Over fifty years have passed since the Cuban Revolution of 1959, and yet the propaganda tug of war between pro and anti-Cuban forces still rages. Western, US-led media tries to portray the country as dysfunctional and poverty-stricken, serving as an example in the failure of socialism. Conversely, the Cuban government trumpets the successes of free education and healthcare, papering over the sizeable cracks of very low salaries and food shortages. In reality, Cuban socialism is neither a great success nor a dismal failure.
The throng of tourists to Cuba disrupt society. With many locals looking to benefit from the financial rewards that tourists bring, Cuba has in some ways lost its authenticity. Cubans play up to their traditions, a gesture which must be championed, but should be taken with a pinch of salt. Fortunately, two societal stalwarts remain unmoved: the queue and the ban. These two reliable old hands have been going strong for well over 50 years, one regularly visible, the other conspicuous only in what Cuba lacks.
The Cuban travel experience is unusual. Simple things become difficult, bizarre things become normal and certain things become impossible. Coming to Cuba in search of a stress-free holiday would be foolish at best. Two currencies, food shortages, long queues, even longer delays and a quite astonishing lack of water, make travelling around this island frustrating and fascinating in equal measure.
A train journey in Cuba is drama at its finest. This is immersive theatre like you’ve never seen it before, a combination of promenade, with hefty chunks of audience participation and improvisation thrown in. Relationships blossom and friendships are forged on this theatrical journey; just catch the train from Havana to Santiago de Cuba for a front row seat.
Curtain up coincides with one’s arrival at the train station. The set is a vast chamber with rows of metal seats and bare yellow walls. Cubans are draped over the metal chairs, squashed between bags and boxes, chatting animatedly with everyone nearby. There are families with young children, gossiping old ladies and cigar-puffing gentlemen. A group of young military personnel, dressed from head to toe in their olive green uniform, toy with a lively drunkard...