It’s all about expectations
If you don’t know me yet, there isn't anything I care less about than preconceived ideas. So when I land in places I’ve never been to, I like to start from scratch. Neutral state of mind. When I then get a chance to share my experience, I try to put as much as I possibly can in context. So there I am, petite white girl travelling alone. I've been told Cuba is unsafe, dirty, extremely poor and not relaxing. Here’s some of what I told them back.
Havana felt like nothing before. The city is both soft and harsh. Soothing but powerful. Almost lethargic yet it never sleeps. Impertinent. Smells of honey and spice. Wide avenues, driven by classic colourful Almendrones. The golden Capitolio rising. El Malecón holding some of the bests sunsets along the ocean drive.
Only a few minutes walk until the Old Havana reveals her true self. Ramshackle and quaint. Flaking paint, collapsing walls, smashed pavements, broken tiles. But gosh, SO full of life. Laundry hung on washing lines, balconies and window frames. Plants growing through the cracks. Fresh paint here and there. Dogs laying in the shadow. Music is constantly playing in the background. Voices, instruments, rhythmic foot steps and hand claps. You’ll hear it everywhere, all the time. Curious strangers with kind eyes and true smiles. Sometimes with a hint of nostalgia, or is it unconscious sorrow. Hard workers, faithful, humble and grateful for what they have. Madly caring for their families and children. Among the many hand workers, a massive community of artists thrills in Havana. Mostly around the omnipresent music culture. Dancers, singers, players, but also writers painters, photographs. The current youth is blending their massive historical culture with a new attractive wave.
Time froze in this western part of Cuba. The Viñales Valley is located in the mountainous province of Pinar del Río. Days are long and hot. Simplicity and rawness. Appreciation of the silence at midday, of the salsa at midnight. Over the years, the little town has seen a massive expansion, and more precisely since it opened to US visitors under Obama. Locals have turned their homes into Casa Particulares to welcome tourists in return of a small rent. Again, they all do it with endless care and generosity. Majestic nature. Leaves and rocks, cracking jugs in karst limestone. Massive overhangs and tufa columns. Viñales was heaven for us climbers.