The Man in Havana

Havana Has An Authenticity Problem. We're To Blame.

 I hated my trip to Havana. Let the shunning begin.

I’ve been back from Cuba for almost a month, and in that time I’ve started and stopped several pieces on my time in the Caribbean country. Writer’s block is nothing new for me, though this hasn’t been so much that as my inability to completely grasp my feelings about the trip. It wasn’t until a recent conversation with a co-worker and fellow travel addict and the completion of the raunchy, sometimes maddening, yet mostly true Smile When You’re Lying that I began to fully form them.

 

Havana at night is Havana at its best.

 

I spent six days in Havana, the first three flying solo and the second three as part of a group of friends, one of whom was visiting as a freelance journalist writing a piece for VICE on the impact of the Trump administration on Cuban society (hint: it’s not positive). Through several interviews with Cubans, the majority of whom subsist on $25 a month, we heard tales of visa woes, hopelessness, and an all-too-common theme of leaving everything in the hands of God because nothing else worked.

These interactions, coupled with daily solo explorations of Havana on foot and the grumblings of other tourists about how “authentic” everything was, sealed my hatred of the Cuba capital.

On my daily walks, I’d venture out of the mile or so radius where tourists stay and visit, and was overwhelmed at the drastic change in infrastructure and quality of life. Every country in the world has this discrepancy. This is not unique to Cuba. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that myself and my travel friends had completed the yellow brick road and met the wizard, but never quite got to look behind the curtain. Most Cuban tourists see what the government and guidebooks want them to see and never bother to ask questions or go anywhere else, leading to the thousands of blogs, social media posts, and articles elevating Havana to some other-worldly status and promoting it as the next must-see destination due to its “authenticity.”

 

Havana in the rain.

 

Poverty doesn’t equal authenticity, nor does it negate it. There is nothing more or less authentic about Havana and its dilapidated cars than there is about Paris, New York, or Des Moines, Iowa. Cuban cigars are authentic. Getting drunk on $3 rum at an old Hemmingway haunt is authentic to Cuba. Referring to the cars as authentic is like saying that kidnapping is authentic to Mexico and you haven’t been to Somalia unless you’ve participated in anarchy (this blog, however adventurous, does not endorse visiting Somalia and cannot be held liable for your idiocy. Unless there’s a good flight deal. Then, we’ll probably see you there).

 

One of Havana’s most colorful neighborhoods (and corner of a hotel that serves $2 mojitos).

 

None of this is to say that Havana is without merit. I met some of the most amazing people, the architecture is diverse and multi-faceted, and it’s really hard to argue with drinking $3 mojitos and blackening your lungs with the practically canonized Cuban tobacco. Plus, your television options are state-sponsored or from Bollywood; both are equally amazing and hilarious, even with the language barrier. You won’t fully grasp Cuban machismo until you watch a music video where a Cuban fighter pilot crashes and dies and one of the officers who informs the widow about his death starts hitting on her at the funeral.

I know I’ll go back to Cuba. Our 12-hour expedition into the countryside was phenomenal and there’s so much more to see. I just don’t think I’ll ever again be the man in Havana, regardless of how authentic it is.

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