Why did I not meet the lovely, friendly Cubans everyone talks about?



What’s up with people visiting countries and always, inevitably and predictably falling in love with its people? Each time I plan to visit a new place, I spend hours on the web reading about it. Travel blogs, online magazines, guides, travel diaries and what not. I don’t think I have ever come across a negative comment about the people of a specific country. Hardly anybody ever said publicly that the people in said country are unwelcoming, or that those of another are rude, pushy or lazy.

Privately though, it is a different story. And recently I have started coming across more and more blog posts that give a honest and personal version of things. That’s when I hear people say that really, they hated the people in a country and actually fled because they could not take the locals anymore. A friend of mine who spent years living and working in Peru finds Peruvians hardly amicable. Another who travelled across South America thought that people in Bolivia are rude and cold. What’s interesting is that I have a completely different opinion on both Peruvians and Bolivians. In my experience, they are both reserved people, yet so welcoming and caring. I have had some great encounters in both countries and hold great memories of the people there. Then again, I appreciate reserved people as I enjoy silence and time alone.

This goes to show that really, the way we perceive a people and a country is all a matter of individual perspective. It depends on how we feel while we are travelling, and sometimes even on who we are travelling with. And, quite importantly so, it depends on our ability to communicate, both verbally and non verbally.

Havana, photo 3, Cuba

People you meet at the book market in Havana

If what I say is true, I must not have been in a very good mood when I travelled to Cuba then (and none of my friends who have been there before and after me were in a good mood either!) because seriously, I did not like Cubans all that much. Mind you, I love the country and I could visit it again any time. I had a great time there, despite everything, and I even think that the second time around I would have a real blast and perhaps, knowing what to expect, I would not have such a hard time communicating with the locals. Because really, in the end it was all due to miscommunication and cultural differences.

But… was it?

I like to think of myself as a fairly open minded individual. I have travelled widely, and I have lived in various countries that are not my own. I have learned to communicate effectively with people from all over the world. However, try as I might, it was impossible for me to meet those loving, friendly, smiling, fun, relaxed and fantastic Cubans everyone talked about, to the point that I even wondered if we were talking about the same country, about the same people at all.

The Cubans I have met felt more like sharks I should steer away from, swimming against the current not to fall for their scams. They made such a strong impression on me that I actually started my blog in the very ambitious attempt to warn the world about what travelling to Cuba really implies. I suppose I had to digest what had happened though, as now, despite my various misadventures and the numerous scams, I end up recommending Cuba as a country to visit to just about anybody – with a number of scam warnings attached to my recommendations.

Read more about Cuba on my post on the things to do in Cuba.

I actually felt lonely in Cuba

I actually felt lonely in Cuba

What I found frustrating in Cuba was that I could hardly mix with the locals. I speak Spanish fluently (and in any case, not speaking the local language has never stopped me from communicating!) and I find that getting to know someone from the place I visit, sharing my travel tales, and even parts of my life, culture and country, as well as learning more about the country where I am travelling through the eyes of someone who was born there is always an enriching experience. I have always met amazing people during my travels who, for as brief the encounter, have always wanted to help me, to know about me, and to just talk for the sake of it.

I would have liked to chat but I felt a barrier

I would have liked to chat but I felt there was a barrier

Having an authentic experience: scams in Cuba

Hardly any of this happened to me when I travelled in Cuba. Any genuine conversation I would try to have would end up in an offer of sex (in exchange of money or a drink), in demands that I buy something or that I give away my clothes (including those I was wearing), or in a trickier scam attempt. Not so much of a cultural exchange – or perhaps it was a cultural exchange, just not the kind I was hoping for. Even if I tried to find an explanation for what was occurring, I could hardly justify it. Cuba is a poor country, I told myself. But then, I have been to places that are considerably poorer and none of this had happened and even those who had nothing were kind and helpful and not so hardened by life.

What about those people who’d approach me and start introducing themselves by saying: “I’m not like other Cubans”? In fact, they were not like other Cubans – way more sleek in their scams! They would present themselves as the most helpful people in the city, so good in their act that they seemed genuine. They would master a few words of Italian. They’d prompt me to watch out for scams and people working for commissions (called jineteros) and then offer to take me to a good restaurant or bar (hardly the one I may be looking for) to then sit and have a drink (which I’d offer, to thank them for their tips), leave without a word of thank you and get a commission from the owner in the end. Ah, the irony!

What about those who were celebrating their birthday everyday? I can’t even remember how many people I have met in Cuba who, after some small talk, told me “today it is my birthday” – and then expected to be offered a drink in a bar of their choice (scam warning: this is just a strategy to bring tourists to a bar or restaurant and get a commission from the profits).

All in all, the feeling I had was that people saw me as an ATM with legs that they could try to get cash from, or as a sexual object, or a passport, or all of that. There was no explaining that I was on a tight budget and had saved for years to be able to afford that trip, or that I was not interested in sex as I was in a relationship (I wasn’t, but you get the point). Nobody cared. All that people seemed to think about me is that I was a foreigner, therefore better off, and as such it would be fair to try to take advantage of me.

Station Baracoa, Cuba

The wall – casas particulares owners looking for guests at the bus station in Baracoa

Some other episodes that occurred to me during the few weeks I spent in Cuba made my opinion of the locals become less than positive. I spent my first ten days in Cuba fighting not to get scammed. The first thing that the owner of the first casa particular where I stayed in Havana warned me against was the existence of the jineteros. He made it a point that I learned to defend myself against them.

When he offered to take me to the ceremony of El Cañonazo in Havana, I gladly accepted – he was so well educated that I figured it would be a great experience. Then, a few hours before going, he said he could not make it and suggested his (less than talkative) cousin could take me instead, for “protection”. I said that would be nice of him, and he told me straight out to just pay him the entrance fee, the taxi, and a meal and drink afterwards. I was shocked. Had he not just warned me against this practice of having to buy drinks to men in exchange of company and protection?

I felt like I always had to watch my back

I felt like I always had to watch my back

By the end of my trip, I was well trained in recognising scams. On my first night in Viñales, I signed up for a salsa lesson. As the dancing school was undergoing renovation works, I had to take the class at the teacher’s neighbour’s apartment. The lady was nice, polite, her flat small but spotlessly clean. As we finished the lesson, I asked the teacher if he could suggest a restaurant for the night as I didn’t have time to look for one on my guide. The lady jumped at the occasion and said I could eat at her place. In disbelief for the invitation (was a Cuban really going to offer me dinner, at her house?), I started asking questions.

It soon became clear that I wasn’t going to be invited in the western sense: I’d have to pay for the food, I’d be served at the table and sit by myself. Just as in a restaurant, only this time sitting uncomfortably and slightly abashed in some0ne’s home. I told her I’d eat there the day after and suggested that the family, as well as the salsa teacher, should eat with me. I suppose I took them by surprise. But I think they were not surprised when the day after I did not show up as there was no way I would accept an invitation to then have to pay for everyone’s meal – my means were not such for me to be able to afford it, and even though I could appreciate the cultural differences, it would simply be odd to have to offer dinner to some complete strangers when I had been “invited” to their home.

However, the episode that well classifies as the worst and that still makes me angry if I ever think about it happened to me on my very last day in Cuba, in Viñales. The guide who took me on a tour of the valley seemed to suffer from mood swings. One minute he was kind and helpful, the next he’d leave me alone to bike and hardly said a word. All in all, he was rude. I had kept to myself, and he must have not liked it because at some point, when we stopped to have a break, he started talking to my Mexican friend in Spanish (as if I was not there to hear and I could not understand) and said that if he did not plan to have sex with me, he would. I felt like an object, and disgusted.

I was right there when the guide (on the right) asked my friend whether he planned to have sex with me.

I was right there when the guide (on the right) asked my friend whether he planned to have sex with me.

All in all, I suppose I did get a very authentic Cuban experience – as authentic as it can get for tourists. Because really, there is hardly anything as authentic as a Cuban scam in Cuba.

