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Revisiting the Cuba I Left Behind

Revisiting the Cuba I Left Behind

CARIBBEAN, CUBA, DESTINATIONS

After one year, three months, and twenty three days abroad, I returned to Cuba, my homeland. I honestly don’t know where to begin to tell my experience. I longed to reunite with my town and all the important people I had left behind.

INSIDE THE PLANE

Once in the Cubana Airplane it hit me that I was going to Cuba: the Spanish accents, hilarious situations, the treatment of the hostesses, the pilot’s lousy English, no blanket, little food for a flight of nine and half hours, and a number of characteristics that indicated that we hadn’t taken the wrong flight.

Cubana Transatlantic Plane
Cubana Transatlantic Plane

WAITING FOR OUR LUGGAGE FOR HOURS

My mother and I arrived at the Jose Marti airport in Havana at about 9:30 pm. Actually, we found this very rare, because usually flights departing from Madrid, Spain, are delayed three or four hours at least.

The next step was exhausting. Immigration check. We arrived at the immigration check, after struggling to get off the plane because everyone wanted to leave at once. The queue was endless because there was passengers from five flights. It took an hour to pass.

Arrivals at the "Jose Marti" International Airport in Havana, Cuba - Terminal 3
Arrivals at the “Jose Marti” International Airport in Havana, Cuba – Terminal 3

Now we were at a decisive point: find our luggage. The history of the bags, goes back two months before the trip when we began to collect clothes, shoes, medicines, toiletries, and food -lots of food- for the family.

After remaining motionless for about 40 minutes, the mat finally began to work, but after a while with only 5 suitcases circulating, it froze again. The situation made me laugh. We had to wait another 40 minutes until the mat tossed out the baggage.

Arrivals at the "Jose Marti" International Airport in Havana, Cuba - Terminal 3
Arrivals at the “Jose Marti” International Airport in Havana, Cuba – Terminal 3 –

After four hours in the airport in Cuba, I patiently waited the reward that was waiting at the other side of the door: the warm embrace of the family that I had missed so much.

A CITY OF CONTRASTS

Upon arrival in Placetas, the city where I used to live, I recalled my past of the happy little girl that I was when I lived there.

Sitting on my front porch in my house in Placetas
Sitting on my front porch in my house in Placetas

The truth is, the city hasn’t changed much since I went to Spain. What caught my attention was that even though people complain about the low wages and precariousness of life in Cuba, Placetas gleamed with lots of remodeled houses, and so many other buildings built which evoke luxury.

Old buildings in Placetas in ruins
Old buildings in Placetas in ruins
Old houses in Placetas in ruins
Old houses in Placetas in ruins
Old houses in Placetas in ruins
Old houses in Placetas in ruins
Old houses and buildings in Placetas, many of them in ruins
Old houses and buildings in Placetas, many of them in ruins

All these new houses are a sharp contrast to the old houses which are falling apart. Some houses are average however, like the ones my family have. Several generations live together in these houses. People who live in these types of houses are considered fortunate.

Houses in the town of Placetas Cuba
Houses in the town of Placetas Cuba
A home that has been updated in Placetas
A home that has been updated in Placetas
Other families can improve their homes. Although the number of new houses has grown, they remain the minority
Other families can improve their homes. Although the number of new houses has grown, they remain the minority

Many government buildings are also in ruins. I had the opportunity to enter the offices of the Civil Registry of Placetas, because my mother had to make some legal formalities there. It is a house that was expropriated by the Cuban State when the original owners left Cuba to go to the United States. First, I faced a daunting stairway. My aunt spent several minutes trying to climb it. Meanwhile, we were melting in the heat. Once up the stairs, I waited in the lounge. The sofas were about 60-70 years old, but still remain in use.

Waiting room in Civil Registry of Placetas
Waiting room in Civil Registry of Placetas
The room of broken chairs and typewriters in Civil Registry of Placetas<
The room of broken chairs and typewriters in Civil Registry of Placetas

You can also see the creativity that characterizes Cubans in the old LG air conditioning machines, which are still the kings of cooling in Cuba. They are distinguished by their ingenious containers to collect the waste water which are made from plastic bottles.

