I love the thrill of travelling, however the inability to break language barriers on previous travels has frustrated me – it reminds me of the phrase “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”. There is only so much hand gestures and a well-thumbed phrase book can achieve. This inspired me to undertake a beginners Spanish course at the University of Havana in June 2016. I hoped to get a foundation in the Spanish language and use this to explore the Island and its unique history. This, coupled with the fact that Cuba is currently undergoing dramatic social changes motivated me to travel to the Caribbean Island.
Arriving in Havana, it didn’t feel like I had travelled over 5000 miles but rather that I had been transported back 60 years. Havana is a city trapped in the past. The dilapidated yet majestic buildings, the old American cars, the revolutionary murals and the live salsa music create a colourful atmosphere. I attended morning classes at the University of Havana and these were focused on conversational skills, covering practical topics such as introducing oneself, directions and shopping. The facilities at the University of Havana made me really appreciate how lucky we are in Edinburgh. There was no Wi-Fi, the toilets did not always work and the building had no air conditioning! I really enjoyed spending the afternoons with my classmates, exploring the city and practicing some of my Spanish that I had learnt in the morning. This also gave me an opportunity to learn informally and I was very surprised with my progress. By the end of my time in Havana, I was able to comfortably get into a collectivo (shared taxi) and negotiate my way around the city. The positive reaction of the local Habaneros to my attempts to learn Spanish was amazing. They would let me practice with them which allowed me to integrate with them. I felt part of the community and was invited to house parties by the family I stayed with in Havana. This was an incredible experience – it enabled me to really understand Havana, meet some fascinating locals and get an insight into their thoughts about the future of Cuba. After the course, I travelled around the stunning and diverse countryside – including the cobbled colonial town of Trinidad, tropical beaches and the lush green valleys of Vinales.
During my time in Cuba, I grew accustomed to the nonchalant Cuban way of life. Bus timetables were erratic, shops were not always stocked with drinkable water and systems often did not work. Instead of getting irritated with these small inconveniences, I took to the Cuban attitude of ¡Es Cuba! (that’s Cuba!). Not only did this trip give me a basic foundation in Spanish, it made me to appreciate how lucky we are to live in a free, prosperous society and highlighted the resilience of humanity to overcome significant adversity and challenges. These lessons will be my Cuban legacy.
Typical Havana Street
Valley of Vinales
Cayo Jutia, Pinar Del Rio Provence
Revolutionary Mural: “Loyal to our history”
Universidad de la Habana