Visiting Cuba: A Trip Back in Time to Appreciate the Future
January 30, 2017
Our recent expedition to Cuba was one of the most amazing experiences any of us entrepreneurs have had in our lifetimes. The adventure was full of incredible people, connection with the land and culture, and a near overdose of fun.
As outsiders, many of us know very little about Cuba other than its location, its contribution to our culture and the fact that we have not been allowed to visit or conduct business with the country since
fromthe days of JFK. We had heard of 1950s cars dotting Havana’s roads, the birthplace of mojitos and some of the best beaches yet undiscovered.
Our expectations were 5 out of 10, and Cuba delivered a solid 9.
The uniqueness of Cuba certainly comes from the lack of American influence for so many years and in so many areas. Sixty percent of the cars were from the ‘50s. There were no modern glass-front buildings. The internet was almost non-existent and only found at a handful of physical Wi-Fi hotspots in Havana. More important was the lack of capitalism: We met taxi drivers making more money than their orthopedic doctor parents because of the salaries set by the socialist government.
And yet… we did not see frowns upon the faces of the people of Cuba. They were warm, happy and grateful for our presence. We met with one of the top lawyers in Cuba, who recalled the revolution that put Castro in power, and a professor of economics at the country’s top university.
What we learned was that there are two Cubas: one that is dying (the one firmly planted in the memories of the past, with pride and a chip on its shoulder) and another that can’t wait for integration with the rest of the world.
In the recent past and without the positive economic benefit of trade with the United States, Cuba relied on Venezuela for goods and services that it could not produce for itself. As that country fails and access to information opens up, Cuba knows change is coming. It is how that change is managed that will determine the future of this nation.
Cuba cannot just open up to tourism – its infrastructure cannot handle it. It cannot just take on foreign investment – it prides itself on its unique culture and is fearful of losing this unique and prideful heritage. It cannot simply allow everyone to start a business – its entire structure of salaries and self-worth has been controlled with forced equality. In short, it is complicated… but what an amazing and bright culture.
Although much of what is described above may seem like a hardship to those accustomed to today’s modern luxuries, we found beauty in everything and every experience. We visited Hemingway’s home and drank mojitos and daiquiris at his favorite bars during the day. We went to 400-year-old cannon ceremonies, dressed in all white, visited classy old Havana restaurants via Ford Fairlanes and danced the night away in the city’s hottest clubs. We visited a historic cemetery, explored amazing caves and salsa’d wherever we could. We spent time at top-rated beaches and even dressed like superheroes on our super-catamaran headed for dinner on a remote island. And those are just a few of the moments that we will never forget.
Most importantly, these 26 or so entrepreneurs left with brother/sister-level relationships, a sense of gratitude for visiting this place at this time and memories that will last the rest of their lives.
So, we’re planning another trip while we can – one you won’t want to miss.