Don’t get me wrong. It was not all so bad and I actually met a few people who were nice. Although most owners of casas particulares were almost intrusive when wanting to find out about my future plans on the island (so that they could push the services of one of their friends on me, whether I liked it or not), others were very kind and talkative yet never pushy – one was so keen to practice his English that he took “advantage” of me on that; another was so motherly that she’d check on whichever guide that took me around and if he didn’t pass her test she would not allow me to go out; one more spent hours in Trinidad looking for the yogurt I asked her for, not knowing it was hard to find in Cuba. Some guides were protective of me to the point that they offered to go give a lesson to the driver who had scammed me the night before. A young man in Baracoa carried my backpack across town when he saw me bent over the weight.

Mojito time

I left from Cuba with a huge smile on my face – I wanted that to last

In general, my impression is that Cubans have suffered from the isolation that the embargo era has caused. They have all they need – food, education, healthcare. But nothing more than that. However it is in human nature to want more – and to find ways to get it, even if this means swindling unaware tourists.

Travelling in Cuba was tiring. I knew that any time I’d set my foot out the door, I’d be surrounded by people making demands, either openly or in a more sneaky way. I knew I could not go for a walk by myself, because nobody would respect my need for alone-time. I never felt respected as a tourist, as a person, let alone as a woman. I remember spending whole mornings saying “no” to taxi drivers who, one after the other, would ask me if I needed a taxi, although they heard me turn down their collegues’ offer just one second before. Did they never realise it was annoying?

I became almost aggressive any time I was approached by locals, because a polite “no thank you” would not end a conversation but turn into an endless rant which would inevitably lead to a quest for money, clothes (even those I was wearing) and whatever else I may have on me. I remember walking in the street without ever making any eye contact, or smiling, or answering to those who said hello, because I knew that there was no way they’d be interested in me as a person but they only saw me as a tourist to exploit to their benefit.

That was not how I wanted to travel. It made my trip less enjoyable, because there hardly was a memorable encounter with a local that was genuine and kind to me, just for the sake of it. I felt I could not let myself go and enjoy a conversation because if I lowered my guards there would be a scam waiting for me; and if I told straight out that I was not looking for company, or that I had nothing to offer, people would get offended. I tried a few times to be more approachable and I fell for scams – it happens to the most experienced travellers, really, but this did not make me feel any better. In the end I really felt I could not trust anybody, that nobody wanted to help me, ever – they only wanted to help themselves and make money out of me – and this is not an uncommon feeling among people who travel there.

I like to think the way I felt when I travelled to Cuba has a lot to do with my personality. I consider myself to be a “social introvert” – I like socializing, but I need a lot of alone time. I like observing, but from a distance. I don’t always want to be surrounded by people and I don’t necessarily want to talk all the time. In my experience, Cubans are the opposite of that: they very open, they like meeting people; they like to talk and they don’t have as much a need for privacy as I may have. Cuban homes are a mirror of Cuban culture and personalities: they are always open and people go in and out, often unannounced. I need people to ring my bell and ask permission before I can open up.

I now can’t help but wonder if, going to Cuba again, I would be able to finally connect more with the locals and have a more enriching experience, that cultural exchange that I felt was missing my first time there. I wonder if, knowing what to expect, I would be able to figure out the people I had to steer away from and those I could trust. I surely am ready to try.

Have you been to Cuba? What was your experience with the locals?


 

 

 

You may also like

89 Comments

  • Sarah Ebner
    22 August 2015 at 11:29

    I have never been, but I’m sorry to read about your experiences. I can totally understand your sentiment especially because of the scams, but would hope that they are not entirely representative.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      22 August 2015 at 17:56

      Of course they are not, but it is hard to meet really genuine people there – more than in other countries!

  • antonette - we12travel
    22 August 2015 at 16:26

    I’m sorry to hear about your experiences! I’ve not been to Cuba nor am interested in going there, but if getting in touch with locals is what drives you, I’m sure it is insanely disappointing. Maybe someone else can answer the question better for you 🙂

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      22 August 2015 at 17:57

      I have heard of people who have had better luck. But most of the people I spoke to (other friends who have been there) have had similar experiences, if not worse!

  • Fiona @ London-Unattached
    22 August 2015 at 17:16

    I’ve never been to Cuba, but I had a friend who went with her boyfriend and felt much the same way as you did, despite having her boyfriend there too. I’d probably feel as ill at ease as you did at times!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      22 August 2015 at 17:57

      LOL really? WOW, that is intense!

  • zof
    23 August 2015 at 10:47

    Thank you for this honest post. I felt in a similar way when I was traveling in Morocco. I, too, have read tons of posts on friendly locals before . I never found them and by the end of my stay I refused to talk to any locals if it wasn’t totally necessary. I wrote a note about it on my blog, because I believe that a honest blogger writes real stories. Imagine my surprise when I had a chat with another blogger who told me privately that her take on the locals in Fes was same as mine, but she decided not to mention it in her articles. I was a bit shocked. Let’s keep blogging real.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      23 August 2015 at 18:23

      Thanks for your comment. I am sure that some travellers – blogger or not – have indeed met friendly and lovely people (in Cuba, Morocco or other places). I haven’t really had the pleasure, except for some cases which in general did not make me change my opinion of the locals. Then you know, as I say at the beginning of this post, some of my friends told me that Peruvians or Bolivians are not kind, and I found them to be nothing but really lovely and friendly!

  • valeria
    23 August 2015 at 16:17

    because they dont’t exist….!

  • Travelwith2ofus
    23 August 2015 at 16:58

    I had a similar experience in a couple places I have visited, not as bad, but locals always trying to outsmart visitors. The thing that annoys me is that they are so consistent. You can say no a million times, but every time they see you they ask you again. I have not travelled to Cuba, but it is unfortunate you had that experience. Hope when I do visit I will have a better time with the locals.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      23 August 2015 at 18:24

      When you plan to do so, let me know – I will lecture you fully on things to do, places to visit in Cuba and scams!

  • Tatiana
    23 August 2015 at 17:32

    Oops. I want to go to Cuba so badly, never been there and I really was planning a visit there next year. Never thought that the people would be so rude.
    Well, I thank you for sharing – it’s always important to also mention the negative aspects of a place. It isn’t always rainbows and unicorns when you’re traveling 🙂

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      23 August 2015 at 18:25

      You will have my guide on things to do to read and many other posts that will prepare you fully 🙂

  • Mel Jones
    23 August 2015 at 21:20

    Sorry to hear about your experience Claudia. I would have called that guide out though for making that comment by responding back in Spanish haha imagine his surprise! At the end of the day, as travellers we have our own experiences and opinions about a place and this is how you found it. But at least you came back having had the experience and still enjoyed Cuba which is a plus 🙂

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      25 August 2015 at 9:52

      He knew! Because I spoke to him in Spanish all the time (although he had said he spoke English). But he just did not care!

  • Joe Ankenbauer
    24 August 2015 at 8:53

    Sorry to hear that your experiences with the Cuban people were far from pleasant. Personally, I didn’t run into many of the things you described happening. That’s truly horrible. Although, it was everybody’s birthday haha! I’ve run in to that particular “scam” all over though.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      25 August 2015 at 9:55

      I told you so! 😉

  • SVV
    25 August 2015 at 8:55

    It’s what I like to think of as the death of authenticity. With the outside world readily available to even the poorest countries via the Internet or a cellphone, in addition to the realization natives have about the walking ATMs in their midst, the world is rapidly becoming a full blown market, and you’re for sale. I’ve been traveling since the late 90s as a fairly-introverted-but-open-to-random-conversations/experiences-with-locals and there has been a real increase in situations like this with me, and people that I know, as well.

    It’s a difficult and sticky thing to write about (and probably why you don’t see much of it) because you don’t want to paint an entire culture with a broad brushstroke. But let’s be honest, if 98 percent of your interactions are of the negative kind like you describe here, it’s totally valid to associate a country with scams and swindlers. The why of it doesn’t necessarily matter because these are still human beings making real decisions to be assholes, to be aggressive or to straight up lie to your face.

