Cuba is the most mysterious island in the Caribbean. It doesn’t really matter which regime is in power, or what the level of poverty might be, the Cuban people are always happy, hospitable, joyful, and ready to dance rumba. The curious thing is that they are completely authentic, and the answer, apparently, lies in the amazingly romantic personality of the Cubans, which is formed by the nature and history of the island. Anyone who has ever visited Cuba, either recently or in the last century, has come back with the warmest impressions: the rays of the bright and scorching sun shining through the branches of the majestic palm trees, the snow-white sand and the incredible blues of the sea, the taste of sweet rum, the heady smells of the finest cigars in the world, and round-the-clock music and dancing. But who works in this country, and when, is never a clear answer. Even the abject poverty of the island’s nation, which began in the time of Fidel Castro’s regime, has done little to curtail the music and the consumption of rum.
Back in the day, numerous tourists wondered about what kind of communism there was in this place (which reminded them of paradise). Apparently, non-stop joy is second nature to every Cuban. The power that inoculated the Cuban people from the excesses of the Castro regime, which held on for far too long, seems to reside in the fact that the good-natured and laid-back Cubans kept themselves away from the additional drama of revolutions. They kept their focus on the day-to-day realities of their lives. They let Fidel die peacefully in his bed, while the island steered a course towards addressing the problems of the economy, business growth, and low birth rate.
It is expected that the resumption of normal relations with the U.S. will very quickly change the face of Cuba. Already tourism has increased, and there is a new wave of renovations and construction taking place. At last, the Cubans are experiencing an improved supply-distribution system, as well as a better quality of life. Progress is starting to show. But there is one historical phenomenon that remains, as if Cuba were frozen in time half a century ago. The most popular photograph taken in Cuba today is of a large, brightly colored 1950′s American car against the background of the once-grand buildings of Havana. The most interesting thing about these iconic vintage autos is that they are still functioning, and can be seen coursing through all of the cities, reminding us of “the good old days.” One can almost hear the voice of the great Elvis Presley moaning through the dashboard radios.
Today, Havana itself is little more than poorly painted facades, like theatrical scenery, barely hiding the underlying poverty. Once, Somerset Maugham referred to Havana as a city where there is room under the sun for everyone who is always in the shade. Many hope that Havana will soon regain its capital shine. The provincial cities of Cuba are still in ruins, but, from time to time, one may see in them some genuine masterpieces of architecture that have survived. One peculiarity of Cuban architecture is its mix of different styles: Spanish Catholic cathedrals of the 18th century alongside elaborate French mansions from the 19 century done in Rococo style, and theaters built in the Art Deco style, complemented by substantial colonnade here and there, which itself was borrowed from the Spanish Mudéjar style. Cities like Remedios, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad, and Camagüey have yet to see their turn at being renewed. But they have survived, and have even acquired a certain charm in their abandoned condition. They continue to draw their share of tourists.
Just imagine what it’s like at the Cuban resorts! Of course, the level of service has not yet reached its peak, but the whiteness of the sand and blueness of the water are consistent, regardless of the level of pampering. And this classic combination of colors is universally appealing. The climate in Cuba is tropical, and this means that the flora and fauna are represented in beautiful diversity. Fishing in the lagoons of Cienaga de Zapata, diving off the shores of the archipelago of Jardines del la Reina, hiking in the rainforest of Cuchillas del Toa, mountain-climbing in Sierra Escambray – these activities have always been available to the lovers of sports and nature, even during the years when communism was being forged. All these adventures enjoyed mainly by travelers, as Cubans themselves are too busy “living the hustle” by selling the gifts of nature to tourists: coconuts from the palm trees and seashells from the ocean waters.
Everyone understands that Cuba today stands on the verge of a renaissance. If this island has not lost its appeal during its poverty, what will happen to Cuba when funding for renovations and building projects starts pouring in? Some say, nothing much will really change. The same thing that has always been there will continue to be: a prosperous government on an island inhabited by a hospitable and romantic people loving their homeland, dancing rumba, and making the most of what they have. And in the back of the Cuban cities, the Cubans will continue to dance and sing, expressing the groove and original flavor of the Cuban soul, spreading joy and a love for life.
Photographed by Franklin Liranzo
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