Things I Don’t Love about Cuba

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Just back from a week camping on a remote beach as part of the Cuban sea turtle monitoring project, I’ve got nothing to complain about. That’s a lie – lend me your ear and I’ll complain long and hard about the heinous mosquito and sand flea bites blanketing my body (the giant beach roach in my hair was also fodder for a gripe or three).

We saw it all on that white sand beach flanked by woods and cliffs under a fat, full moon: sharks, iguanas, deer, a croc cruising an inland lake, fat jutia perfect for the spit (see note 1), wild pigs and cows, translucent frogs, snakes, bats, and birds too numerous to mention. What we didn’t see, unfortunately, were turtles; seems this is a slow year in Guanahacabibes, the wild peninsula at Cuba’s western extreme. Instead we had to live vicariously through the project’s director and her tales of seasons past when scores of green and loggerhead turtles rumbled up on the beaches here to bury their eggs in the sand. Despite the no-shows, I relish being able to make dreams of mine like this come true here.

You may remember a while back I wrote about Things I Love about Cuba and Things I Miss about the USA. Today, as I try not to melt down in another unbearably hot summer afternoon here in Havana, I thought it time to get some stuff of my chest – things particular to this place that take some getting used to (and others that I’ll probably never quite groove to).

– Weekly public health inspections of your home, combined with obligatory in-home fumigations (see note 2)

– A daily newspaper only 6 pages long (and even fewer diverging opinions!)

– Incessant, sometimes inflammatory, gossip

– Being a big (or at least medium) fish in a small pond (see note 3)

– Really fat ladies in Lycra, rivaled by rolls of back fat

– Lack of public bathrooms at beaches leading to (you guessed it!) water-borne turds

– Good-natured shouting – anytime, anywhere

– Going regularly without toilet paper (see note 4)

– Smoking in hospitals

– Men and women of all ages speaking openly about menstrual cycles, maxi pads, Tampax, and flow

– Reggaeton and other intolerable music (see note 5)

– Amoebas in the water and the occasional bout with giardia

– Electric showers that surprise you with a nasty shock every once in a while (in other latitudes these showerhead-mounted apparatus are known as ‘widow makers’)



 1. The jutia is what can safely be called Cuba’s RUS (rodent of unusual size – these suckers can reach up to 15 pounds!). They’re cute, but make good eating; at least one upscale private restaurant in Havana serves up a nice jutia in almond sauce. 

 2. Although these can be a royal nuisance, they are largely what helps keep dengue at bay here.

 3. Being a native New Yorker, I’m infinitely more comfortable with the small fish, big pond arrangement.

 4. I’ve become quite used to this actually thanks to three experience-honed strategies: carry a few spare squares; water rinse; and snatches of above mentioned 6-page newspaper.

 5. Reggaeton – love it or hate it



Filed under Americans in cuba, cuban beaches, environment, Living Abroad

19 responses to “Things I Don’t Love about Cuba

  1. The jutia and reggaeton have a lot in common. Both are vermin. Sorry for my strong opinion here but reggaeton (like dancehall) frequently calls for the slaughter of gays. Jutia, at least, are far more democratic with respect to who they infest.

    Keep cool, amado.


    • si senor. the cuban gov once banned reggaeton in state-owned enterprises (bars, restos, schools etc) for this very reason (ie homophobic, mysoginistic, exclusionary lyrics), but it just didn’t stick. there’s a clear divide on the island today bw “reguetoneros” and the anti-regueton crowd. Don’t need to repeat into which camp I firmly fall!!

  2. RBG

    The wild bovines must be something about life on islands. I grew up on the Queen Charlotte Islands off of Canada’s west coast (approx. 1 billion miles from Cuba), and we had wild, long-haired cows roaming the beaches. They were known locally as “hippie cows.”

    There was a golf course adjacent to the beach, and we would often skip class in high school to go golfing in the afternoon. It was always a little surreal teeing off on the top of one of the dunes and looking out and seeing these shaggy lumbering beasts plodding along near the surf.

