Impressions of Cuba

Jen Beasley

Reporter Jen Beasley is just back from Cuba and shares her impressions below.

In December, I was so proud to be traveling to Cuba on a “People to People” exchange that I insisted, with a forlorn “por favor?,” that the guard stamp my passport—not standard practice for Americanos since we’re usually sneaking in. The stamp burned hot pink, my sanctioned rebellion against the U.S. embargo. I went to Cuba drawn to the idea it was a time capsule, standing still as world events ticked on. I wanted to see that before it changed.

Cuba’s retro streak is not only expressed in Chevrolet tailfins and fedoras. 1959 is now. Ubiquitous signs proclaim “Year 53 of the Revolución”—”of”, you see, not “since.”  No inkling the “revolución” may, somewhere along the way, have settled in to a less-romantic status quo. Che lives on, lionized, like in any American t-shirt shop. Viva Fidel.

This makes being American in Cuba disorienting. Streets ooze with propaganda–“Socialismo o Muerte”– and one grapples with question of our principles vs. theirs. Once at a hospital, the guide boasted 400 kidney transplants were performed there, “all successful.” “All successful?”  No deaths, no rejections? Yes.  Somehow everything in Cuba is always successful.

Constantly, Cubans are admonished that the U.S. is “making every attempt to subvert and destroy the revolution.” Yet, being an American in Cuba actually felt safer than being an American in many of our own cities. Cubans welcomed us warmly.  They were eager to talk, really wanted to sell us things. A man said, “We are so happy to greet our lovely enemies. Enemigos!” And smiled.

We met many prominent Cubans through the people-to-people format: Party bigwigs, wives of Cubans jailed in the U.S. for espionage, doctors running free clinics. But we met the other Cuba, too–beggars asking not for coins, but soap, realizing the item so scarce due to their rations was free to us at hotels. We weaved between the “real Cuba” and the “tourist Cuba,” our accommodations too nice, our food too abundant. We came home with more questions than answers.

But the question I set out with–What’s it like?—was answered. It’s complicated, and it’s 1959, and I’m glad I saw it. Because it won’t be forever, and maybe not even for long.

Want to see Cuba yourself? Try a people-to-people tour licensed and conducted by National Geographic Expeditions, Insight Cuba, or Friendly Planet Travel.

Comments

  1. Matthew Sellar
    London
    April 19, 2012, 7:04 pm

    Nice article and glad you loved beautiful, mind-boggling Cuba!

    If you know anyone who wants to experience the ‘real’ Cuba, we’ve got amazing casas particulares that you can see for yourself!

    http://www.cubacasa.co.uk/en/all-casas/viewproperty/Casa%20Havana/61

  2. John McAuliff
    Irvington NY
    January 20, 2012, 11:11 pm

    These trips are important, but the President can and must go a lot further to make travel a more natural path of interaction between our peoples.

    An analysis of the one year anniversary of the President’s opening of purposeful travel is at http://thehavananote.com/2012/01/one_year_semi_opening_cuba_travel

    John McAuliff
    Fund for Reconciliation and Development

  3. Martin
    London, UK
    January 20, 2012, 1:21 pm

    In fact you can hardly find photo motifs like the above in Cuba anymore (unless you’re prepared to pay and then it’s posed, not reality). Fortunately there’s still loads more to see and photograph. More like this:
    http://www.fm1721.com/experience/americas/cuba/

  4. Judy Hagen
    Winchester, WI
    January 20, 2012, 10:41 am

    Way to go, Jennifer! So proud of my niece.