Cuba is a country so full of sensibilities that you can travel around it in countless different ways. Discover Cuba! All prejudices vanish at first glance. We propose a different kind of trip to this Caribbean island, a trip of more creative dimensions: less like the typical tourist’s photograph, and more the like brushstrokes on a painter’s idiosyncratic canvas.
T-shirts, sandals, bikini, towel, notebook, paintbrush and watercolours. Before I even set off I already knew all these things were indispensable for my trip to Cuba. I take my painting equipment with me wherever I go. Sketching the world around me onto my watercolour paper Moleskine allows me to look at my surroundings in a different way and perceive even the subtlest details. And Cuba, all of Cuba, is a place where I would want to have a gigantic canvas with me and litres of paint to capture its unique beauty.
I reach La Habana by night. I get into a taxi from the ‘40s that takes me from the airport to La Habana Vieja. The driver tells me the car’s motor belongs to a Mitsubishi lorry, but that the car’s body is an original. Something inside the car clashes with this old Cuban charm, though: reggaeton, blaring out of its modern sound system.
Discover Cuba: Paintings sensation
The next morning the sun is shining, so I put some comfortable footwear on and, holding my notebook in one hand, start walking down the city’s streets, all of them full of colonial buildings. Some of them, not to say most of them, are in a very poor state. Somehow, this city has been trapped in time. However, this is precisely what gives it its special charm.
Plaza Vieja is full of people. Almost all of them are tourists taking photos non-stop, but there are some local people too.
Life in La Habana takes place out in the streets. Old and young alike take their chairs outdoors to sit and chat or to listen to music. Elderly women, dressed in their colourful traditional clothes, enjoy a cigar in an uninhibited way. The tourists take snapshots of them. But not for free: taking their picture costs one humble convertible peso.
Viñales – coloured earth
It smells of coffee. I haven’t planned my route, so I’ll improvise. I go with the flow until I reach Viñales.
The Viñales Valley will impress anyone who visits it. Its landscape is a mix of striking jungle colours and reddish earth. It’s hard to convey this in my sketches. I’m spending the night at the home of Mrs. Ondina and Mr. Nicolás, a lovely couple. Every night we talk of literature and politics. There isn’t a night that goes by without us enjoying a small glass of rum.
Music, Heatand… Cienfuegos
I carry on down the south-eastern route. The guagua (the bus) leaves me in Cienfuegos early in the morning. This busy city has an air of France about it, because of its perfectly restored architecture.
The heat and humidity are suffocating, even at night. When the sun sets, the little shops and souvenir stalls close so they can welcome the nightlife. Bars get filled with people and you can hear live music on every corner. It’s the perfect moment to sit in an outdoors terrace and drink a mojito as you listen to maracas, trumpets and drums ringing in the air.
Transport, a way of socialising
In Cuba, transport is expensive for tourists. A good option, therefore, is to make use of the collective taxis. Journeys take a long time because the roads are so packed, and there are also many animals (cows, goats and horses) that every once in a while pop out of nowhere, so it’s best to take it easy and take the opportunity to share opinions with the other passengers of your cab.
Trinidad – a city that doesn’t seem cuban
My next stop is Trinidad. A colonial city that has been perfectly preserved. Its cobble stone roads and colourful buildings give it a strange atmosphere, as if it didn’t belong to Cuba. It’s too perfect. Inside one of its houses you feel taken back to another time, to those childhood summers in your grandparents’ house, since its furniture belongs to another era entirely: glass lamps and pots, and everything enveloped in a pleasant and characteristic damp smell.
The experience of diving into the bay of pigs
From Trinidad I go to my last stop before I return to La Habana, and that is Playa Larga, in the Bay of Pigs. There I am able to practice one of my favourite sports, snorkelling. It hasn’t been overexploited for natural resources, so Cuba has some of the best places for diving into crystal clear waters and enjoy the unending coral reefs and the rich sea life.
If I had to choose only one of Cuba’s defining traits, I know which one I’d pick: its people. Not just because of their kindness, warmth and hospitality, but also for their way of seeing life. Cuba has been a country wrecked by many conflicts all throughout its history, and this suffering is clearly seen in many parts of the island. Its future is uncertain, but I hope its people keep their beautiful personality which makes this such a unique country.
For more information: Turismo de Cuba.