Viva La Cuba: By Invitation Only







We arrived in the small village of  Caibarién  after a long taxi ride from the resort and across the causeway. It was like we were transported somewhere else, or back in time. Horses and carts filled the streets and the few cars that were around were older models. I don’t know my cars, but I recognised some from the 50’s and maybe others were from the 60’s-70’s. Streets were generally unpaved, or in need of repair. Brightly coloured houses with peeling paint, or bleached from the sun lined the streets. The houses were all connected and few had a yard. One thing each house did have was a front porch where many people gathered and chatted whether sitting on the steps, or in rocking chairs. A real sense of community, friendship and togetherness emanated from each doorway.

The doors and windows to most houses were open. It seemed to welcome visitors and to announce someone was home. We were invited to go to one of the hotel staff’s house and Y told the driver where to stop and we were left off at a meager dwelling with a weathered and greying facade. Y announced this was his place and shared with the driver what time to return to pick us up. We exited the taxi and Y’s wife greeted us with open arms and hugs and cheek kisses like we were family. They ushered us inside and I looked around a scantily furnished room that was their home. One room with a bed, wardrobe, 2 dressers and a few chairs is all I saw. A small rice cooker, TV and DVD player that also played music through a USB were their only appliances. Chairs and a corner of the bed were quickly offered for us to get comfortable while Y went to change and have a quick shower. The bathroom didn’t have any plumbing, but a tank that would be filled every few days provided running water for a shower. Y quickly was ready and proudly displayed a t-shirt with Niagara Falls New York to honour where we come from. We are Canadian, but he knew Niagara Falls and had the shirt to prove it!

Outside we went to Y’s mother in law’s house which was slightly bigger and her sister, brother-in-law and baby also lived. Food was cooking on the stove and a small cat was curled up in the corner. They welcomed us and said hellos before we went off to explore the town. It was hot and we tried to stay to the shade. At the corner we flagged down a horse and cart taxi to take us to our next destination. When we got close Y told the driver to stop and we got off and walked along the street. Small chickens and goats ran free in the grass along the road. People stared at us as we went by. Small shops were located in houses. So many people were out and around busy going about their day. Most houses were simple wooden structures while others were older colonial style stone that was slowly crumbling and decaying. In places you could see rusted steel supports. It was clear that most people living here had little income and survival was probably more important than frills and upkeep of their houses. Most people, 40%, work at the few resorts on the Key and earn local currency and a small fraction of the coveted CUC which, is the currency tourists use. It is on par with the American dollar. Everyday needs are scarce at times, but available using the local dollars. Imported items and larger luxury items are bought with CUC. Jobs in tourism are very important since it brings them into contact with CUC. Some earn them in tips, but our resort collected the tips and shared it with all the staff. Y said he was earning about 100 CUC a month and the remainder of his salary in local currency. It takes a long time to save at that rate. Luxuries seem inflated, but necessities are much cheaper than home.

Man working at a Furniture Shop

We walked to  a government shop for a cold water to cool down in the heat. You could also buy other food items, ice cream, beer, and rum. Prices here were much cheaper than the resort, but a luxury for them. From here we went to a local restaurant for lunch. We lucked out since it was air-conditioned. We walked down a narrow corridor to an unmarked door. Inside was a few tables. It appears to also be a house and this would have been a front living room at one time. Lunch was very good with rice, pork, fried banana and homemade banana chips. Fully stuffed we went back into the heat and walked around the streets and down towards the shore. I enjoyed watching the people gather just spending time together. Children played soccer in the streets and dogs barked from a shady spot.

Government Shop – Order from the Counter

Items for Sale

My camera was busy snapping all the sights. The interesting doors caught my eye with the intricate metal patterns. As we walked by houses we could see inside other people’s lives as their home was open to view. I felt like I was intruding, but at the same time I was so curious I could not help but stare or dare to take a peek. Each corner brough a new site and I had to stop to soak it up. More than once John would stop to see me a block behind and hurry me along. We wandered into the centre of town and Y wanted to show us the grandstand where music would play for everyone on occasion. He noticed the town museum was open and instead took us inside. We were admitted and lead up a stair case to a dusty long room filled with numerous display cases. Birds occasionally flew past since many of the windows were broken and the only protection was from the spider webs. The museum employee was very excited to show us around and told us about each display case, all in Spanish. Y would translate a few key points before we moved on to the next item. Old faded photos, a town plan and model, school desk, skeletons and stuffed local animals were a few of the items on display.