    Now that authenticity is dying in most of the world, the only way that I can see traveling to an oft visited destination is to parachute in, snap a couple pictures with the peace sign and then shovel the crooks out of the way back to the boat or plane. It certainly isn’t a fun way to travel. Having friends in these places (real, real friends) usually flips the occasion in your favor but even then, you might begin to wonder..

    This right here, this great, honest post that I wish more travelers would write is what attracts me to traveling in the first place. The challenges that we face in every culture is slightly different, but the hook that most often binds them is the hunt for your dollar (or in a woman’s case, quite a bit more).

    I hate it, and if I were you, I wouldn’t count on a different experience the next time around. It’s actually getting worse, and not just in Cuba.

    So, with that comforting thought, there are destinations that spring to mind that are actually authentic, and we need to hold onto those for as long as we can because it’s only a matter of time til everything gets tainted.

    Nice post Claudia! I’ll definitely be coming back to your website

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      25 August 2015 at 10:43

      What a sweet, insightful comment! Truth be told, I was really expecting a different reaction from this post. I was expecting people to accuse me of singling out an entire people based on my experiences (and that of 99% of my friends and of other travellers I know who have been to Cuba). I was expecting people to tell me that I need to put myself in the shoes of the locals, that I need to understand their poverty, etc etc. I really thought I would be attacked and would have to defend myself and explain myself all over again, and instead it seems that people really appreciated what I had to say.

      Yes. Cuba was a challenge for me. And no, poverty is not an excuse to treat others badly and scam them all the time. People there have adopted this attitude and the result is what you read on this post. I have been to far poorer countries, and I have met so many people who were kind, friendly, polite and overall genuine. So genuine that they would refuse any offer of money in exchange for their help.

      The funny thing is that I have met Cubans outside of Cuba and… well, they were not much different from those I have met there. The administrator of the place I rented in Rome was Cuban and I could hardly stand dealing with him in the end, as he constantly invaded my privacy. In the end I would tell my roommates to warn me if he was around, so that I would either lock myself in my room or… just avoid getting back home!

      • Yohan
        8 January 2016 at 1:26

        So sad to read your post and the comments here…I am Cuban, I am 41 years old and living outside Cuba ( in Spain) for almost nine years. First, it´s not valid to mark Cuban people for the 99 bad experiences you had ( As CVV said) I am sorry and I apologize in the name of my country but it´s simply not fair. It is true that scams have increased a lot lately BUT there is a large percent who is not interested in ripping you off. Hard working, honest, simple, real people…It is a pity you didn´t encounter them. However, most of the ones related to tourism will try to get as much from you as possible. A rent house owner, a street jinetero( yes, thousands..), a bici taxi, a cashier, a hotel worker, a salsa teacher, taxi driver: they all have learnt an easy and horrible way to make profit.But that is not Cuba! Maybe I should mention that Cuba has lived an unprecedent past, Cuba has suffered in a way most people can´t even imagine and not only the material aspect of life( you would need to live there for more than three weeks to realize it..It´s a country whose people are crossing the sea on an inflatable raft to escape and many of them are surely trying to do so right in this moment! This tragedy and the families separation over the years deserve more posts on the web and news on the media but, oh..this ironic and hypocritical world!) But, I won´t justify it. I simple feel sad, angry about what some of my fellow countrymen have turned into. Again, sorry you had such a bad time and you could enjoy my piece of lost paradise, which I love so much. I hope it would get better in the future, so people don´t have the need ( or willingness) to harass tourist to make easy money. Where we all can sit in front of the beach together ( you and the neighbour of the salsa teacher and her family..) to enjoy one CUBA-LIBRE and just…chat about life.
        I like your blog and the way you write. Congratulations. I wil read more.

        • Claudia Tavani
          Claudia Tavani
          8 January 2016 at 10:33

          Yohan, thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate having an insider’s perspective, really. You are most definitely right – in my time in Cuba, I only managed to scratch the surface of it to be able to explain what I saw and experienced. A better understanding would definitely need a much deeper cultural immersion, which however isn’t possible as you surely know. Tourists are not even allowed to stay in the country for longer than 30 days on a row. Another thing that I found disheartening was the fact that it was impossible to get out of the tourist circuit. I really wouldn’t know who to blame for that – I think the easiest would be to blame “the system”. No matter how much I tried to go to a certain specific place, everything plotted against me and eventually I never made it there. If I decided to go to a specific village, I would first had to go all over town to find whether there was a public transport to go there (and trying to extort certain information at a ticket office isn’t the easiest thing). Eventually, when it was established that no bus or train would go (or at least, not one I could take), someone would offer to take me by taxi and shoot the highest price ever so of course I would give up. On other occasions, I even said yes to the price (after extenuating haggling) and eventually… the driver decided that nope, he wouldn’t take me there for all the most “reasonable” excuses and took me where he wanted to take me (aka a tourist spot where I would have to spend money and he’d get yet one more commission).

          This is to say – it isn’t easy to get to know a country and a people that have suffered so much for their isolation, and boundaries have been set so clearly that even if one wants to cross them, it is very difficult to do so. The ridiculous separation between tourists and Cubans who have no access to certain places? SO UNFAIR. I made it a point NOT to go to any of those places.

          Cheers to a day in which we can sit on a beach and enjoy a mojito (sorry, I don’t like Cuba Libre) and celebrate for a CUBA LIBRE! A LO CUBANO!

  • Nikoleta Míchalová
    25 August 2015 at 20:33

    Great article! Thanks for posting!!!

  • Heather Cole
    26 August 2015 at 9:28

    I’m always suspicious when people wax lyrical about the ‘locals’ wherever they visit, building them up to be some wonderful stereotype only to have your dreams dashed when you arrive. Everywhere we’ve been we find some are lovely, and some are not, and at the end of the day we’re all just individual people. Having said that I have to admit your Cuba is our France…we never really feel welcome, and the people are often downright rude to tourists who speak English. It’s good to know I’m not the only one!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 August 2015 at 19:54

      I still remember the first postcard my sister sent me from Paris. She wrote something that read: “Paris is gorgeous, but people here have a stinky attitude”. She’s been there many times and yup, she still finds them unbearable LOL

  • Lucy
    26 August 2015 at 12:36

    whoaa.. Thanks for sharing your experiences…
    I’m not planning to go in Cuba but if I ever did .. I would be careful …
    I’ve never heard of these things before .. I’m kind of shocked.. )
    and btw, from where I’m coming…if it’s my b-day – I have to pay.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 August 2015 at 19:54

      Ha, that’s the same in Italy! I don’t even celebrate with my friends if I can’t afford to pay them a drink!

  • Janna
    26 August 2015 at 17:57

    I’m sorry to hear that your travels around Cuba we’re what you had expected. You’re not the first article/blog post I’ve read where people have said that the people there only saw them as an atm or a sex object in a matter of speaking.

  • yvonnelaura
    26 August 2015 at 18:39

    Oh you’re not the only one;-) I traveled to countries where I’ve met the most amazing local communities, but there were also countries where I just didn’t seem to band with anyone. I’m guessing it’s just a culture clash you’ll have once in a while. No biggy;-)

  • Brittany
    26 August 2015 at 22:50

    I have nominated you for the Sisterhood of the World Blogger Award! I have posted some questions on my blog for you, to get to know you better 🙂

  • Jakob Gibbons
    27 August 2015 at 0:06

    This was a really reflective, well-written post that I really enjoyed reading — glad to have come across it and your blog!

    I think I had a similar feeling in Morocco (although I think the Middle East seems to be the only common exception to your opening comment about people never saying they didn’t like the people somewhere). I only spent about two weeks there, but in the inland cities like Marrakesh and Fez I really just didn’t enjoy myself, mostly because of the people. I’m a diehard Couchsurfer and to me I’ve wasted my time if I’ve visited a place without getting to know locals, but in Morocco I found it nearly impossible to penetrate the same mentality you talk about here in Cuba.

