So far Cuba has proven to be an enthralling place. The culture and the people have a magnetic attraction that draws you in and invites you to learn more, see more and do more. Everyone we meet has treated us like family. A simple “Hola” or “Que tal” will spark a 20 minute conversation. The Cubans enjoy talking about the U.S. and their love for their country. On first glance of Havana the first thing that stood out was the old world charm of the city and the surrounding area. The old art deco style buildings and the vintage cars create a surreal kind of environment. It’s like stepping into an old movie with sudden and random flashes of modernism that jolt you back to reality. Life seems to move at a slower pace here, which is a good thing. Despite the obvious state of lacking that many of the Cuban people live in, they don’t seem to worry much. They take everything in stride and have a level of patients that I wish was prevalent in the states. I’ve seen people in the middle of traffic working on an old broken down car smiling and laughing or kids playing in an abandoned lot with a homemade ball having the time of their lives.
Other than navigating the city one of the most necessary skills that we have had to develop is the art of bargaining. No matter where you go the price is always negotiable. The first few times were a complete failure. My first successful bargaining attempt was at a local market that sold small trinkets, paintings and a host of other things. I was able to talk the guy down from $25 to $15 for a few carved wood pieces plus throw in a free cigar box. I have also learned that even the most innocent of mistakes can be costly. We recently went to a local restaurant for dinner. The hostess seated us in a cramped corner, my seat was just below a low hanging shelf. A few minutes into the evening one of our group members needed to use the restroom. As I got up to let her out my shoulder clipped the shelf and a basket of sugar feel to the floor. There were a few sugar packets and a small bottle of syrup in the basket. The bottle of syrup broke as it hit the floor. Being American, I knew immediately that they would charge me for the bottle. My only question was how much. I figured a few dollars would be more than sufficient to cover the loss. When our checks arrived there was a line item for “Azucar de la cocina” in the amount of $15. $15 for a handful of sugar packets and a bottle of syrup no bigger than an travel size shampoo. For a clumsy person Cuba can be an expensive place. If I had to sum up my first impressions of Cuba in one sentence it would be “Love at first site”