Meeting Cuban People

Couple in Vinales, Cuba
Cuba is beautiful, but people gave us our most lasting memories. Friends here in the United States often ask us how Americans are treated in Cuba, given the deplorable state of relations between our countries.

Here's our answer. These young guys spent an entire afternoon helping us run errands in Camaguey, a confusing city in which we were quite lost. Together, we zoomed down narrow, twisting streets in a cavalcade of bikes. They watched our things while we did business in banks and the immigration office. Such kindness, politeness, and willingness to help a stranger were typical of the many, many Cubans we met.

Bicycling in Camaguey, Cuba

casa particular in Santiago de Cuba

If you travel to Cuba and want to get to know people, we have two bits of advice: travel by bike, many Cubans do; and stay in Cuban homes. Casas particulares, rather like bed and breakfast accommodations, are easy to find. This is the house where we rented a room for our first three weeks, in Santiago de Cuba.

Our hosts, Virginia and Rafael, could not have been more hospitable. When our three weeks were up, we really did not want to leave! They fixed us a special farewell dinner -- and in the morning, when we got on our bikes to ride away and see more of Cuba, we felt that we were saying goodbye to wonderful new friends.

Friends in Santiago de Cuba

hosts in Santiago de Cuba province

On another night, we stayed with this fisherman and his family. Their modest home was in an idyllic site, they ate well from gardens and the sea, and they were as generous to guests as they could be. But they were the first Cubans we met who showed us their terrible hunger for ordinary consumer goods that we take for granted.

For several nights we stayed in a home near Trinidad. From the front, the house was unremarkable. But in the back, we discovered a beautiful terrace, fresh coconuts from the tree, the sea for swimming and snorkeling. There were even good food, cold beer, and friendly company in the evening. We could have stayed much longer!

near Trinidad, Cuba

campismo in Cuba

We didn't always stay in private homes. When we were moving fast, we sometime chose hotels. And we spent several nights in campismos like this one. These are basic holiday resorts developed more for Cubans than for tourists. A simple, clean bungalow cost $10 U.S. for tourists -- 50 cents for Cubans.

The fanciest private home in which we stayed was in the Miramar section of Havana, probably Cuba's toniest suburb during the years just before the Revolution. We were there just one night when passing through to Pinar del Rio. Here Wally is having a drink on the balcony, pretending to be a Batista-era capitalist.

Wally Smith in Miramar, Cuba

Friends in Pinar del Rio, Cuba

The very next night, we stayed with a family that was certainly the least well-off economically of any that we met. Their house was basic, crowded, with little furniture and only primitive plumbing -- yet we had absolutely the best evening of the entire trip. Music, rum, and warm hospitality. What a great combination!