    However, when my friends and I travelled waaaaayyy off path to the last village before the Algerian border, we spent two nights in the desert with a really lovely, warm, friendly Moroccan Berber family, which made the whole trip worth it. It reminded me that it’s important not to generalize and to hold onto just a little bit of that naivete that makes you want to believe everyone who comes up to you with a smile just wants a smile back and nothing more 🙂

    I really enjoy your writing, and will be keeping an eye on this blog!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 August 2015 at 19:57

      Thank you for such a lovely comment. Yes, I think that at times that naivety helps us a lot. Perhaps I was a bit too worried to be scammed in Cuba and it was noticeable?

  • Jakob Gibbons
    27 August 2015 at 0:07

    (P.S. — I hope you’ll write the whole story one day of the overprotective motherly owner of the casa privada who wouldn’t let you leave the house if the guides didn’t meet her standards! She sounds like quite a character 😛 )

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      27 August 2015 at 19:59

      Oh she was UNBEARABLE. I remember we had planned to go to Trinidad and we wanted to stay at a particular casa we had read about. She would not have it. She wanted us to stay at her friend’s place. She insisted, insisted, insisted till we’d tell her where we were going to stay, because she wanted to make sure we wouldn’t. She talked really loudly. So much so that I would tell my sister: “You go deal with Caridad” because I could not take her. LOL. But on the other hand, she was caring and well, she gave really good advice when it came to transportation, guides, things to do and eat etc 🙂

  • Julie Cao
    2 September 2015 at 18:19

    I went to Havana Cuba for few days, stayed in a hostel in downtown core and after three days I just cannot wait to leave and return to Canada. It is not a bad city but I was just being annoyed each day by scams and ripoffs. and I was so happy when I arrived in Canada, This was ever happened to me in other countries.

    Many friends do not understand and saying that I should have stay in the resort area so I can travel hassle-free, but I agree that this prob is part of the culture exploration, just not the one we all expected.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      2 September 2015 at 19:38

      Julie, if you want send me a quick email and I can really teach you how to react to those scams and spot them. I am not a resort kind of person and would never recommend staying in one. Cuba is better lived and experienced the way you are doing it – although it may be rough at times. There are ways to work it out!!

  • richard davis
    9 September 2015 at 15:30

    The problems you were met with has to do with the government. Perhaps you heard the old Cuban joke: The three successes of the Cuban Revolution –medicine, education and sports– and the three failures of the Revolution: breakfast lunch and dinnner. In reality, the medicine success is a failure, too. There is also the common phrease: “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.”

    Aside from the sexual advances, which I’ve seen happen to women in all corners of the world, the Cuban people are desperate. Remember, the embargo on trade and travel, has been about as effective as using a net to hold water. Nations of the world trade with Cuba, except for the US. US goods find their way through to Cuba by a third party in many cases. So, where is the money? It stays at the top with the political and social elite. No Cuban has one job.

    I think in some ways you have to pardon the Cuban people. As a frequent visitor I’ve run into a few scams, but nothing like the Middle East. Cubans haven’t lived normally for over 50 years. People are watching them as they watch you. Did you see the “Committee for the Defense of the Revolution” (CDR) signs? The snitches are still there. Talk with any Yanqui long enough and you, as a Cuban citizen, could be questioned. I’ve known of some pulled in for that very reason.

    Cuba is not a free country, and people have to survive. As far as being approached sexually, I can’t comment. I’m old and ugly. But at least I didn’t have some guy offer to sell me his sister for a few hours, like I did in Mexico.

    Try Cuba again if it ever becomes really free, a democratic nation.

    Cuba libre is more than a drink.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      9 September 2015 at 21:06

      Thank you for this insightful comment, Richard. I am actually very keen to try Cuba again – I wonder what a bit more of traveling and haggling experience, and much improved Spanish communication skills would do. I think I’d have a better time the second time around. What’s funny is that my sister and I – we went together – keep saying that despite all that happened to us, want to go again. We will!

    • Yohan
      8 January 2016 at 1:42

      I think this is the best comment that I have read here, because YES, in Cuba you should go a little deeper, into the roots of things to understand it. It is not like any other country in the area, it is unique ( politically, culturally, socially..)..and that is why so many feel attracted to it. It is true that the values I was raised as a Cuban are lost or decandent, the respect for others, honesty..But if you manage to stay away from the tourist spots, then you know the real Cuba. Go to the countryside…maybe you will be asked for clothes or candies, but perhaps they didn´t have breakfast ! Many people don´t think it is possible in Cuba in 2015 and I say Yes !! No doubt. Ok, it doesn´t justify scams but softens them. People are just desperate, and somehow they are not thinking-acting in a normal way, or not in the way it used to be years ago. It has been a gradual process based on a tragedy that has lasted too long. I visit my country every year and I also suffer it. They think I go loaded with money. BUT I know the truth about their empty lives, so I don´t judge them too hard. Claudia I hope you have a better experience next time.

      • Claudia Tavani
        Claudia Tavani
        8 January 2016 at 10:39

        That’s the thing, Yohan… it is so hard to stay away from the tourist spots in Cuba. SO HARD. I need to go again, to see if the second time around I manage!

  • Guiselaine
    13 September 2015 at 9:16

    I think the isolation of Cuba makes people want things they can’t get. But the basic needs they have.
    I like their way of being inventive in getting what they want.
    But it is indeed tyring have to tell people off all the time, but it’s no different then in Bali. There you have to tell people of also all the time. They see you as the walking bank, you are not. At least I am not.

  • Lucy
    21 October 2015 at 9:34

    Oh no! I am sorry that you had that experience – I had the same one in Fiji. Altogether, it was a good learning experience though. I am now heading to Cuba this coming February, by myself as well! Eeek – hope I can avoid some of these troubles!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      21 October 2015 at 12:53

      I am sure you will be fine! Read my other posts maybe, so you know what to expect? Or just go with a VERY open mind 🙂

  • Oana Presura
    3 November 2015 at 14:23

    Great post Claudia! Very insightful! Came across it on time … going to Cuba at the end of the month for a couple of weeks so I am definitely going to keep your advice in mind and try to stay out of trouble! Also, great blog in general, will be coming back to it with pleasure. Writing one myself, together with one of my best friends, Manuela. We sometimes also write travel posts. Looking forward to your next posts! Kind regards, Oana

  • Fraintesa
    3 November 2015 at 17:03

    Oh, how I know what you’ve been through… 😉
    P.S.: today is my birthday, can you buy me a drink? ;D

  • Emily
    4 November 2015 at 19:03

    Thanks so much for sharing Claudia. So many people write such amazing articles about Cuba – a place I would love to visit – but I have only come across a couple of articles like yours. I suspect your experience is much more like other peoples, they just don’t want to say it.

    We were desperately hoping to visit Cuba before it changes to much, but unfortunately won’t make it there on this trip. Maybe that’s not such a dreadful thing. Perhaps in the future tourists will be seen as more than a way to make money.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      4 November 2015 at 19:09

      You see, there are A LOT of travelers (and even travel bloggers) that actually go on a tour of Cuba… a pre-packaged tour of Cuba. Where all experiences are pre-established. Where they are somehow magically and spontaneously invited to get inside the home of a local and have a cup of coffee. There is nothing spontaneous about that – and that comes from someone that has worked as a tour leader for a good while, though not in Cuba. Everything is paid and accounted for. And I am surprised that people don’t realize this. Traveling independently to Cuba is challenging, it can be frustrating and I HIGHLY recommend it as it really is an eye opener. Don’t worry too much about it changing and being invaded by tourists. It will take ages to change, and it already is invaded by tourists anyways 😉 Just go when you can and enjoy it! A LO CUBANO!

