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Published on April 25th, 2013 | by The Town Crier


Local Comment: Cuba: an alternative tale of travel.

Last month, we ran a travel article entitled ‘Cuba-sun, sea and swim up bar’ .

Local resident, Mike Lauerman has submitted a recount of his own experience.

A visit to this island poses an unsettling question to those of us brought up in a consumer society. Cuba has until recently been one of the last bastions of a state controlled society with the cards stacked against its very survival. In a casual conversation with a Canadian tourist in January this year he observed that the best thing about Cuba was the absence of Americans. USA citizens are restricted, by their own government, from visiting Cuba. President Obama has recently relaxed this restriction to allow people, living in Miami and can demonstrate relationships with kith or kin in Cuba, to visit. This is just one example of the wider stance that the USA has taken over many decades towards Cuba. Those of a certain age will remember the botched attempt by American exiles to invade the island in the Bay of Pigs in 1961; and the cliff edge stand-off between Kennedy and Khrushchev in 1962 over the so called Cuban Missile crisis when we stood at the brink of a nuclear war.

What is so intriguing about Cuba as a destination is to find a country which is trying to find an alternative to the rampant consumerism of almost all other countries. Until recently a system of rationing ensured that the appalling levels of poverty seen in so many parts of the Middle and Far East were being avoided. The street scenes of beggars and annoying hustlers trying to flog fake goods are not evident in this country. The general health and literacy of the population is impressive.

The way of life is generally at or close to subsistence levels. Car ownership is low and the sheer ingenuity of keeping clapped out vehicles be the cars, trucks, buses, trailers on the road is a skill lost in most developed countries. Music pervades so much of life and the streets of most towns will be enlivened by at least one small group of usually elderly musicians.

An insight into the ramshackle nature of their society was provided to us by the curator of a museum. He mused on the challenges he faced in restoring a building. He needed paint, brushes and painters. The challenge was getting all three in the same place at the same time. Getting any two was less of a challenge.

Do visit. Do go with your mind wide open. Do be prepared to have your world view challenged. Enjoy being liberated from the fast foods and other imports from Uncle Sam of which we are no longer even aware. Enjoy the weather, the music, the rum based cocktails, the cigars and expect to be intrigued by people living to a very different set of expectations to ours.

Remember this is the island with an area outside international jurisdiction within the remit of the USA at Guantanamo bay. The land in which attempts have been made by the CIA to assassinate Castro.

Visit a sugar plantation and mill. See the Museum of the Revolution as a reminder of the narrow line between propaganda and how history is told. Glimpse into the 1930s Cuba of racketeers and the Mafia by taking a guided tour of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba on the Malacon in Havana. Marvel at the sheer diversity of people born of generations of inter-racial heritage of the Spanish, the British, The Americans and the waves of slaves from the African continent.

One last word. Before you go watch Buena Vista Social Club.

Enjoy and be prepared to be challenged.


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