9 Cuban customs and curiosities

I’ve been travelling quite a lot over the past few years -as you have probably noticed already-, but Cuba was something entirely new to me. I’m used to going short citytrips, mostly in Europe, so for the first time in my life I was heading to a whole new culture.

Life is Cuba is obviously entirely different from the life I’m used to in Belgium. Most prominently it the difference in politics of course. Communism vs Democracy. But I’m not making this a political post. Instead I’d like to mention a few – 9 to be specific – customs, habits and curiosities that I came in contact with during my trip and will probably come to mind whenever someone mentions Cuba.

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1. Hitch-hiking is the rule!

Since cars are still a luxurity in Cuba, many people hitch-hike to get places. On every crossing and along every big street you can see groups of people trying to catch a ride to their destination. Even the Viazul bus often picked up some hitch-hikers which was so absurd.

Still I think it’s quite nice that hitch-hiking is so well accepted. It would mean a lot less traffic if people in Belgium would ride together to their work.

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2. Rhum with some rhum and a splash of rhum

Cuba wouldn’t be Cuba without its rhum. It’s everywhere and simply can’t be overseen. Rhum is in some places even cheaper than the imported soft drinks like Coca Cola. In stores you can find bottles of rhum for less than 1,5 euros while in Belgium you pay over 15 euros for the same bottle. It’s crazy. (And sad that I was only allowed to import 1,5 liters because damn!)

And the cocktails with rhum definitely aren’t like the ones I’m used to back home. First of all you pay less than half for a cocktail in Cuba than in Belgium, but more importantly, here you can be lucky to taste a bit of rhum in them, while it in Cuba rhum is sometimes all you taste. Often you even got the bottle on the table just like that. So absurd. But I definitely wasn’t complaining. Cheap, really good rhum; YUM!

3. Does this car still run?

Classic cars and oldtimers are the postcard image of Cuba. You can see them on all country advertisements and travel guides. And yes, they are everywhere. But in what state… Many of those old cars are working as taxis to take tourists all over the country, so of course we’ve also taken one of those classic cars to get to our destinations.

But it was obvious that those cars aren’t as shiny as they appear in the magazines. They are often rusty, with broken windscreens, side mirrors and speedometers, kilometer counters stuck at 999,999 because that’s the maximum they’ll go, doors that won’t shut properly, etc etc. These are above all just old cars and god you can hardly breathe because of the exhaust fumes! But they get you to where you want to go and the experience is all part of it.

4. Who needs street lights anyway?

It was the first thing we noticed while driving from Varadero airport to Havana. “It’s so dark here; where are the street lights?”. We even asked our taxi driver and he said that only the big roads in the cities have street lights. Okay.

Now the “no street lights” thingy wouldn’t be a big deal if it wasn’t for the unusual trafic along the roads. Usually when there are no road lights, there are often only cars using said road, but in Cuba you can expect about anything. Horses. Cows. Bikers. Carts. People on foot. Everyone is walking at the side of the road, most often without any illumination so it’s nearly impossible to see them. Seemed quite dangerous to me, but it’s all very common in Cuba.

On the plus side; you get to see so many stars. That was just so lovely. I couldn’t stop gazing out of the window of the car at the perfect sky.

5. What’s another cat or dog? 

Stray cats and dogs are literally everywhere. I know this is a big issue in many countries, but in Cuba I felt like I was going to trip over them. There were so many! And the animal lover in me had such a hard time trying not to give them a bit of food when we were eating on a terrace. I also saw many along the roads who were so close to starving. It was heartbreaking.

In Havana, along Calle Obispo, we also saw puppies being sold like any other souvenir. I guess it’s no wonder that so many animals end up on the street if they are traded like that. I can imagine many people falling for the cute little pup but unable to take care of them in the end. Poor little fellas.

6. Holes in the road? No biggie.

This was most obvious when we were on the road to the Valley de los Ingenios. Cuban roads aren’t in the best condition. The holes are often as big as the entire lane and pretty deep. Solution: driving on the other side of the road! Luckily there was hardly any trafic at that moment which made that possible, but still it was quite absurd to witness. Taxi drivers also expertly drive around the biggest holes as if it’s the more common thing in the world. Unimagineable in Belgium!

7. Hasta la Victoria Siempre! 

Everywhere, and I mean literally everywhere, you can expect politic propaganda. This can go from the face of Ché Guevara, to the slogan “Hasta la victoria siempre” to a combination or those or almost anything else. Whether you’re in Havana or even outside of the center of Viñales, it’s there. Some are almost a piece of art.

8. When you see many people with phones, you know there is a wifi hotspot 

For those two weeks that we stayed in Cuba, we never had wifi access. Not in the casas, not in the restaurants, not once. At first we needed a bit of adapting to that situation – even though we had expected it-, but soon we realised that we didn’t need to be online at all times. We didn’t even miss it. It was sort of liberating to not have to worry about social media for once.

But more and more wifi is making it entrance into the country. Just like in the old days, you can buy a card which will allow you internet access for an hour or any other time. To use that card, you’ll have to head to a wifi hotspot. And it’s impossible to miss one of those. Whenever you see plenty of people using their phones – facetiming mostly – you know you’ve hit one. Pretty funny to see.

9. Every house has its bird

Some little curiousity that caught my attention during our stay, was that every casa had one or multiple birds. And they were just so beautiful and colorful.

During our trip to Las Terrazas we learned that Cuba is the home to the world smallest bird but sadly we didn’t get to see that little fella. We did see many other birds and mostly I had an amazing time making acquintance with the pet birds.

And that’s it for the Cuban customs. Do you – if you’ve ever been to Cuba – have any other things that caught your attention during your stay?

Until next time,

Love, Ellen

 

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