    Not an animal you readily associate with beaches. How do they not all end up in someone’s stewpot there?

    • interesting tidbit RBG – especially the hippie cow part! And about those stew pots….seems they DO end up in some, though we can’t confirm or deny! I can tell you we haven’t seen beef in a loooooong time

  3. Marie

    I am glad to see that your list of “love” is longer than the “don’t love”.
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Jems

    Even in your dislike, you make Cuba sound awfully romantic. I’m just sayin’.

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  7. shane

    Nice to hear your comments, it appears even with the restrictions to daily life, people due show civility and courtesy that is strongly lacking here in the UK.
    I’m travelling to Havana in October or November 2011, hope to find a Judo teacher for “clases particulares”,…not sure whether that would be possible to do. I speak fluent spanish, and would like to find a girl to take out on a few dates!,…how do they accept foreigners over there?

    • Hola Shane (tip #1: get a “cubanized” name: no one will be able to pronounce or remember Shane). Finding a judo teacher should be no problem. Ask around at local gyms and in Chinatown. Wanna find a girl? Oh yes you will. And so much more. Tip #2: watch your ass(ets).

  8. shane

    Hi Conner

    Thanks for the reply, it seems a million miles away from here, in terms of weather at least! (cold and dark here, get the picture). I really like your blog, it’s so well written and informative,..probably the best guide to Cuba that I’ve read! (and I’ve read a LOT). When I stated about taking a girl out for dates,…I was not intending any type of full-time/part-time prostitute,…rather a normal/regular girl, that I’d be able to take out for meals/drinks etc,…I was wondering how well disposed they are to foreigners (gringos)?
    Anyway, would like to hear your comments on the places etc , to avoid inj Cuba, that would be great!….anyway hope you’re fine , there,..and keep up the good work with the blog,…it’s estupendisimo!!!…;-)

    Conner, I’d like to hear your views on anything related to cuba.

    Shane (I’ll need to “cubanise” that;-)

    • This is a whole different ball game down here: whether full time or part time, they’re not called prostitutes but transactional sex workers. They are so adept, endearing, great in bed, charming, etc many many people don’t even realize they’re being played. Cubans are unique in the world: “regular/normal” girls/boys/other is a contradiction in terms. But you should probably visit the lonely planet thorn tree web site or cuba amor and do some more research on this issue.

      One piece of wisdom given to me by a very worldly and widely published (and good looking) fellow traveler: “Ive dated a lot of latina women, but never a Cuban. The economic dynamic is just too screwed up.”

      Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  9. shane

    Thanks Conner, I think you’re probably right there, it does seem a contradition in terms, something that we don’t experience (so much) here.
    For my visit in October 2011, I’ll concentrate on doing some sport (Judo), I think I’ll have to do a bit of digging on that score,…but It seems best to leave the ladie, well alone;-)
    Any other advice/information that you can proffer, would be immensely appreciated.;-)

    -Best Regards


  10. shane

    Hi Conner

    Well, I’m booking my trip to Havana, any good advice , I should heed, before travelling there?



    • Hi Shane. Congrats!! My best piece of advice is before you travel, write down everything you expect to see/experience in Cuba. Once here, keep a journal about all the things you’re seeing and experiencing. Its a fabulous and instructive exercise.

      Also, have a strategy for accessing/carrying money, bring some of your favorite/nutritious snacks, brush up on your Spanish (the Cuban dichos iapp is great for getting some slang under your belt), keep an open mind, and of course, get your hands on my Havana Good Time iapp.

      Have a most excellent trip!

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  12. Love in Cuba

    The worst thing in cuba for me is the way that men found to get things, they are like prostitutes, deceive many woman at the same time trading fake love for money and goods.

    • Just so we’re on the same page/speaking the same language: not all Cuban men are this way. I know plenty personally who are not at all like this. As a matter of fact, this may be something that transcends gender….

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