‘Cuba was the opposite of everything I imagined’
JANUARY 7, 20175:35PM
BARACK Obama’s visit to Cuba in March 2015 was historic, marking the end
to decades of hostility between the two nations.
Just five months later, in August, the first commercial flight left
American soil for Havana, opening the island to mass tourism.
It’s become one of the world’s hottest destinations, with many rushing
to visit before McDonald’s and Starbucks appear on every corner.
Most reviews are glowing — painting a picture of a time-capsule with
excellent food, cheap drinks, beautiful beaches, lively culture and
OK, infrastructure is lacking and there’s hardly any internet, but so what?
For Tahsir Ahsan, it became a very big deal.
The 24-year-old travel agent recently visited Havana, penning an article
called: “Cuba is actually a terrible place to go”.
He planned a spontaneous trip with two friends, and thought he’d check
out the city for a few days, but he ended up bailing almost immediately.
“We were there exactly 27 hours, we got there at 4pm from Miami, and
left at 7pm the next day,” he admitted to news.com.au.
“I knew there would be no internet, and to be honest I wasn’t even
looking for internet. The only reason I needed it was because so many of
our plans started failing.”
First, their bags never made it to Cuba, and not one of the people they
asked at the airport knew where the baggage office was.
When they were trying to find a representative from their airline, they
noticed a group of people were trapped in a glass lift, banging on the door.
“I quickly ran up to the desk and informed them that I thought people
were stuck in the elevator to which the lady just responded, ‘Yes.’ I
chose to fight my own battle,” he wrote.
Second, they booked a non-existent Airbnb.
When they told the taxi dispatcher the address, she said it didn’t
exist, and when they called the number attached to the booking, the
phone had been disconnected.
“Myself and my friends, we took about $US600 dollars (A$817) each for
two or three days. We weren’t able to use credit cards or ATMs, but
other people told us that should be enough,” he told news.com.au.
“When our Airbnb fell through, the hotel was $600 a night. Eventually we
found a casa particular (a private home that rents rooms) for $45 a
night, but then we had baggage issues. The airline said we should just
buy what we needed and they’d reimburse us, but we were worried about
running out of money.
“That’s why we left so quickly, we needed to get somewhere we could use
Mr Ahsan first became interested in visiting Cuba when he heard it
described as a “time-warp”. However, the reality was more decrepit than
“The roads are just terrible, they’re crumbling. The pollution is
terrible because the cars are so old, and it just smelled like a gas
“I expected it to be lively, in that there’s a lot of culture.
Throughout the day, most of it seemed more like just another city.
Everyone was just going about their business.”
The hosts at the casa particular gave tips on what to eat and where to go.
“Everyone was really friendly, I wasn’t expecting that. We were told
Cuba is a country that kind of oppresses their people, but everyone was
extremely friendly and they didn’t hassle us or anything like that. They
were all willing to help.”
However, food was another tremendous disappointment.
The walk-up restaurant his hosts recommended was tiny, and the line was
so massive they couldn’t see what food was being served.
“It turns out it was hot dogs!” he laughed. He and his friends opted to
pass, and ended up wandering around until they stumbled on a hotel
“At 11 o’clock at night, not much was open, so we ate there. They had
burgers, spaghetti, pizza — they didn’t have any Cuban dishes, just
international cuisine,” he said.
His friend ordered spaghetti, but the sauce was so bad it was inedible.
Keen to avoid the same experience, Mr Ahsan ended up eating plain white
The next morning, they were keen to have a totally different experience.
However, their accommodation was fully-booked, so they had to find a new
place to stay. A quick survey of nearby hotels and casas particulares
revealed every single room in the area was also sold out.
“It was a comedy of errors,” he told news.com.au.
“It kind of goes to show that Cuba itself has been blockaded by the US
for the past 50 or 60 years, but they’ve been open to everyone else for
He and his friends made an executive decision to bail, booking tickets
that afternoon for Cancun in Mexico. It’s a well-developed tourist hot
spot, often considered to be an equivalent to Bali in terms of beaches,
cuisine and partying.
Mr Ahsan said he wouldn’t rule out a return trip to Cuba, but in lieu of
basic infrastructure such as internet, he’d be much more organised.
“Six of my friends were actually in Cuba at the same time, but I
couldn’t organise to meet up with them unless we were online at the same
“Don’t try to go there and wing it, because it’s not that kind of
country. I’d probably go back later, with someone who’s gone a lot of
times so I could experience it differently.”
Source: Cuba travel: It was the opposite of everything I imagined –