Dear Cuba, I love you but I won't be back
I love you, but I won’t be back.
Before I go on, please note on how much I adore you. You're electric. The sound- The heat- The smell, you're an unfamiliar energy, an organized chaos.
Though I was sweating 100 miles per hour- you brought a smile to my face.
I felt safe, I felt welcomed, as a solo female traveler.
I was enchanted by street corners - found stories in every crack. Your hidden valleys, hollow caves, and unpredictable weather satisfied my adventurous soul.
But there’s something I must let you know, you left me feeling frustrated.
Yes, I understand I am an outsider, a foreigner, a ‘tourist’ in your land…and I probably will never understand the complicated situations you live under.
Yes, most us ‘backpackers’ come from wealthier countries with more commodities and advanced technology... ect.
And I really do try my best to understand where you are coming from.. but regardless, of my origins and background- that does not give one the right to scam... daily.
Yes- I was scammed daily and I knew it too - we all did. And of course I've seen this all before, this isn't my first ‘rodeo’ so-to-speak.
However, I didn't come to Cuba for the weekend to sip on Daiquiris, spend my life-savings in 5-star hotels while enjoying the overcrowded beaches of Varadero..
And if that’s you - go for it. Do you.
For me, and like many others out there, it’s more. It’s learning about another lifestyle. Going where the locals eat, finding the best route to the next city, listening, observing, and just soaking it all in. I’m curious about your ways of life; I'm fascinated by the simplicity and the warmth of your people.
And like many backpackers, we’re on a budget and we’re here to immerse ourselves, experience the raw day-to-day life.
But going from point A to B with prices being overly rigged - it becomes well, discouraging.
Like the cloths sticking to my skin, I get it- it’s a sticky situation. Money is needed.
But if we agreed, on handshake - for a $25 Collectivo* ride from Viñales to Cienfuegos and the next day you charge me $35 or I can’t get on-
I get frustrated.
If I am handed the bill after my meal - and I see you've charged me an extra 5 CUC ($5) on top of the 10% service fee-
I get frustrated.
If the previous day I paid 2 CUP (less than a cent) for fresh mango juice and the next day you charge me 2 CUC ( $2) -
I get frustrated.
If I hop into a Collectivo and have the same destination as the Cuban man where he pays 10 CUP ( less than a cent ) and you want to charge me 10 CUC ($10) -
Yes, of course I get frustrated.
If you try to sell me a Wi-Fi card for $8 when I’ve bought one for $2.50 -
Yeah, I’m irritated.
If you promise you'll take me and my travel buddies in front of our Casas Particulares but instead drop us off in the city center..
Yep. You guessed it. Frustrated.
When you threaten a French girl out of the Collectivo Car because she told the other French couple how she paid less than them..
I get Frustrated.
When I ask for the local bus route to the beach and you call your friend taxi driver to take me for $35…
When I ask for directions to a specific café and you take me to your friends commission based restaurant..
When you charge me $3 for a 500 ml of bottled water…
When you charge me $5 for a 3 minute car ride…
When the sign says 4 CUP (less than a cent) but you insist on charging me 4 CUC ($4)..
When you refuse to give my change back...
You get the point.
Maybe I was just unlucky - or had bad timing. But I talked to other travelers - who like me - felt constantly rigged.
And yes - I get it, foreigners pay more- even in official settings.
Nonetheless there's a difference in travelers, in “tourists.” There’s ones who want to explore the country and ones who just want a nice tan.
There’s the ones who want to learn from your culture, traveling city to city and ones that just sit in their luxury hotel.
So Cuba, know this - I fell in love with your land and the smiles of your people.
Nonetheless, you left me feeling frustrated.
You tried to scam me, rig my prices, and get the most dollars out of me- not once, not twice, but constantly. I’ve seen this before – in different parts of the world – but nothing like this. Your process of dealing with us- humble backpackers was you know, frustrating.
But as much as I say I won’t be back.. you know it’s not true. I already crave the late night Rumba and the early morning fruits, you’re forever electric.
So this isn't goodbye, or adieu for now. More of a delay..hoping one day we can find a comprise… Until next time. Adios xx
-The Modern Pilgrim
Disclaimer - I am not looking to overgeneralize. I here to share my personal experience as a solo female budget backpacker, who like many, fell in love with Cuba but felt limited / frustrated towards the ‘system’ so to speak.