A look at the people of Cuba, the heart and soul of the country
As I looked up from my camera our eyes met for a split-second before a veil of thick white cigar smoke hid her from view.
Once our eyes met again, I could see she was laughing and smiling. Her eyes shone brightly, but it was the deep dark lines covering her skin that betrayed how old she was.
“Buenos dias chico. Que tal?” she shouted across the street as Havana was coming alive all around us. “Bueno! Bueno! Muchos gracis chica!” I’d respond.
This little conversation happened every day while I was in Havana, and it never ceased to make me bring a smile to my face and make me happy.
From walking along the Malecon to drinking mojitos on the streets with locals, these little exchanges happened all over the city. It’s the people that are the beating heart of Cuba, they are the soul to the country, and everyone I met was so kind and welcoming.
I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive before my trip to Havana.
It was such a last-minute trip with KLM that I hardly had any time to plan or organise anything, and that caught me off guard a little.
Still, the one thing I did do before my flight was book somewhere to stay for a few nights.
Hotels were extortionate (and there’s also the reality that you’re directly funding an incredibly questionable government and/or foreign businesses in an impoverished country), and there weren’t any hostels.
After speaking to a few people who had been to Cuba before, everyone said I should stay in a Casa Particular, essentially a homestay with a Cuban host. After searching around for a bit, I actually found a few options on AirBnb of all places, so just a few days before my trip and before I got my visa, I booked a place in the heart of Havana.
When I arrived, hot and sweaty after being in the Caribbean air for just a few minutes, I was greeted at my Casa Particular by Ana, the sweetest woman with a smile that could light up any room and my best-friend while I was in the city.
Even though she didn’t speak any English, and trust me, my Spanish is bad at the best of times, she really went out the way to look after me.
Every day she cooked me breakfast (don’t worry, I did pay!), and we even shared a couple of cervezas on the balcony in a semi-awkward silence, occasionally mentioning how hot it was again from time to time.
One day, when talking to Ana’s boyfriend, once I told him I lived in UK he said he was very sorry about the terrorist attacks that had happened recently and that he was grateful to be living in a city like Havana where (he hoped) attacks like that would never happen.
It was such a small simple thing to say, but at that moment when I was alone in the strange city while my country was wracked by these atrocities, it was such a humane thing to do. I felt like this kind gesture epitomised all the people of Havana.
No matter how underprivileged and impoverished they might be, they always seemed to have to empathy for other people, including me. That really struck a chord.
Wherever I walked I saw images of kids screaming in delight as they played football in the streets, or of groups of women swapping stories as they huddled around a shop entrance, and everyone seemed so content with where they were in the world.
For me, seeing and meeting the people of Cuba was what my trip was all about – authentic experiences that you just can’t get anywhere else in the world.
My trip to Cuba was a part of KLM’s #KLMtop10 campaign uncovering new and exciting destinations all around the world. As always, views are entirely my own and without bias.
Have you ever been to Havana before? What did you make of the city? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
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