Four Days in Havana
The American Forbidden Fruit | April 2016
A few weeks ago I travelled to Havana, Cuba, an increasingly common destination for Americans though still not entirely a simple maneuver. You may have heard about relations being relaxed between the US and Cuba in July of 2015 and the shiny new embassy being opened right on the Malecón; the challenge still lies in getting to the country. While you can pay a tour group to organize your trip and fly you straight from Miami to Havana, this is excessively expensive and you’ll be stuck to an itinerary for your entire journey. Currently, this is the only way to get into Cuba with the US Government’s blessing. We opted for the less licit route, flying through Mexico City instead. This option is, admittedly, somewhat nerve-wracking given that your entry to the country is entirely at the mercy of two governments (Mexico and Cuba) who are not your own. I know you’ve heard it from every news outlet imaginable but now is the time to go. The hard reality for Cuba is that it’s infrastructure simply cannot handle the sheer amount of money that’s about to pour into the country from hotel chains and waves of legal American tourism. It’s a fragile flower floating just off the coast of Florida that’s mere months away from being swept away by the tall waves of capitalist influence.
I can’t say enough positive things about my experience in Cuba. Havana is so thickly layered in culture you could cut it with a knife; from the incredible, yet tragically crumbling architecture of a bygone era to the music playing on every corner and out of every home, this felt like a barrel-aged moment out of a Kodachrome-steeped imaginarium of sound and color. I wanted to take this trip strictly as an observer and I think I successfully accomplished this. It’s, unfortunately, rather easy to get sucked into the tourism industry in Havana (which is their main source of income, anyway) and I wanted to do my best to avoid that. If I were to do it again, I’d travel with someone who spoke Spanish fluently as the extent of mine can find me a bathroom and that’s about all. English is not widely spoken, and while I can rustle up some French in a pinch, we found that Spanish is king here even if you’re in a French hotel. I felt incredibly safe walking around the city at all times. I opted not to take my huge Nikon D810 and instead brought my Fuji X-T1 thinking it would make me a little more inconspicuous. Unfortunately, the second anyone sees you with a camera, they’re all over you to get you to come to their cousin’s restaurant or to let them give you a tour for a fee. Everyone’s in it to make a buck so be travel-wise and just say no. That being said, at no time did I feel unsafe walking around day or night. See the full writeup here.