  • Deb Bryan
    17 November 2015 at 3:49

    Thank you for your honest post. Visiting Cuba just moved down on my list of places I want to visit.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      17 November 2015 at 9:26

      Oh no! Don’t let this deter you! You should by all means go see yourself and just go prepared 🙂

  • Michelle
    28 November 2015 at 23:24

    Yes! Completely relate. Solo female traveller to Cuba in 2012. Got hustled on my first night by a guy and his “sister” who took me to a bar when I was smoking outside one of the big hotels. I naturally was overcharged for drinks but the guy was friendly but told me he liked me and would I be interested in seeing him. I loved the country but I did find not being able to sit on a bench for 5 minutes without being approached by some old Cuban rather tiresome by the end. “No” was my favourite word. Good blog post.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      29 November 2015 at 10:02

      Such a shame though, right? On other occasions, in other countries, I would have been glad for some spontaneous company. I was so exhausted by all the people trying to get money from me in Cuba that I became rude. No, “vate” and “dejame en paz” were my favorite expressions too. So bad. I felt like humanity and spontaneity were taken away from me.

      • thedeathstar
        4 January 2016 at 22:50

        Did you consider that maybe they didn’t understand you, especially if you’re telling them “vate”?

        I have never been to a foreign country where people weren’t constantly staring, scamming, or begging. Congratulations on traveling.

  • Josh
    1 December 2015 at 18:08

    Hi Claudia. I’m going to Cuba later this month and will be staying for 3 weeks! I’m as excited as I am nervous since I’ll be travelling alone and I get that people are going to target me as a ‘rich westerner’. I’m prepared for that though, and like you I am fluent in Spanish, so that should help me feel more at ease. But what about security? I’ll be taking expensive gadgets with me as it is a long trip. Did you feel that your stuff was secure in casas particulares? Or did you never let it out of your sight!?

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      1 December 2015 at 19:33

      I have never had a problem, actually – but I have met several other people who did. Always lock your important belongings in your suitcase, and hide your money. A good thing to do is actually counting the money you are leaving behind and, whenever you go back, recounting them. If anything happens, say you are going to call the police. Police in Cuba is very strict and that will make all your belongings magically reappear!

  • Mar
    14 December 2015 at 7:54

    Such a shame! I have great memories from 2001 in Cuba but then again it was my first time out of the country and I am Spanish. back then there were very few tourists and the country was pretty much closed off to anyone but Spanish who floaded in hoards. I guess tourism and foreign currency has changed this a lot, I would be very annoyed by what happened to you. I get frustrated when I am seen like na ATM with legs…such a shame

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      14 December 2015 at 9:17

      Yup. Since then, I have been wanting to go back. Just to see what would happen if I go fully prepared 🙂

  • Karen Patterson
    22 December 2015 at 3:51

    Hi Claudia, I am off to Cuba shortly and so found your blog/website on the internet. I’d rather read this than the Lonely Planet, so far, so good.

    As for the inability or missed opportunity to bond with the locals, I think you nailed when you bring up their 1) isolation and 2) lack of wants (as they have what the UN decrees as the basic human rights in terms of food, shelter, education, health) … I spent 15 years in mainland China, where the culture is very much based on barbaric thinking = ‘us vs. them’, and there are some similarities to what you experienced and what most foreigners experience in China. However, not to the same degree. I am not sure why Cubans are that way, I have not met many Cubans, nor have I been there yet, but I generally think that there can be a certain ‘jealousy’ when wealthy tourists (or at least in the minds of the locals we are wealthy) show up and it is pretty clear that there is a massive economic gap between us and them … much of this thinking that all Westerners are rich is, well, thanks to the pop culture that has reached their shores, movies and TV and everyone has heard of the lifestyles of the rich and famous in Hollywood … when i lived in China, I was asked constantly about my Benz and Mansion back home in Canada (say what?), not to mention they always asked me my salary where ever I worked. Part cultural, but a lot is based on the fact that for many folks in the world, and especially in lovely places that we like to ‘backpack’ to, the locals don’t fair as well, they don’t usually have access to the education, the jobs and the income, nor the luxury of time to be able to just pick up and travel. For CHinese and what appears to be Cubans, too, getting a passport (not a government service passport or a dip passport) and visas to other countries is very difficult, unless you are going on an organized/government controlled ‘tour’. So, this kind of ‘gap year’ travelling for so many people is not a reality, and is sort of the epitome of luxury (despite we stay in huts on the beach, etc). “What? How will I support my family if I am backpacking overseas?” And, perhaps because of western culture (music videos, movies, tv shows), western women are seen as open and available when it comes to sex … it really shocked me when I was in NE China and many Chinese male taxi driver’s not only assumed I was Russian, but assumed that I was a Russian prostitute and asked if I was available and for how much. Many men travelling to China find themselves in interesting situations, much having to do with a Chinese woman wanting a visa / new citizenship to a Western country to have a better life. Men staying in hotels are often called in the middle of the night for ‘extra room services’, regardless of who he might work for or be travelling with. It is crazy, but for many, it is a way of life, hopefully to have a better life.

    I think I married locally in China in order to see if it would change, the assumptions of this and that just because of my citizenship. Many things changed, but a lot stayed the same or were somewhat amplified. My artist husband at the time was told he had it made, for his wife was a foreigner … what’s that supposed to mean? There was an assumption that he would succeed more because his wife was a foreigner. Bizarre thinking, but it exists.

    Is this a communist thing for Cubans and Chinese? I am not sure, perhaps for the lack of goods and absolute controls on their lives, relationships, and the media, but China has opened up and you can pretty much buy ANYTHING for a price there … I am not sure about Cuba, but I ‘ll let you know when I get back in mid January. There were scams in China, but there were also many locals who would help without a string attached, or could find some ‘goodness in their heart’ to help or whatever. The worst scammers I met in Asia were the gem dudes at temples in Thailand – beware!

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      22 December 2015 at 10:09

      Thank you for this insightful comment, Karen. A lot of what you describe as the current situation in China also goes on in Cuba – the main difference that I find is that for what I have seen and heard while I was there, Cubans (men and women) are actually more open about their sexuality than we are in Italy. I just find it sad that people – anywhere in the world – try to “make it” by exploiting others. I have been to many poor countries, way poorer than Cuba, but nowhere else I have experienced the stress and frustration that traveling there caused me. I wish to go back though, just to see if the second time around, being more prepared on what to expect, things are different! Have a good time there, hopefully you will find my other posts useful (also check out my In the Media page for links to guest posts, plenty of stuff I wrote for other blogs!).

  • Jonah Jose Olias Guerra
    6 January 2016 at 23:22

    My response in a shorter link…
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1gCDZxxBSdouE5QnI80rGMzfLrtnKzgEClVlweLOm8sg/edit?usp=sharing

