Cuba is a strange, beautiful and messed-up place. Like this graffiti on a decaying building, the country is filled with ironies and contradictions. While Cuba doesn't have the shanty towns characteristic of many Caribbean and Central American countries, it does suffer from its share of poverty. Cubans are guaranteed shelter, food and healthcare, but at a level that's barely tolerable (though I hear their medical system is quite good).
Make no mistake: when you're in Cuba you're in a communist country. I was perpetually reminded of my trip to communist Czechoslovakia back in the 1980's. Here's a case in point -- Marxism and the fetishization of all things industrial (yes, those are brick statues made to resemble various screw-driver heads). And like any communist country, Cuba suffers from long lineups, product scarcity (which is also exacerbated by U.S. sanctions), and miserable jobs (mostly due to obvious make-work opportunities).
Cult of Che: Images of Che Guevara are plastered throughout Cuba. He's the icon of the Revolution -- a revolution they believe they're still fighting. After a few days in Havana, and after visiting the Revolutionary Museum, I got the distinct impression that Cuba is nothing more than a country that was taken over by a bunch of ideological yahoos who have no business trying to run a country (and I'm not suggesting Batista was any better).
I guess they're not Reagan fans in Cuba. The caption reads: "Thanks you cretin for helping us to strengthen the revolution." Virtually all tourists I met in Cuba believe that things are set to change dramatically once Fidel and Raul Castro pass away. But Cubans don't think this at all. They firmly believe nothing will change and that the next generation of leaders will simply maintain the status quo (such that it is). The recent cabinet shuffle by Raul Castro, where he solidified the conservative make-up of the Party, would indicate that there may be some truth to this.
There were lots of stray dogs running around in Havana. But they were friendly. Some even followed me for hours (I learned that you have to avoid eye contact). This dog, unfortunately, wasn't doing so well.
Stray dogs on the streets and puppies in cages being sold. Weird.
Traveling to Cuba is like a journey through space and time: cars are hard to come by in Cuba and the ones that do exist are fairly old-fashioned. But for those who have cars, they tend to keep them in reasonably good shape. But the exhaust from these cars were awful and it was often hard to breath in Havana.
Rather limited selection of books.
The Bank of Nova Scotia from a different time.
El Cathedral: Some of the architecture in Havana was unspeakably beautiful.
More beautiful architecture.
Taken from the roof of the NH Parque Central in Havana. The building on the far left is El Capitol -- the seat of power prior to the 1959 Revolution.
One of the oldest cities in Cuba, Havana was founded in 1512. It is a beautiful city, but in a state of decay.
Only in Cuba would you see historical artifacts buried and forgotten.
Viva la Cuba!
I will return!
More photos here