Into the Unknown

Chaos and uncertainty was how we started off our trip to Cuba. Having traveled on many flights to developing countries, we were all expecting to glide through the process. However, perhaps rightly so, this turned out to be a new experience.

We stood in multiple lines to check-in – each time, uncertain as to what we were standing in line for. One line was to get our tickets, another was to check our bags (according to an ambiguous policy – one which I am still uncertain about), another line to pay for our bags and receive our boarding passes. As we continued to be blindly herded from one line to another, I began to wonder whether this was an omen of things to come.

The flight was suprisingly short. With all of the isolation and subjective distance we Americans feel regarding Cuba, it’s easy to forget just how close to the US Cuba actually is. Something clearly visible just by looking at a map. Our less-than-1-hour flight was another tangible realization of the sheer proximity of this otherwise faraway country.

The realization that we are entering a completely new experience was something we all felt at each step. Weeks before our departure when we received our plane tickets, we were all taking pictures to capture this experience. We took pictures of our visas, our boarding passes, as the pilot spoke through the intercom “Welcome to Havana,” and even as we passed through immigration with stamps on our passports, hearing the buzz as we stepped through the unlocked door to Cuba – we all felt the weight and significance of this trip.

Our first glimpse of Havana was perhaps more modern than the images of old cars we were expecting. To be sure, there was certainly no lack of old cars, but we saw a mix of old and modern – perhaps a sign that Cuba is…moving.

The most striking thing we saw immediately was the propaganda that surrounded us and no advertisements. The propaganda wasn’t pervasive enough to feel oppressive, but it was certainly present enough to keep one from forgetting:

“Country or death”
“We will be victorious”
“Defending Socialism”
“Until the Victory Always”

Personally, the stern Communist messages and images seemed to contrary to the sun and the blue skies, the warm weather and even warmer people, the music and dancing that still hold reign in this country. I felt the irony that communism in its sterility and coldness would find its way (of all places) to this warm, fun-loving island.

I think our expectations of coming to Cuba involved trying to find signs of how different Cuba is from any other country we’ve been to. That was what we were told before going on the trip – that Cuba is unlike anything else. However, apart from the propaganda and some small differences, what was visible to us looked “normal” or something we might find in any other developing Caribbean country. Sure there were lots of abandoned buildings that looked like they would crumble at any moment and people in uniforms of the green military khaki color that looked Communist but other than that, it was hard to see any stark contrasts. Wifi was available at the hotel, things seemed to be operating. Again, maybe it was the sun and music that veiled it, but it made us ask the question:

Is Cuba really that off?

Little did we know that making us ask this question…that was the point.
Caroline Oh ’13

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