Old LG air conditioning machine
Old LG air conditioning machine

LAUGHTER IS ALL WE COULD DO

Humor is the source of life of Cubans. In order to move this wooden wardrobe from one house to another we had to make a great effort. It weighed several kilos and there was only one person home. So, we went out looking for a carriage driver who could help us lift the family heirloom. We could not move it, although we tried our best. Eventually the driver appeared, but when we put the closet into the carriage, the horse was frightened by the weight and began to run. The wardrobe went flying and broke into several pieces. However, we could not stop laughing.

A carpenter should set the wardrobe. The door was still disarmed
A carpenter should set the wardrobe. The door was still disarmed
These carriages are used to transport both people and objects. Yes, including the closet. The roof can be removed
These carriages are used to transport both people and objects. Yes, including the closet. The roof can be removed
Being a carriage driver is almost a family tradition in Cuba
Being a carriage driver is almost a family tradition in Cuba

TO SURF THE WEB

Another interesting thing I experienced on my vacation was connecting to a wireless network. This is a novelty! People crowd into the offices of the telephone company to buy a card with a username and password that allows you to connect. This card is valid only for one hour of connection but you can use anytime and it costs 50 Cuban pesos ($2). However, the WiFi network is only enabled in some cities. To connect to the Internet and talk with my father after three weeks in Cuba, I had to travel 22 miles from Placetas to the city of Santa Clara.

Cuban One Hour Calling Card
Cuban One Hour Calling Card
Internet browsing card in Cuba
Internet browsing card in Cuba
People of all ages flock to the park  of Santa Clara to connect to the Wi-Fi point
People of all ages flock to the park  of Santa Clara to connect to the Wi-Fi point
People of all ages flock to the park  of Santa Clara to connect to the Wi-Fi point
People of all ages flock to the park  of Santa Clara to connect to the Wi-Fi point

It was exciting to be back with the family and all my friends, especially my little cousin Isabela. When I left she was just a newborn baby and now she has grown so much. This made me realize how long I had been away from home. All in all, it was very special to be able to visit my home-country of Cuba this past summer.

About the author

Alexandra Hernandez is a young and passionate writer from Cuba who now lives in Madrid, Spain where she studies journalism, mass media and film. She loves traveling and writing about her experiences on Carmen's Luxury Travel as well as other blogs and web pages such as Vocabulary Spelling City.

6 Comments

  1. Suze - Luxury Columnist
    November 19, 2015 at 12:00 pm
    Reply

    This was a fascinating read, I’m glad you enjoyed your return to your home country. It will be interesting to see how Cuba changes in the near future

    • Carmen
      November 19, 2015 at 1:51 pm

      I’m getting ready to go back over the holidays, and am looking forward to seeing the family again. I remember a few years ago, when most people didn’t have mobile phone service. Now the majority of the people have cell phones.

  2. Arianna
    November 19, 2015 at 12:20 pm
    Reply

    O wow!Thank you so much for sharing both the story and the pictures! I have always been very interested by Cuban history and by all the changing in the last years. But i have just been reading about it in newspapers and some blogs. Reading a personal experience is way more interesting! Thank you so so so so much!

    https://pandaonavespa.wordpress.com/

    • Carmen
      November 19, 2015 at 1:53 pm

      I’ve read some other articles that bloggers have written about their experiences in Cuba. Unless, you travel to some of these rural towns you really don’t get a good feel for what’s going on.

  3. Frank
    December 9, 2015 at 11:56 am
    Reply

    Interesting read. I see though that things have changed since my last trip to Cuba in 2011 – no internet hotspots then. Another thing we couldn’t do then was pull out money with a debit card. Any extra cash we needed we’d have to go to the bank and have taken from our credit card for an 11% commission. Last I hear, from other Canadians, is that you can use a non-US debit card (with an extra commission of course).

    Yeah, Cubana still flies those old Russian-built Ilyushins. We saw then at the airport in Havana and Spanky figured they were just for show. Nope, I guess they still fly them 🙂

    We’ve met a lot of Cubans around the world including many in Canada. What has always struck us is how proud Cubans are. They may complain about things back home and emigrate because of economics – but all we’ve met seem to have a love for their country and a desire to one day go back under better circumstances.

    Nice post.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Carmen
      December 12, 2015 at 10:54 am

      That’s correct about being able to use a non-US debit card in Cuba. Most vendors still don’t take anything other than cash. Some things have changes like most of the people now carry cell phones. You still can’t use internet services unless you buy a card and go to a cafe. I’m heading back to Cuba in 10 days and can’t wait to see my family again.

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