    —–
    I would like to start off by saying thank you for sharing your experience. Although you make a point of it on your blog/twitter it’s always a personal thing to share your travels both negative and positive and regardless of what was felt the world is illuminated by the sharing of experience.
    ` I am a Cuban man (40 years of age) and first generation Cuban American. My parents left Cuba two years prior to Fidel Castro taking control of the island nation. I say this to lend some credibility to what I wish to share. I have not been to Cuba although plans are in the works for a visit in 2017. I have however met current residents and know a handful of folk who still live on the island and a few of which I stay in touch with. I also lived in Miami for the majority of my life and over the course of 30 some odd years have met pretty much every facet of Cuban that there is. Having said all of this I can tell you that you are correct in your initial viewpoint that your mood and state of mind will direct your personal experience and how you might perceive a culture when visiting.
    Cubans in Miami generally are classified into four groups.
    Those who arrived before Mariel.
    Mariel Folk and Beyond.
    1st Generation Cuban Americans (Americans born of Cuban immigrants).
    Beyond 1st Generation Cubans.
    Each group has very distinct set of beliefs and behaviors. They also carry stigmas and preconceived notions. I want it said that although the following are generalizations they do not define everyone grouped with them. The most commonly accepted are:
    Those who arrived before Mariel are fiercely Anti-Castro, beyond appreciative, incredibly giving, and the hardest of workers.
    Those who came with Mariel are hardened street Cubans, many of them criminals, hustlers, and indifferent to Castro having already lived under the regime for decades and having survived what was thrown at them.
    Those 1st Generation Cubans like myself are often described as the bridge culture between what being Cuban means and what being Cuban means in a country that was closer to what the elder Cuban culture grew up in. Cuba was a bustling and very advanced nation prior to Castro and the parents of my generation worked hard and sacrificed much to give us everything they had or didn’t have. Many of us keep the tradition of old Cuba alive as best as one in this country can although we can also be guilty of misunderstanding what that life may have been in that island nation prior to the 1960’s.
    Beyond 1st Generation Cubans I am sad to say are for the most part clueless to what their grandparents went through and much less what Communism meant, and even less what it meant for an island nation like Cuban to be ruled by a Dictator and have everything they ever were familiar with taken from them and forced to risk their lives for a better future for their kids. Most of this generation don’t even speak spanish and have embraced a different kind of Miami life than that for which many Cubans have come to love.
    Now I know what your thinking. What does this have to do with Cuba Cuba. The point I am trying to make here is that Cubans are very much transient and transpersonal in their environments. I have no doubt that there are endless number of scammers out there, (have you ever visited China?). Communist nations (and in the case of Cuba it would be just to call it a straight up dictatorship country vs Communist) are well known to breed poverty and an inequality that can sometimes push poor behavior and dishonesty to the forefront where tourists are concerned. I know this is rampant in Cuba. I also know that there are areas designated for travelers to go and deeper more personal and “real” areas of Cuban cities and countryside that seldom get visited by travelers much like yourself.
    I do hope you return to Cuba and by your own words it seems like you have reserved some judgement and I am pleased to see you have. I can say with some bias but I swear it is minimal, that the Cuban people are by far the most generous and warm culture I have ever come to experience. The history of that great island is long and complex. The suffering of it’s people as well as their strength to persevere under one of the worst dictatorships known to man (still much of the atrocities which took place in the first half of Castro’s regime have not been made public or exposed) only fortify in my mind that the Cuban people are not only unique in this kindness and humility but a culture that excels at fostering it.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      7 January 2016 at 19:16

      Thank you so much for this incredible comment, Jonah. One thing I know for sure is that I am definitely interested to get to know the Cuban culture and people better. The strange thing that I have noticed is that there is no in-between. Either people go and their experience is similar to mine (an every day struggle to avoid scams), or they encounter fantastic souls who are willing to help, share, embrace. When I went to Cuba I was not used to not getting things my way. I had a plan in my mind, and every day I crushed with the fact that in Cuba things simply don’t work as they do in other countries. It is the one place that showed me the beauty of spontaneous travel, to the point that now I am reluctant to plan anything at all.

      As a former human rights lawyer I am also really interested in knowing more of the dirty secrets of the dictatorship. One “strange” thing I noticed when I was there is that all the postcards where I did praise the country made it to my friends. The ones where I expressed cynical views about the revolution, never made it. I think I was being censored!

      Either way, Cuba taught me a lesson and I am willing to go back for more!

  • Zuzet
    2 March 2016 at 16:51

    Dear Claudia:

    First my congratulations for your writing, as a Cuban it was heartbreaking for me to read your words, but I know that deny the reality is living in denial so thank you for bring me back memories from Cuba even if they are not the best ones. I am a 43 years old Cuban living in Finland. I came to Finland to work and to study, five years ago. I came because as many other Cubans I worked very hard, I studied very hard and I wanted my son to have the future I could not have in Cuba. I have not been in Cuba in five years, it is heartbreaking but it is also a lesson of humility and sacrifice. I was apart from my son for three years because he could not come with me, I am still apart from my lovely family and I do not know when I will see them again. (My case is the case of many Cubans)
    I still close my eyes when I am in the forest and I imagine the sound of the wind in the trees is in fact the sound of the waves of the sea in Cuba. Finland opened its arms to me, I love this country nevertheless there is something missing and not matter where I will be in the future, I know that emptiness will remain in my heart.
    However, I chose to give my smile and my kisses to all those Finnish friends who really need it but cannot ask for it. I chose to make every day count for me and for everyone who get close. I chose to be grateful because many Cubans will never have the opportunity I have now to build an independent life. I chose to fight in order to provide for my son and do my best to raise him as a good man.
    Now, I propose you to imagine people who broke up with the love of their lives and there is not possible reconciliation. Imagine those people being abandoned by the person they love and trust the most. Imagine how that person broke their spirit. What happen then?. I think it depends on the people but usually we try to gain that person back and after working hard for years without any results, we decide the only option is to escape from that person (Cuban government) who destroyed every hope we had. Like in a broken love, you low your self-esteem and become desperate to find a way out of the pain for example with a rebound relationship that can fill the emptiness. Then, foreigners come and offer themselves as the rebound relationships, Cubans take the opportunity, and the foreigners take the opportunity. Cubans learn to see foreigners as an opportunity to survive and many foreigners see Cubans as an opportunity to explore the exotic world. Cuban + foreigners think they gain something, unfortunately I think most of the time the only gain is emptiness. I do not pretend to justify, I just want to show you why many Cubans are so desperate to sell their souls to tourists.
    Many other Cubans chose other ways to escape if they have the opportunity. I was lucky to be among those others, but many have not been so lucky.
    I would also like to apologize in the name of all those persons who made your time in Cuba unpleasant. I believe that unfortunately when you visit Cuba as a tourist you face many limitations; it is not possible to have the big picture of Cubans.
    I feel sad because my lovely country is bleeding, because my people is desperate, I feel sorry for myself whose generation did nothing to change the reality.
    I feel sorry you did not get to know so many hard working people, struggling everyday with their lives without forgetting to give you their big smile and to dance with you because they know how hard life is so they cannot afford to waste one second. I deeply apologize for your bad moments in Cuba. Finally, I hope one day you revisit Cuba and find the other face. I hope you forgive the bad moments, I hope you never forget the deep wounds a bad government can cause in people spirit. At least now, you have seen a different side of Cuba, the one that it is not salsa, rum and tobacco, mulata and mulato; you have seen the desperate face of a broken country. At least now you are ready to go deeper, reveal the origin and understand the sadness beneath the Cuban smile.
    I hope your future experience in Cuba can take you heart closer to many people who are suffering and do not find the way out.
    I would only like to kindly request something from you: If you ever revisit Cuba please go to the beach look to the sea and tell Yemaya that there is a Cuban somewhere who is grateful for her blessings, and miss the Caribbean Sea every day of her life.
    My kind regards and the best wishes for your personal and professional life
    Zuzet

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      15 March 2016 at 11:14

      I cannot begin to say how thankful I am for your lovely comment, for opening your heart to me, the way I was hoping to see in Cuba. Yes, I will go back to Cuba. I only scratched its surface when I was there, and I am ready to go for more, and take a whole different approach next time!

  • Karen Patterson
    2 March 2016 at 18:03

    I was in Cuba for 8 days in early January and I did not have any harsh experiences with the country, government or people. There was, of course, a musician dude who was trying to solicit my friend and I but that could happen anywhere, and was definitely an exception to our stay. I can not speak Spanish, so had a harder time engaging Cubans, unless they could speak English, but my friend speaks Spanish very well. She didn’t have any crazy experiences, either, and in fact was very welcomed where she and her husband went before I met up with them in early January. I will go back!

  • Theresa
    2 March 2016 at 19:30

    Thanks for the article. I’m thinking of traveling to Cuba soon and your words have helped me form a better picture of what it might be like. I’ve had similar experiences in the Dominican Republic. Have you been there? Can you compare the two places in terms of scams and unfriendly people? Just trying to get a sense of what I might be getting myself into. 🙂

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      15 March 2016 at 11:17

      I haven’t been to the Dominican Republic, actually. But I am ready to go back to Cuba, for sure!!