Eggs for Sale – Yellow Egg Tray Signifies Eggs are Sold Here



After our museum tour we needed to return to Y’s house because the taxi would soon be there waiting to take us back to the resort. We said our good byes and entered the car to be transported back to our life, culture and time. The town was not flashy and exciting with well know landmarks, museums and monuments. It was dusty, grimy and the smell of animals wafted through the air made only more pungent by the heat. To most people they will have never heard of Caibarién, or put it on their traveller’s bucket list. To me it will always be a memory of  a life time because I was invited in to have a peek of something few will ever experience.

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20 thoughts on “Viva La Cuba: By Invitation Only

  1. Fascinating post and photos. It is how I imagine Cuba to be inside my head.

    • We never got to see this when we went to Cuba before. We drove by little houses, but never got to take a peek as we passed in the tour bus. Havanah wasn’t like this either. I was surprised to see more modern than old when we went a few years ago. This is more ‘real’ or more stero-typical 😉
      Glad you enjoyed it. Was hard work to narrow it to 14 photos!

  2. Ah! I wish I could have the chance to go!

  3. Leslie

    Thank you for sharing! One of the girls in my son’s class go to the same resort on a yearly basis in Cuba (with her family). They’ve become friends with one of the cooks. They almost always spend one night there for dinner and my son’s friend stays over night with the cooks children. They love it!

  4. Lilly

    Great post!!!We have been to Cuba ten times and counting and are actively part of the small Cuban community here in Sydney.We have never been to Caibarien but have been to other similar places like Guines,near La Habana,mainly visiting family of Cubans back home and hand delivering “envelopes” to them.During our visits we rarely stay in resorts but in Casas Particulares that way you can experience closer the life the locals live

    • Resorts are nice for the R and R, but so far away from the real life and culture. It is nice to get up close and take a peek sometimes.
      Thanks for the comment and stopping by.

  5. Freda Goulet

    Thanks, Diana, for sharing your impressions of the “Real” Cuba. You certainly painted a picture of this rural part of Cuba with your words…and the pictures give us a rare glimpse of village life in Cuba. A terrific blog….again!

    • Thank you. It looks so poor and unlike what we are used to, but the warmth and energy I felt there made it very unique.
      It was hard to narrow down to just 14 pictures!

  6. Linda Sams

    You did an awesome job. Really enjoyed reading it. Hope you are all settled back into your routine and that all is going well for you. Love and hugs.

    • Thanks so much. Haven’t seen you here in awhile.
      I am swamped with work… I enjoy writing the blog, so I try to find time to do it!
      Hope all is well with you.
      Say HI to everyone for us.

  7. I love the everyday-life in Cuba that you have captured. What a stark contrast to the way of life that we live; but I bet that they are far less stressed than us. I am so glad you shared this. I guess that Y was your tour guide including protection? I say that for obvious reasons. Another world eh? You did a great job of taking photo’s. I feel I have been on the journey with your eloquent and descriptive narrative. Diana, Thank You So much for sharing your travel, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your journey 🙂

    • Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed it. I am not sure if we would have needed protection since there is little crime there even with their level of poverty. I think they were just more surprised to see tourists in their town and off the resorts. Like fish out of water!
      It is another world and their stress seems to be lower. Right away if we had a worrying comment Y would say ‘it’s OK no stress”.

      • It looks a great town. I’ve just watched way too many ‘Gangs in country X’ too much! 😉

        • Of course and most places so poor would be unsafe… In Shanghai it is so safe I forget how to be street wise, so it is something I rarely think about anymore.

          • Interesting. So Shanghai is a safe place??

            • Yes… only 1 murder this year in a city of 25 million + Occasionally pick pockets and bike theft, but not a lot considering. I can walk at night and feel safe. In many other places in the world I wouldn’t walk alone. Even some places at home it is not this safe!

  8. Nate

    It certainly is how I imagined it. Someday we will go.


    • The people are fantastic! This was a small town frozen in time. Havana is certainly much different. We only got to spend a day there and were pulled from place to place on a tour. The resorts are such a contrast to what we have and what they have. They are so happy and giving though. That is what makes it so great… the people treating you like family. It is priceless. I hope you get to go one day 🙂

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