Article originally published in the Atmosphere magazine. Read the latest edition here.
Cuba has evolved at a pace all its own, and the Cuban people have developed a solidarity and a warmth unique to themselves, which they are only too happy to share.
A perfect mix of vintage and modern
Comfortably settled at an outdoor café, we watch the carnival-like parade of Cuban transport. An ancient Chevrolet with impressive scarlet fins, a pale green Lada backfiring as it ambles by, a horse-drawn wagon whose occupants fly into the air with every step, a caballero atop his horse, and several bicycles: it is a typical scene, repeated daily all over Cuba, surely the world’s most eclectic automobile show. Here, on the Caribbean’s largest island, bygone eras coexist comfortably with the present.
The Cubans’ legendary warmth and generosity
Watching Nené handle his machete, a cigar in his mouth, in the middle of a sugar cane field protected by the hills and windbreak of palm trees, it’s obvious that he belongs to a time long past. This septuagenarian never goes anywhere without his straw hat firmly planted on his head. He cultivates the small plot of land that has been passed down from father to son for three generations, growing not only sugar but also just about every fruit possible under the sun and warm rains of Cuba: pineapples, coconut, guavas, mangoes, bananas, oranges, avocados and papayas. He’s delighted to share the fruits of his labours with his visitors, as long as they’re ripe, of course.
Surprising? Not in Cuba, where sharing and helping out are second nature. In the countryside as in the city, gestures of solidarity are common currency. Just take a look at the roads, where you’ll see Cuban-style carpooling happening everywhere. If they have some space in their ancient Chevy or their noisy Lada, motorists don’t think twice about giving needy people a lift. It’s economical and it’s safe. In Cuba, wherever you are, day or night, you’re always safe.
And Cubans are warm. On the sidewalks, at a cafeteria counter or at the beach, visitors to Cuba are always taken aback the first time they hear a perfect stranger greet them with “Hola, mi amorrrr!”, with an “r” sound that goes on forever. A simple, friendly custom kept alive by the warmth of the Caribbean.
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