    • Karen
      31 March 2016 at 20:32

      Compared to Cuba, people in DR are very friendly and are hospitable. As a tourist you always know you are getting ‘taken’ by just a little and it’s usually reasonable amounts (extra pesos here, extra pesos there) but in cuba if they can take all your money (the first person you meet) they will do it!
      Ex: they can charge me 10cuc for a cab ride 10km but will charge you 45 for the same distance even if we are riding in the same cab (colectivo) everyone always has a friend and you are better off going to touristy places where they charge reasonable prices and not someone’s else’s friends house that triple it.

      The problem with cubans is that they are thieves disguised as your best friend. Except it seems to be everyone so you never catch a break.

      • Claudia Tavani
        Claudia Tavani
        1 April 2016 at 9:43

        It is sad. I think poverty has hardened them so much. But then, why hasn’t it hardened Nicaraguans?

  • Karen
    31 March 2016 at 20:23

    Claudia,
    Thank you for this article. I just came back from a long time dream of visiting Cuba and did everything possible to make it a reality. I saved for a year!

    Your article has helped me not feel so alone in my dissapointment in the Cuban people as hospitable humans. I too have traveled extensively and I’ve never encountered so many people trying to so shamelessly take you for ALL you have, even literally the clothes on your back. They are sharks and they don’t think of others besides themselves.

    I am from central America and I would state my country (which is really poor) and I thought this would open some kind of cultural exchange or hospitality. ..zilch! They scammed me over and over again. I came back puzzled and without money and went on Google to make sure it wasn’t just me…I’m glad I found you. I too will write about my true experience to warn others of the people.

    I encountered thousands of people and only 3 did not scam us (one being a juice establishment which the lady charged us the correct amount and she gave us the correct change). I’ve never been to Morroco so unfortunately this would be the worst experience and it all has to do with the people.

    For everyone else – the country was absolutely breathtaking and the cleanest I’ve ever experienced. It’s just exhausting to meet so many people with such little moral compass.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      31 March 2016 at 20:28

      Your comment express everything I felt when I visited Cuba. Breathtaking country, truly beautiful, but close to a nightmare to travel there, especially as a woman. I am sorry you have had some bad experiences. I even have a post on scams, to warn people about what to expect and how to react to these scams! But hey, there is always a lesson to learn, even from bad experiences. And I am glad you enjoyed the country regardless!!

  • Bill
    9 April 2016 at 22:13

    Hello, Laura. I am 20-years-old Cuban living in Cuba, and although watching this story is very sad for me as a Cuban, I can’t hide the Sun with my fingers. I’m agree that this attitude is not a by-product of poberty or necessity, but in my opinion, it is what some people call “cult to vividness”, a cultural scourge in our idiosincracy, fueled by the isolation, that make people wrongly think that it’s good to be vivid and tricky, and if others fall in your tricks, it is their fault, not yours.
    I live in the countryside and here the people are nicer than in Havana. For what I’ve heard from those who live in the capital, the people there are somehow malicious. The good thing is that, hopefully, I can see this way of thinking is decreasing along with the isolation, and the new realities of Cuba, like the contact with a lot turists and Internet connections (as the one I am using) are going to change our culture for good.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      11 April 2016 at 10:33

      Hello Bill – my name is actually Claudia 😉

      Yes, I think people are nicer in smaller places in Cuba, but that is the same in all countries don’t you think? It’s just a result of people being able to see each other more often, meeting in the streets more easily. I am glad to know Cuba is changing in this sense!!

  • Ana
    24 April 2016 at 12:02

    I don’t completely understand why because there are many poor countries in the Americas but they are not like what you are describing in Cuba. I’m originally from Nicaragua, and we are poor poor…we don’t get the free healthcare and education like in Cuba. Many people in Nicaragua are literally starving, but they have not dedicated their time to developing a culture of scamming foreigners. It can happen anywhere, sure, but taking advantage of non-Cubans seems to be part of the Cuban culture. Initially, I was intrigued reading about Cuban culture and wanted to visit. I decided to seek Cuban friends here in the US. I met some Cuban immigrants, even tried dating one, and it was very similar to your experience in Cuba. He always asked for money. I thought, “what kind of machismo is this?” and not just twenty bucks, hundreds of dollars! I did not have the amount of money he needed, and instead of him accepting that, he became extremely angry. It was scary! I started to realize, this man is actually a very spoiled boy, who is used to women doing everything for him and used to non-Cubans giving him financial assistance. I was compassionate and helped as much as I could, but I am a poor immigrant too. When I couldn’t give him money for a car, he said I never did anything for him, which was not true… he just didn’t appreciate the help I had given. Entitled. Malagradecido! It was a terrible experience because he lied about his intentions. He told me he wanted to be with me, but he’s actions contradicted that. His MO was completely foreign to me, I had never seen anything like this. He called mainly when he needed something, and was not ashamed to ask. Most men would be ashamed to ask an attractive new female for so much money, if they were truly interested in her. So, I did some investigating on social media. I saw his profile and how he was interacting with females, younger ones, in Cuba. I confronted him and told him he is not acting like someone who cares about me and wants to build a real relationship because he was still pursuing women in Cuba. No matter how hard I tried to get him to see the humanity in me, it felt like he saw me as a machine. It felt like I just wasn’t invited to be a part of this awesome culture that he liked to brag about but never showed me. I saw some very ugly character traits and some disturbing cultural ones as well. This man came to the USA on a mission, and the first step is to find a woman who can offer financial support. When I found out he was still communicating with the mother of his sons in Cuba, I asked him about it and his response was not satisfactory. I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t believe him at all, so now I can only assume that from me he only wanted help to establish himself, get permanent status, and then apply for his woman and kids in Cuba to come. What a disappointment. I would say don’t even waste energy going back. I’m sure most Cubans are good people, but it’s not cool to travel, be out of your element, feel uncomfortable, and have to look over your shoulder. There are other beautiful, cultural places where you can feel relaxed.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      24 April 2016 at 12:12

      Thank you for your lovely comment Ana. I am very sorry to read about your bad experience but I must say this is not the first time I hear of such a story. Sure, it isn’t nice to travel to places where you constantly have to watch your back and can’t really trust anybody. It is all the more interesting that you compare Cuba to the situation in Nicaragua. I have been to Nicaragua 3 times, I saw the real poverty – the one that breaks your heart – and yet, people are so kind, so nice and so helpful. I fell completely in love with it and I know I will go back. It is one of those places I will never get enough of. And to date, if people ask me what my favorite country among those I have visited is, I will say it is Nicaragua.

      Stay strong, and keep away from bad men!!

  • Melanie
    16 May 2016 at 1:37

    Dear Claudia,
    Thank you for your honest blog post. My boyfriend and I are Australian and we left Cuba this afternoon after a week in Havana and Trinidad – me crying with relief to be leaving and exhaustion from the strain. As soon as I had internet again I started searching around to try and understand the experiences we have had. Like you, we have both travelled extensively and always pursued the “local” experience as much as possible. Accordingly, in Cuba we decided not to go with tours or hotels, but stay in casas and eat in local restaurants where we could. However, our first experience of Cuba was having a phone stolen from our luggage at the airport (yes – our fault for not securing it!) That wasn’t particularly noteworthy as we had been fairly lax in our security – what really scared me was having the “Lost and Found” staff immediately weigh our bags on a scale (that we later deduced had been tampered with), declare that the bags were actually HEAVIER than when we left (by comparison to the scales at the Grand Cayman check-in counter) and therefore nothing could possibly have been taken. This was mostly communicated through facial expressions, signs and, after merely a couple of minutes, the turned backs and shrugs of the counter staff. Since then, we had our casa owner steal our taxi money to the airport from our bedroom (under the guise of going into our room quickly to “check our hot water”) as well as countless “leakages” (as we called them) for hidden “foreigner tax” of all kinds. Our experiences of Cuba were absolutely dumbfounding. We are used to “short-con” street scams and being fairly relentlessly hassled for money or for custom. The corruption and shameless “long con” scams were fairly new and noteworthy – but nothing that we ultimately couldn’t take in our stride. What was truly horrible was the undisguised contempt from most of the people we interacted with and the sense that under no circumstances would we have help from anyone (unless we were lucky). We felt quite helpless. Like you, we initially tried to justify our experiences on the basis of inequality or desperation. But our experiences went beyond that and appeared to be systemic; I have never experienced anything like it and am simply unable to put it down to “bad luck” or “culture clash”. What made me particularly sad is the affection which we saw many Cubans showing each other on the street – which was in such stark contrast to our own treatment. Having toured some of the museums and seen some of the political propaganda, we are left speculating whether the Cubans are somehow taught this attitude by the regime. In any case, our speculation may not be correct or helpful. The only thing that I know for sure is that I will unfortunately be unable to recommend Cuba to my friends at the moment and can only hope that easing of restrictions will bring new outlooks and attitudes to the Cuban people.

