obtain peace, decent wages, and standards or rules for fair housing are still elusive. Whether it be democracy, republic, autocracy, dictatorship, or communism one would have to assume there must be a middle ground somewhere that could make utopia on earth possible. Information is power, and hopefully with more people connected to each other, this dream, this compromise, could one day become a reality.
Even with the proliferation of cell phones, it was surprising that at some locations, it was not recommended or forbidden to take pictures. The answer was not given as to why, nor did I ask. I would assume it is because they do not want anything that could be construed as negative to spread or be seen by others. I experienced this before in China and certain parts of Africa where quite frequently you were told cameras had to be put down or turned off, but everything I saw in Cuba was positive and nowhere near the atrocities that we hear about in parts of Philadelphia or Camden on a daily basis. Yes, certain areas were more economically distressed than others and some unsavory characters were present, but at no time did I feel threatened or unsafe in any manner during our visit.
What is Cuba?
Cuba is beautiful and Cuba is rough
Cuba is old yet Cuba is refined
Cuba is forbidden but Cuba is welcoming
Cuba is plain while Cuba is a kaleidoscope
Cuba is loud until Cuba whispers to you
Cuba is Cuba and for that I am thankful
We came to Cuba for food exploration, but we left with so much more. Below are some pictures of the places and food we enjoyed during our stay that I would recommend if you ever have the chance to visit Cuba. There are many people and services that made our stay in Cuba possible that we are forever indebted to, but first, I would like to give a special mention to the following:
Spirit Airlines – https://www.spirit.com/
Airline Brokers Co. – https://www.airlinebrokers.net/
U.S. Department of State – https://www.state.gov/
Kerstin Sachl – Director, Public Relations and Social Media – Caribbean & Latin America for Marriott International
Madaly Tun – Director of Marketing – Four Points by Sheraton La Habana