A Cuban odyssey – my story has just begun.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. I won’t disagree with Lao Tzu, although one’s life is a breathtaking journey that will last a lifetime. Thus, for inestimable travelers out there, this trek will easily exceed a thousand miles. Every single step that is taken contributes to an enormous adventure. Unfortunately, it is impossible to figure out how many miles you will get to roam on mother earth. Therefore, you might as well try to explore as much of this unique planet as possible and enjoy every step that you take. Confine yourself to the present, be an explorer and enjoy the taste of this sensational world. Don’t be a regular tourist during the utmost voyage that you will ever embark on.

Seeing that I have been dreaming of a South American adventure for quite some time and that I am fascinated with Che, visiting Cuba appeared to be the perfect stepping stone. A great first stride that contributes to the journey that I want to undertake. A trip that helps me to become the person I was designed to be. It proved to be a priceless experience, which offered me a glimpse of the adventures that await me and gently prepared me for what to expect when I’ll actively chase my dreams.

The biggest of the Caribbean islands has stolen the hearts of many and has charmed commendable men and women such as Ernesto Guevara Lynch de la Serna (Comandante Guevara, also known as Che), José Marti, Celia Cruz, Zoé Valdes, Camilo Cienfuegos and Ernest Hemingway. Hence, I chose to travel around the isle as a humble globetrotter and try to capture the essence of the Cuban life that has effectuated so many. My goal was to do this using my camera, notepad, pencil, “spider senses,” as well as my common sense.

Obviously I wasn’t able to cover the entire island during the short time I was there. Using public means of transportation such as Viazul buses and collectivos, as well as other exciting modes of transportation like the bici taxis, somewhat limited the ground that I could cover. Nevertheless, it didn’t annoy me because the Cuban pace of life grew on me quite rapidly. Taking my time, relaxing and not stressing out became more important than any schedule I had in mind before I set foot on the island. Why would I keep one eye on the clock? Time is for time wasters anyway. The Cubans succeed in giving a whole new meaning to being fashionably late. I am not ashamed to admit that I turned my back on our European time standards straightaway and dedicated myself to living a stress-free life too. Thus, it is safe to say that this is my ideal kind of life. It doesn’t take you more than a few days to adapt and see what has charmed admirable men such as Ernesto Che Guevara and Ernest Hemingway. I have never felt safer anywhere else in the world.

As for my humble observations, they taught me that a new stream of cash, which steadily flows into the country, is gnawing away at the spirit of the popular revolution. It systematically increases the inequality among the citizens. The way Fidel governed the country after the collapse of the Soviet Union is feeding a growing feeling of disgruntlement that is rapidly spreading among his loyal subjects. Seeing that equality is unquestionably treasured by all the Cubans I have met, and it’s the one thing they fear to loose. Many of the locals told me that they felt no need to leave the island and live a stressful life in the West. Some of the folks I encountered even came back from nations such as the United States, Canada, France and so on only to escape the rat race that was killing them from the inside out. Hence, I refuse to believe that the nation is an Eldorado that’s exclusively for tourists.

Nevertheless, many of the people I have met are proud of their country. The majority is well educated, everyone appears to have a roof over their head, and health care is accessible for all. When I was in need of a doctor, I only had to pay 40 cents for my medicine. The consultation itself was free of charge. The GP stated that he didn’t need any money for staring at my hobbit feet. Needless to say, I was surprised and quickly realized how evolved the country is. It becomes apparent once you scratch the surface. Cuba is undoubtedly one of the healthiest nations of the Caribbean. Another small peculiar observation is that every kid goes to school. During my time on the island, I didn’t see any children who were living on the streets. As soon as school is out they were playing games in the parks or on the streets, but during the ungodly hours all kids were safely tucked away in their beds.

On the other hand, many Cubans are tired of looking in the rearview mirror of history. Pride and nationalism won’t feed your kids or help you to provide for your family. Nonetheless, some of the wise men and women with whom I spoke do fear the self-centered capitalist way of life that is spread through the Western world. These men and women don’t have a problem with earning money, but they do have a problem with how the powerful one percent manages their assets. The selfishness, greed and necessity for extravagant products are something most of the Cubans can’t grasp. They all like wearing nice clothes, eating a good meal and a comfortable ride to their destination. But why would one buy a car that could easily feed an entire family for the rest of their life? Why purchase a yacht when that money can easily support an entire community for several decades? Why would one buy an expensive watch and let their neighbor starve to death? Why buy fancy jewelry instead of using the money to install a sanitary infrastructure that makes life more bearable for your grandparents living in a bohio in the countryside?

The Cubans have learned how to move mountains with virtually no money; hence I honestly believe that we can learn a great deal from them. They can teach us how to move mountains with our considerable wealth and perhaps save what is left of this unique planet that is being ruined by our addiction to consumerism, which enriches the one percent that controls all of us. A new mindset could improve the quality of life for us and our fellow men and women. “Hay que inventar,” you have to be creative.

