My visit to Cuba was like visiting a land lost in time...
As soon as my friend, Luis, and I got off the plane, we noticed the lack of modern technology. There was no AC, the lights were dim and old, the airport escalators were being fixed...
The first thing we tried to do when we dropped off our luggage was find a place to eat. I never believed this would be one of the hardest things to do. As we were walking around our Airbnb, we saw small "restaurants" that were actually the front yard of people's homes. Because we were accustomed to our NYC ways of clean, large areas with ample seating, we were a bit intimidated by these neighborhood businesses. When we did find a place to eat, we saw that a lot of these areas lacked the ingredients to make the food they had on their menus. And when the food came out, it was simple. They didn't eat too much or too extravagantly; these people lived within their means.
For many of the supermarkets (unlike the one in this picture), people had to stand in line, and only few were allowed to enter at the same time. We suspected that this was done to restrict people from fighting for the meager supplies available. To our surprise, even bottled water was difficult to obtain.
In our first cab ride, we were surprised that our taxi was moderately new. Although most of the cars were what I would suspect to be vintage cars from the 50's, we actually saw a few updated foreign cars (Kias, Audis Toyotas, Hyundais).
Compared to the first cab, our second cab that was barely running. Our driver told us it was a Russian car from the 50's. As we drove around, I felt the engine rumbling under my feet and smelt a strong scent of gasoline.
During our ride, the car stopped running, and we waited as the driver nonchalantly check its engine. I wondered how often this happened for the cab driver.
To my surprise, we found Cuba to be very safe, even as we wandered its dark, beautiful, antiquated streets...
The people were generally friendly too. As Luis and I walked around with our cameras in our hands, we often found locals coming up to us to ask for a photo. I got the sense that most of these people were not used to being photographed and kind of wished that I could print out their portraits for them. Being as children are, many came up to us to converse, including this one boy, who came up to me, to say, “¡Hola, my friend!”
To my experience, Cuba was one of the safest places I have visited. As far as being a foreigner in a communist country, the only "harassment" that we faced were taxis constantly honking at us for a ride, and a few locals trying to "scam" us for money. And even when I say, "scam", people were just trying to get a few drinks off of us that it's extent was harmless.
(In fact, they even asked to take pictures with us before parting.)
In Cuba, I felt a sense of calm because I was not obligated to my phone. I had no texts or emails to worry about, there was no internet for me to post anything on Instagram or Snapchat. To use their actual wifi, we stood in a long line to a booth outside, where we paid money for Wifi cards. Then we had to go to a wifi spot (usually a park or outside of a hotel), where we saw a bunch of people standing around with their phones and laptops. As for modern technology, this was the only place we saw them. And more than an inconvenience, I was relieved to be free from the online world.
In fact, I loved the simplicity of life here. Children still played on the streets, there were small block parties at night, adults sat outside to chat and gossip. Young couples sat under the shade in their uniforms, and music echoed through the busy streets full of tourists and the usual hustling street vendors...
All in all, I got that sense that although life was hard for its people, Cuba was a place where people lived by what they had, and were content with their life. By seeing their way of life, I was genuinely able to enjoy my trip, and come back home with a new sense of mind.