Monalisa Dash Dwibedy

As we sailed away from the five hundred years old Havana, I felt a mixture of feelings. Last two days, the history loaded city made us a bit closer to the land. As we left the port of Havana, sailing to our next destination, we left Havana to itself. The tall buildings of the Spanish, Russian and American architecture gave an impression of a well-off city, but when we got closer to its people, the truth seemed different. People standing for long hours in front of ration shops for free ration items including baked goods, chicken and eggs ; senior citizens playing guitars on the street for a few bucks, beggars on the streets asking money to tourists, many old buildings giving themselves away are the realities of Havana . 

As you walk through the streets of the city, you will realize that the people living here, could not seize the opportunity in the past to leave the country when there was still a chance. It’s one of the countries of the world where everyone came to rule. Every ruler only looked after themselves. The same applies for Cuban dictators as well who used the power to make more money and better life for themselves. No one truly cared for the Cubans. Despite its natural resources, cigar and once flourishing sugar industry, the people in the capital city still live a poor life. We learned that most people living here depend upon their family and relatives living in the USA to send them money for meet their needs.

In spite of the poverty which is apparent in most parts of Havana, most people we interacted on our day tour seemed simple, happy and generous. The capital city of Cuba had many things to tell the travelers. Remember that the travelers are different from the tourists. Travelers feel the pain of the land and its people. Tourists just love to visit the museums. A traveler is always grateful for opportunity to be at a new place .A traveler bows down to the sea, rivers and mountains of the land as they are the life givers. A true traveler prays for the wellbeing of the country and its people. The tourists look at everything as consumables. A traveler may come back to the same place in the good intentions of helping the people, while a tourist just checks off a place from his /her list. 

The old Havana buildings are mostly turned into hotels or restaurants. We took a bus tour on the first day which took us to many important destinations of city including the “revolution square”. If you see the revolution square, you will feel modern society rich vibes. But it’s the old city with the broken buildings and waiting to be repaired apartments will tell you the true story. I gathered from the local people that many people can’t afford a bag cement for repairing their houses because of which their houses are about to collapse. 

Our second day in Cuba was little different in a classic vintage car. We drove to a place called Casa Blanca where there was a large statue of the Lord Jesus. It’s said that it was made by one of the Cuban First Ladies who was able to view the statue from her presidential home. It so happened that the religious First Lady could see the statue only for six days after it was built as she had to leave the presidential residence to be safe. The statue of the Lord Jesus Christ is huge and the hands of the lord is carved in such a way that locals make a joke of the Lord holding Cuban cigar in one hand and a Mojito in other . 

As the cruise tore the Caribbean Sea into two parts to create a green, white wavy path for itself, I felt like the ripples are moving towards the cruise telling me not to leave Havana so soon after realizing the struggles Cubans have endured.  Cuba has had limited exposure to the outside world and even though this gives Cubans a very unique sense of self it has also deprived them of growth. This is what in my opinion makes Cuba’s beauty also very complex and maybe the reason why I am trying to find the right words to describe how unique and special this place is, without feeling conflicted. Most importantly, Havana has a vibrant vibe that you won’t find anywhere else.

As I looked at the slowly receding skyline, I bade Havana a goodbye. 

(The author is an IT Consultant living in Toronto. Views are personal)