A history seeped in strife and culture makes Cuba is a sensual spectacle, writes Kris Goodbody.
From the kaleidoscope of colour and strangeness that is Havana, to horseback rides through the deserted rolling hills of tobacco country or a trip back in time to the remote city of Santiago de Cuba, Cuba is an annex of the senses in an entirely pleasant way.
Arriving in Havana could not be any more idyllically Cuban. 1950s American cars seemingly held together with string and a prayer, career through the street with no foreign businesses or shops and not an advertisement in sight.
Failing to find the Copacabana, we spent most of our nights in a fine rum-fuelled haze on Havana’s famous El Malecon: a huge promenade that stretches the entire length of the city where Havana’s youth go to drink ten cent cartons of rum while dancing and laughing.
Travellers can spend days roaming the streets, marvelling at the faded grandeur of the place and learning about the island’s history, history so recent and incredible as to give a feeling of Cuban patriotism to an Irishman.
Having some Spanish in Cuba is important in order to learn about the culture and the lifestyle, for example finding out how the Communism regime affects the people. From doctor to street sweeper, workers earn enough to survive on, but with no room for even the smallest luxury.
Overall, Cubans are a friendly, open, happy people, which is quite striking considering that a country can at once be so vibrant and lively while being simultaneously backward and broken.
Travelling the length of the country, tourists will find the historic town of Trinidad.
Whilst being in far-flung corner of the world, deep in the bowels of the earth in a beautiful cave converted into a nightclub, I overheard Mickey and O’Keefe from Leitrim discussing just how unlike Leitrim the place was. This seemed to be a running theme throughout Cuba, we Irish manage to be anywhere and everywhere in huge numbers.
From its feted mangroves in the west with mosquitoes the size of birds, to the beaches of Baracoa in the east with beauty that could make a heart miss a few beats, Cuba is more diverse and mesmerising than words can do credit.
Cuba is a trip back to a simpler time. Fidel Castro overthrew Batista more than fifty years ago and it’s almost like time stopped there. Now the regime Fidel built is in failing health, like its creator. The people are ready to reclaim their autonomy and join the rest of the world. However, when this happens this wonderful place will change forever. So go and go soon, and if nothing else you can say in a nostalgic voice “I was there… while it was Cuba”.