Destination: Cuba

To make a very long story short, I missed you all. I’ve missed writing on the blog, ranting and interacting with you all. A lot more people than I expected have expressed that they miss Eye on the East too and for that I am truly grateful. But long story short, the blog is going through some strategic changes that will be announced here soon…so please be patient.

In the meantime, let’s talk about Cuba. You may be already asking yourself what does Cuba have to do with a supposedly socio-political blog about Lebanon and the Arab World? The answer is that it has nothing to do with it at all. I simply went there, took over 500 pictures and wanted to share some with you all. More importantly however, given the interest and success of previous posts I’ve written on my eclectic travels (including posts on Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Cambodia, Belfast and Berlin), I thought you’d enjoy travelling to Cuba with me as well, if only virtually…

As an adventurous traveler, you will find many beautiful and exotic destinations to visit. But it isn’t often that you find a country that has the ability to take you back in time and not force you to be stuck between the four walls of a museum to do so. Cuba is one of them. And so I went back in time, around 60 years back, when an insurgency led by Fidel Castro set to bring the downfall of the Batista regime, starting in 1959. This however, isn’t only about politics, but about what you actually see and experience in Cuba. From the vintage American cars that circulate daily in the city to the colonial architecture and once splendid building facades in Old Havana city. The primitive state of the internet and communications doesn’t take you back to the 40s but at least to the early 1990s, whereby you spend your time remembering what life was without 24/7 accessible internet (and that’s a good thing for a real vacation). But the ubiquitous reminders in street art, billboards, car bumper stickers, and souvenirs of what became the Castro regime – and with it the introduction to the world of the one and only Ernesto Che Guevara – enable you to relive the revolution as if it happened yesterday. As one announcer noted on Cuban local radio, Fidel had “physically disappeared” two years, but it was clear that his spirit and that of his comrades remained everywhere.

Whatever I tell or show you won’t do my memorable trip to Cuba any justice. But until you go there, I will tell you that Cuba is about rum, salsa, revolution and cigars. But it is also about glorious colonial architecture, culture and art, so much so that you will literally stumble from the amount of cultural spaces, museums and galleries in Havana. Not to speak about the “Fabrica del Arte,” a massive industrial-like nightclub in Havana that doubles as a museum/art gallery/movie theater/concert house all at once, a simple concept that speaks loud to the importance given to art and culture in the city. Cuba is also about an island endowed with lush verdant mountains and spectacular beaches. If you don’t speak Spanish, you will be slightly annoyed by the short conversations that most locals will try having with you, starting with the blunt “where are you from?” but quickly cut short by their humble English. But if you do speak the language, you will truly discover how welcoming, curious about the world yet knowledgeable about it, Cubans truly are. I am used to explaining where Lebanon is on the map when I travel and locals try to guess where I am from. But I am certainly not used to discussing internal Lebanese politics with random locals! I’m still amazed at how three Cubans actually asked me whether Lebanese PM Saad Hariri had come back to Beirut after his flash trip and resignation from Saudi Arabia. Thorough coverage of international politics may be a way for the Castro regime to keep people’s minds off their problems – social and economic hardship and inequality increasing as the Cuban government has started reversing controls on businesses and information – but still quite impressive.

But anyway, let me take you to Cuba now…

© 2017 Marina Chamma
The ubiquitous and iconic image of Ernesto Che Guevara, overlooking Havana’s Revolution Square, and his most memorable phrase, found almost everywhere in the country. “Hasta la Victoria Siempre”/”Until Victory Always.” Havana, Cuba.  @2017 Marina Chamma
The stereotypical image that many in the world have of what to expect in the streets of Cuba, although this man happened to be eating a local delicacy instead of stereotypically smoking a cigar. Old Havana. @2017 Marina Chamma
Cubans are very serious about their salsa, and they will dance it anywhere, at any time and with anyone. Even if it is staged for tourists, you know they’re dancing with all their hearts. Old Havana. @2017 Marina Chamma
American novelist Ernest Hemingway lived in Cuba for over 20 years. He was serious about both his writing and drinking, advising only to drink rum-based mojito or daiquiri at their Havana birthplace, La Bodeguita del Medio and La Floridita respectively. La Bodeguita del Medio. @2017 Marina Chamma
Tourists – and the occasional mustachioed tourist-magnet, cigar-smoking photo bomber – are never in short supply in front of the birthplace of the infamous mojito. La Bodeguita del Medio, Havana. @2017 Marina Chamma
Havana by night, lightened up by the splendor of the Gran Teatro de La Habana. Paseo del Prado, Havana. @2017 Marina Chamma
1940s and 1950s-modeled American cars can be found everywhere in Cuba, either refurbished or intact, as purchased before the 1959 Revolution. Vedado, Havana. @2017 Marina Chamma
Havana as seen from across the Bay of Havana. @2017 Marina Chamma
You were warned, Che Guevara is everywhere to be found in Cuba, including on the highway for inspiration. “The word teaches. The example guides.” On the road to Viñales. @2017 Marina Chamma
The Valley of Viñales, Cuba. @2017 Marina Chamma
Viñales isn’t only known for its breathtaking lush valleys, but also for its tobacco plantations. It is on this simple table that local farmers roll cigars, from a to z and always and absolutely hand-made. Valley of Viñales, Cuba. @2017 Marina Chamma
Remembering the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs Cuban invasion. “The mercenaries reached this point.” Ciénaga de Zapata, Cuba. @2017 Marina Chamma
Often overlooked, it isn’t for nothing that the port city of Cienfuegos is also known as the “Pearl of the South.” Cienfuegos, Cuba. @2017 Marina Chamma
It is never difficult to close your eyes, open them again, and truly go back in time wherever you happen to be in Cuba. Cienfuegos, Cuba. @2017 Marina Chamma
View of the Caribbean Sea from the Topes de Collantes natural reserve park. Escambray Mountains range, Cuba. @2017 Marina Chamma
If you think that graffiti is a shallow thing, think again. “The battle of ideas continues.” Trinidad, Cuba. @2017 Marina Chamma
Salsa for the tourists and the masses… Trinidad, Cuba. @2017 Marina Chamma
No caption needed, just to say that the best time to enjoy the endless stretch of sandy beach is early in the morning to avoid the swarm of tourists. Varadero, Cuba. @2017 Marina Chamma
They asked me to take a picture of them…and so I did. Havana, Cuba. @2017 Marina Chamma
The new generation. Havana, Cuba. @2017 Marina Chamma
Life always goes on. Havana Centro. @2017 Marina Chamma

More graffiti, more politics, more messages, more revolution. “Viva the 26! [reference to July 26, when the revolutionary movement led by Fidel Castro first attacked a Cuban army garrison, which eventually led to the overthrow of the Batista regime]. Viva Fidel! Viva the Revolution!” Havana. @2017 Marina Chamma
The lovely facades of Old Havana, in desperate need of repair, but grandiose nonetheless. Old Havana. @2017 Marina Chamma

Strutting after school hours. Havana @2017 Marina Chamma

…and as they say in Cuba, “Hasta la Victoria Siempre.”

2 Replies to “Destination: Cuba”

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