He arrived at our casa to pick us up promptly at 9 AM dressed for the part in an embroidered polo, sun hat and messenger bag. Meet Tony, our rock star guide for Havana and Viñales. He has worked as a tour guide for 14 years, first for a government travel agency, and then for his own company, Cuban Connection Tour which he founded with friends. He also may as well be a professional story teller – we’re talking Moth-quality stories for two days straight. Oh yea – and he built his own house. From scratch. With his own two hands.
We learned countless things about Cuban history, politics, culture and life from Tony while we walked around the famous four squares in Habana Vieja, rode in a classic 1950’s yellow convertible, looked out over the Havana Bay and visited Revolution Plaza. For our fellow history nerds, here is a handy skimmable version of what stuck with me:
- Christopher Columbus arrived in Cuba. In addition to the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria, he brought with him Disease, Slavery and Spanish control.
- Many different countries have controlled Cuba, including the US, Spain and Great Britain.
- Cuba fought for independence in the 1800s. They won.
- There were a series of bad guys who controlled Cuba – the last and worst was Batista, who killed 20,000 Cubans who opposed him.
- Fidel & Friends seemed like a great option compared to Batista. He promised free health care, free education and land for farmers. What’s not to like?
- Cubans love Americans, but aren’t 100% sure about our leaders.
- The US and Cuba have had a strained relationship for many years. Eisenhower, Bush and Nixon were some of the worse rulers for Cubans. Under Bush, Cuban Americans could only visit their families once every three years.
- Obama is a celeb in Cuba – he visited in April and Cubans LOVE him. Interestingly, many of them have a story about meeting him, too.
- The embargo in place between the US and Cuba means that Cubans can’t have American-made items OR items with any American ingredients. That means no Haagen Dazs in Cuba, and no Cohiba cigars in the US. Except for the $100 worth that we were legally allowed to bring back.
- Things are changing in Cuba. Private businesses like Tony’s are now legal and becoming more common. Travel restrictions between the US and Cuba are easing. And while the Internet is still not prevalent, there are a few Wi-Fi spots in the major cities where Cubans can connect.
If you go to Cuba, you couldn’t do better than to have Tony as a guide. Our experience was exponentially richer for having met him.
Up next – Sol and Cuban art.
Until We Eat Again,
Two Happy Cooks