  • Claudia Tavani
    Claudia Tavani
    16 May 2016 at 9:47

    Hi Melanie,

    I am sorry for your bad experience. All I can say is that I completely understand. I remember sitting on my bed in Trinidad after yet another argument with a local (this time it was an agent at the local Cuba Tours office), crying to my sister who was traveling with me and saying that I couldn’t wait to leave the country. I managed to enjoy Cuba anyways, but I always had to watch my back in order to avoid scams, and I promise you I have never argued so much during a trip! It took me a good two years to get over that experience and manage to write a bit more positively about Cuba. Did you know that I started this blog in order to vent about that trip and in a very ambitious attempt to inform everybody about the real Cuba? I was so annoyed by the sugar coated versions of it that I had read online, that I made it my mission to say things as they really are.

    Had you written me before actually going, I would have trained you on the scams and on how to make the most of it. If you go prepared and knowing what to expect, it is more manageable.

    I don’t think the government has anything to do with the Cuban attitude towards foreigners. It all boils down to people trying to make a buck or two extra under the table. I had to argue fiercely with cashier at Duty Free at the airport (of all places!!) to have a receipt for the bottle of rum I had purchased – which I needed so that I could show I had bought it after passing security, just in case. She didn’t want to give me a receipt. Why? Because then she could put whatever amount she wanted in the register and keep the rest to herself.

    Other things I could have told you, in preparation: never leave any belongings unattended. Always lock your stuff in the suitcase, and count whatever you are leaving, including the t-shirts (yup, they steal that stuff too! – my friend saw the owner of her casa walking around with HER t-shirt on!!) and even more so money. I counted the money I was leaving in my suitcase (locked), made a note of it, and recounted as soon as I was back. Nothing ever went missing (I was lucky in this sense, at least) but I was ready to say I’d call the police in case it did (and I know that things would magically reappear at the word “police” as for whatever reasons Cubans are really afraid of that).

    One day you will be able to laugh at this, I promise you!

  • Jenny
    19 May 2016 at 21:45

    Wow, Claudia. I read all of this (including every single comment) and it felt like I could have written it myself, our experiences were so similar. Like you, I’m tired of reading the sugar-coating of Cuba, because I met plenty of other travelers there who felt the same way I did. Where are they? Why aren’t other boggers writing about the real experiences they had?
    I was already somewhat tired when I arrived in Cuba, and I think this didn’t help me deal with the circumstances, but by the time I left 5 weeks later I was thoroughly exhausted by everything. It was not a relaxing trip, and the first time I’ve ever actually been glad to be leaving a country. I think the people who ‘adore’ Cuba are generally the ones on organized tours or staying in All-Inclusives, so they aren’t exposed to just anyone on the street who might wish to take advantage of them.
    I also don’t think poverty is an excuse, because I’ve also been to plenty of other very poor countries and not been treated like I was in Cuba. But it’s a different kind of poverty – because they have enough food, health care, and education (although I’m not actually sure that they do – how many people told me that the food rations didn’t actually cover their needs?) but there are serious problems when a doctor can make more money scamming tourists than working in a hospital. And poverty doesn’t account for your tour guide telling your friend he was going to have sex with you. I can’t even believe that – when he knew you could understand! I think this is a product of their probably somewhat limited (by TV and movies) view of foreigners, as well as assuming that the rest of the world is as sexually liberated as they are.
    I also had trouble avoiding the tourist areas, but when I did I actually met some wonderful people, so I know they’re around. I think if I could pack lighter, so I could easily take the public transportation (which we aren’t technically allowed to) I might be able to visit smaller villages more easily, and perhaps meet more of those lovely Cubans.
    I’m worried for Cuba, because this attitude of taking advantage of tourists doesn’t make for a sustainable tourism industry in the long term. Although it is already getting a huge influx of tourists and will get more with Americans being able to go, sooner or later the hype will die down, articles like yours and mine will get spread around and there will be more of them, and word will get out that it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Understandably, right now Cubans are looking after their short-term needs by getting money any way they can, but how will this develop into an environment tourists want to step into for years to come?
    I’d like to go back too, one day, because Cuba is a beautiful country and I know those good people are out there. It’s too soon now and I really haven’t gotten over it yet, but with time and some mental preparation I think I would like to try again. But until then I know there are lots of other countries that are just as beautiful with amazing people too! (Sounds like I need to go to Nicaragua!)
    Oh, and I don’t remember even once having anyone tell me it was their birthday!

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      19 May 2016 at 21:55

      Give yourself time. I took me a good two years to get over the anger I felt whenever I heard people talking about Cuba. And all those people on organized tours that see the real Cuba… everything is so staged, including the improvised visits at bars etc. Having worked as a tour leader, I know this as a fact!

      Aaaand the hype to see Cuba before it changes: suuure, go there, be scammed 😉

  • Irene
    2 June 2016 at 17:35

    Oh…I planned to go Cuba this late August… I am little bit scared now to go. It will be my friend and me going there for the first time and we will be going Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Varadero. Any tips/wisdom that you could give me? Also, should we reserve the Casa before we leave Canada? Thank you in the advance!

    • Irene
      2 June 2016 at 17:37

      Also, we do not speak Spanish :(….do you think we will have hard time, because we don’t speak Spanish?

      • Claudia Tavani
        Claudia Tavani
        2 June 2016 at 18:29

        Hello Irene, you will be 100% FINE! I am sure you will have a blast if you know what to expect. Head over to my Cuba destination guide. It has a lot of tips on how to make the most of it, and also indicates all the casas where I have stayed. Feel free to email me again for more tips!

  • Sonia
    15 July 2016 at 19:19

    I feel so similarly to you!!! I always approach people and places with an open mind and heart and I have met some amazing people this way, the best people I have met are those who do not have a lot; they have been so genuine and would give you the shirt off their backs asking nothing in return. With Cuba , I do not feel the same way, from men professing undying love after 2 minutes of conversation, the overpowering aggression, the assisted deception from other women and locals. I find the whole thing rude ,annoying and so strange. The country is beautiful though and I will visit again once I have suffered enough amnesia regarding my first visit.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      18 July 2016 at 12:13

      Same here. I think I need to go back. Enough amnesia accumulated 🙂

  • ken
    15 July 2016 at 21:14

    Having visited Cuba for 3 months at a time for the last 4 years my realistic, mistaken as cynical, side agrees , my yearly amnesia is overtaken by my desire for a warm climate (I’m Canadian)
    The Spanish Culture has a lot to answer, from the Inquisition and brutal and empirical suppression of the Caribbean, Meso and South American cultures.to the present day.
    So, a large pair of skepticals is needed when reading Granma.

    • Claudia Tavani
      Claudia Tavani
      18 July 2016 at 12:13

      They have suffered a lot indeed. Time to go back for me too!

LEAVE A COMMENT

Who is Claudia?

Hello, nice to meet you!

Hello, nice to meet you!

Hi, my name is Claudia. One day I packed my life and started travelling... except I packed too much. Follow me as I fill my life with dreams, drop the weight and inspire you to live your dreams. Learn more about me here...

NEVER MISS ONE OF MY POSTS!

Destination Guides

Destination Guides

Follow Me

Facebook Fanpage

Travel Coach

Travel Coach