The colours of Cuba are somewhat of a metaphor for the country itself: once vibrant and strong, they have been faded to mere pastels of their former selves in the hot Caribbean sun. Sorbet hues brighten the weary streetscapes, but if you dare to look beneath their fading elegance, there is certainly more to the story.
An inconvenient truth
Cuban culture is no doubt colourful, however, while admiring this seemingly idyllic, multi-hued haven – it pays to keep in mind the inconvenient truth. The rainbow of the Trinidad streetscape is not simply artistic charm, but also the result of locals not having access to the same paint colour twice. The artists peddling their work in the street or their studio, may not have had access to new paintbrushes for years. In fact, it was an artist that made me realize that my standard answer for why I was visiting Cuba – “I wanted to beat the first McDonalds” – sounded selfish and insensitive when heard through a local’s ear.
Why are you really travelling to Cuba?
When I thought about it some more, I realised this wasn’t at all the reason I was visiting Cuba, but merely the reason for the timing of my visit. Cuba has long been on my bucket list because I wanted to experience the culture and landscape; to take a salsa class; and visit the birthplace of one of my lifelong heroes. Yes, I did fear that impending globalisation would dilute local culture, however, it became clear throughout my trip that it has already been diluted by a lack of resources.
This is evident in the food. Cuba once had an incredible cuisine, which has been reduced to a diet of starchy basics. Again, don’t be fooled as a traveller. Some of the best food is reserved for you in order to leave a good impression (much of the population is surviving on food stamps) and even then, Cuba certainly won’t rank as a foodie destination any time soon.
If there’s one thing I learnt from travelling to Cuba, it is to travel the world more consciously. By nature, I will always be looking at the world through a middle-class, first-world-raised, white-woman lens. The only way to see things from a different point of view is to ask lots of questions, listen carefully to the answers and not expect to like all of them. Cuba changed the way I wander the world, especially places less privileged than my homeland.
Enjoy the colours of Cuba, critically
I encourage you to enjoy the colours of Cuba while bearing in mind the stories behind them. Before getting lost in the romantic nostalgia of vintage cars and crumbling buildings, pause for those who don’t have the luxury of “new” and pay respect to the incredible resilience and innovation that it takes to live in this environment every day and not just a short sojourn.
Peace, love & inspiring travel,
Stunning photos and cultural insights. Cuba is fascinating…we can learn much from them. I recently learned that they have rich traditions of maintaining organic farming, that is currently threatened by big corporations now coming in. I have seen that some people are fighting to protect the organic way of life. So critical on delicate island ecosystems.
Hi Crystal, thanks for stopping by Duende. Yes, Cuban’s are the best at making do, reusing and recycling!
We had a lovely lunch at an organic farm overlooking Vinales valley. We discussed with our guide and driver how we feared for the disruption of the natural environment and people’s health with the great changes on the horizon. I hope they take a moment before following in some of the developed world’s less glorious footprints.
I bet that was a wonderful experience. I wonder, did you speak Spanish mostly there? Did you find that people spoke some English?
Hola Crystal! Unfortunately I know only enough Spanish to be polite. I found that the English spoken ranged considerably, and our local guide was excellent help.
Amazing pictures. The colors around Cuba have to be awesome to see first hand. Where did you go in Cuba and what do you recommend? I would love to visit at some point.
Hi Joe and thank you!
We had a wonderful and eye-opening experience in Cuba. Havana and Trinidad are where we spent most of our time, but also enjoyed shorter trips to Vinales, Cienfuegos and the Bay of Pigs.
There is great snorkeling in the Bay. Gorgeous natural scenery and outdoor activities around Vinales and Trinidad. Havana is a terrific cultural center with museums, history and arts galore!
That’s a really interesting fact about the house colours! I have to stop and remind myself of things like this. We want to see “the authentic” “the rustic nature” of a place, but really sometimes the people want something more.
Yes! I experienced a few wake-up calls on my Cuba trip. It made me realise that I was unconsciously wearing “developed world glasses” when looking at the countries I visit, and that I need to ask more questions and make fewer assumptions.