By Jeff Wise
Posted on June 1, 2016
Everyone takes something different away from any experience. For me, the three best parts of Cuba are the people, architecture, and cars. Across the board, we experienced some of the most welcoming and charming people I have ever encountered. There is a warmth and happiness that I have not experienced elsewhere. We were embraced enthusiastically everywhere we went. They are proud of their country, and they want you to see and experience it. They are also the most resourceful people I have ever seen. The U.S. embargo has caused significant hardship in access to many day to day items, but they have developed a culture that knows how to reuse and maintain everything. This has created an ethos that values what they have and not what they want. The focus is on sharing what one has and seeing your brother as one you help. In turn, he is committed to helping you.
The entire island looks like it was frozen in time since Castro took over in 1959. This is not an overstatement. The buildings reflect the assortment of styles from the various colonial influences ranging from the Moorish and Baroque, to the Soviet influenced periods. These are beautiful buildings creating beautiful cities and towns. There is a sadness felt as a result of the crumbling and decay, but the increasing private ownership allowed is prompting more investment in the restoration and upkeep. The outside often belies amazing interiors that offer 14 foot tall hardwood doors, intricate tile work, and detailed ceilings. Everywhere we rode, the buildings and the infrastructure was simply breathtaking (think Charleston, SC, but thousands of times more extensive).
Lastly, the cars. Oh the cars. You will get tendinitis if you try to point out every vintage vehicle you see. The minute we walked out of the airport in Santiago, we saw lines of old Chevys, Pontiacs, Plymouths , and every type of car made during Detroit’s glory years. There are Ladas from the USSR. There really are as many old classics as you are lead to believe. They have very few stock components, and most have bondo and bailing wire holding them together. The best part is everyone in Cuba knows how to fix their cars. They have to because they break down in the middle of the road all the time. In true Cuba spirit, everyone jumps out to help, and it is very common to see two or three people disappearing into the hood of a broken down classic in the middle of the road.
Jeff Wise is the Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. National Whitewater Center