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The Big Zeroes

watch us go from zeroes to heroes

Cuba, what a country! One of those places that constantly make you question why you are fortunate to have been born who you are and not a party to such poverty and deprivation found there. From Christopher Columbus, in 1492, until the early 20th century the country has been in a constant state of foreign control by the Spanish, French, Americans and briefly the English. When Independence finally was won an unworkable government, exacerbated by the American embargo, brought the country totally to its knees. From the early 90’s until 2005 a Cuban’s monthly ration consisted of 6lb of rice, 6lb of sugar, 10 eggs, 7 bread rolls, 4oz of coffee, cooking oil, 8oz of dried beans and 8oz of soya or a quarter of a chicken if available. Children and pregnant women had a daily supply of milk and some extra meat. Farmers still have quotas of tobacco and sugar cane to fill but are allowed to grow fruit and veg on any spare land, this was sold to the populace during the rationing years together with eggs and sometimes chickens, however few people could afford to supplement their rations.

You must be thinking what a depressing holiday we must have had, well we didn’t. Why was this? It was all down to the people. Cubans are very welcoming, warm, generous and happy. On every street corner (and many places inbetween) live bands play irresistible dance music, in bars someone is at the grand piano playing songs from Carmen or Spanish boleros and a husky voice is singing Guantanamera or some African influenced romantic folk song. The sound of conga drummers playing rumbas reverberate well into the night giving a permanent party feel to Havana. It seems that every  Cuban owns a double bass, flute or trumpet; they practise in the parks and sit at the side of the roads taking them apart to fix when something has gone awry. We even went to a classical concert of Mozart, Stravinsky and three unknown, to us, composers  on our first night; we were thrilled when the three unknowns were revealed to be in the audience and two of them were world premiering pieces. Music everywhere.

The colours in Cuba are so intense from the beautiful stuccoed Spanish architecture to the art work  seen all around the island, of course this is helped in some measure by the glorious sunshine and vivid blue skies. The interiors of scruffy looking Catholic churches take your breath away with their wonderful tromp l’oeil frescos and stunning stained glass windows with the Caribbean sun shining through.

What has an account of my Cuban holiday to do with zeroes to heroes when Cuba was never mentioned in my list? Well a pattern has emerged which illustrates that our wish lists are really only a sounding board for all the dreams and ambitions we hold inside. I still want to see the countries in my list (I’ll maybe wait a while for Libya!) but if an opportunity to travel elsewhere arises I will sieze it enthusiastically. I’ve come to realise that traveling is not just about the going and returning it’s about immersing yourself in the culture, history,  pains and triumphs of  the people of the country you are visiting and allowing the experience to soften your prejudices  and enhance your humanity.

Paul is quite a demanding person to go on holiday with, he doesn’t know how to sit still and relax instead he is always thinking of that one more experience we  might miss if we don’t go off exploring. Well this holiday that certainly paid off in bucket loads because around every corner we found some gem that was not listed in any travel guide, this was because Cuba has an emerging tourist industry growing all the time and so far travel writers have not kept up. We did manage  one and half days lying on the beach, well I lay while Paul swam in the Caribbean, which was enough to recharge my batteries. Hopefully we have returned energised and looking forward to our next adventure.

[Photo of Varadero Beach, Cuba by Suzi]

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