“We’re all going to die, all of us. What a circus! That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities; we are eaten up by nothing.” – Charles Bukowski

The poverty in Cuba is in stark contrast to the warm, hospitable, empathetic, caring, and generous nature of its people. One Cuban, who conquered a place in my memories and my heart told me, “Kevin, I don’t care about you, but I care about your happiness.” When I asked him what he meant by that, he said, “In order for me to be happy I need you to be happy, so I will give it my all to make you as happy as possible, since it’s the only way for me to become happy as well.” This was one of the many encounters that made me challenge the boundaries and the nature of the life I am currently living. His words made me realize that the life that I am currently living, in accordance with our society’s standards, will never make me happy in a durable manner.

This journey was an epiphany. One of the most thought-provoking lessons that I learned on my trip is that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love. To do so, I realize that I might have to throw away a bright career and start living a life that is deemed lunatic by the majority who chooses to follow a more conservative path out of fear, disguised as convenience. Consequently, I will follow my dreams and trust my struggle. I am part of the 99%, and I understand that you won’t risk more when you follow your dreams. Because in nature’s economy the currency isn’t money, it is life and all, which will ever be, is the present.

 
We are the 99%! Habana, Cuba by SpaceUtopian ©
We are the 99%! Habana, Cuba by SpaceUtopian ©

 

 

Short recap:

 
I advise you to bring clothes that you are going to give away to charity. They were dearly appreciated by the people who have helped me out during my trip and were an alternative currency that has a bit more of that human touch to it. Looking back on this improvised quest, my itinerary looked a bit like this:

Habana, where I got to share a bottle of rum with strangers on “the Malecon,” while the sound of guitars in the background created an ocean of soothing noise. I fully enjoyed wandering through the streets of Habana Vieja and Centro, while letting the city life slide by.

Bayamo, situated on the doorstep of the Sierra Maestra. Here I got to enjoy the perks of Cuban health care after being immobilized by an allergic reaction caused by the toxins that had been used in my made-in-China All Stars, which were donated to a good cause straightaway. A caring “bici taxi” owner drove me around this charming town, with my swollen feet, in order to gather all the ingredients that were required for preparing homemade mojitos. This was a considerable task, since supermarkets where you can buy all the constituents at once are non-existent, but the shopping spree was an incredible memory nonetheless.

Camaguey, this well-preserved colonial city will offer you a warm and friendly welcome. Even when you arrive unexpectedly at two in the morning at a “casa particular.” The fresh fruit that is available everywhere adds up to the best breakfast ever. Maybe the universe does tend to my needs after all.

Santa Lucia is also known as “Tourist Walhalla”. Here you’ll get to enjoy some exquisite delicacies offered by the Atlantic Ocean and drunk tourists from all over the world, YOLO (I am fluent in sarcasm). However, I do advise you to check out the world’s third largest coral reef. Witness the devastation caused by our industrialized globalized economies and our thoughtless consumerist behavior. Be aware that it is quite a brutal, but fascinating wake-up call. Jump in at the deep end.

Trinidad, the charming and artistic city I thought I’d never see with my own eyes, after experiencing a fearsome ride towards the town with “super Mario” behind the wheel. One word of advice: don’t trust local Cuban drivers who identify themselves with characters from Nintendo’s Mario Kart. In this amiable municipal, it was relatively easy to get acquainted with the locals. In Trinidad, I learned a lot about the nation that had already stolen my heart. Take your time to wander through Trinidad. When you get lost, you will probably find a sympathetic local who’ll guide you towards your residence.

El Nicho, where eco meets tourism in a mesmerizing and very natural way. Bring your gear to go for a dip near one of the many waterfalls. You won’t regret it.

Santa Clara, or “jinetero jungle,” is worthy of a quick pit stop, if you are interested in Che Guevara and the Cuban revolution. The mausoleum is certainly worth a visit. I am biased seeing that Che is one of my personal heroes. Hence, if none of this fascinates you, I would recommend you to skip Santa Clara. The abundance of pushy jineteros, flanking you from every side, disgraces the vibe of this city.

Viñales, the essence of Cuba. Ride on some “semi-automatic” horses, while sipping on fresh loco coco’s and smoking artisanal cigars. Another option is to rent a mountain bike and work on that killer physique that you’ve always wanted. Either way, the sights of Viñales’s natural wealth and the local life won’t disappoint you. On the contrary, it’ll have you wishing that you were born there. A petite tip: I advise you to revel in the peaceful magnificence of this Cuban piece of heaven.

Las Terrazas, this natural reserve is proof that we can collectively change the world for the better. Listen to the call of Pacha Mamá and pay this wonderful ecologically revived region a visit. Don’t pass up your chance to witness nature’s grandiosity. Hundreds of men and women dedicated their time and energy in the sixties to planting the trees you see nowadays. This natural reserve was resurrected thanks to their tremendous effort. Go for a hike through the woods and try to locate the smallest bird in the world, the zunzuncito. When you decide to treat yourself to a walk at night, you can attempt to spot some weird illuminant bugs. Equip yourself with a flashlight, a bottle of rum, some snacks and perhaps a cigar or two, because when you’re too tired to walk further, you can just lie on your back and stare at the pitch-black sky scattered with numerous flickering stars.

 
“Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday and all is well.” - John T. Tindsley © by SpaceUtopian
 

“Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday and all is well.” – John T. Tindsley

      
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