On a plane coming back from seeing the folks over the Christmas holidays I overheard an idiot utter something I’ve seen on the internet but didn’t actually believe real people would say out loud.
Which was this: “I want to go to Cuba before it’s ruined by all the American tourists.”
In case you’re not aware that people actually believe this, they do.
The sense that detente will unleash an invasion of Yankee tourists and change the unique character of one of the world’s last remaining bastions of communism is shared by many travelers flocking here.
“Cuba has a very authentic atmosphere which you see nowhere else in the world,” Gay Ben Aharon of Israel said while walking through Revolution Square. “I wanted to see it before the American world … but also the modern Western world comes here.”
Outsiders may romanticize the “time-capsule” nation, but many on the island are ready for change.
Where foreigners see charming, historic architecture, bright 1950s-era American cars and vast stretches of white-sand beaches, locals see decaying buildings in need of repair, new vehicles priced beyond their reach and a lack of economic opportunity.
For many Cubans living in dilapidated, multigenerational tenements, change could be good. It may expand access to the Internet and the outside world, creating engagement that could bring brighter economic days and, practically speaking, make it easier to fix a leaky roof.
“We’re very excited,” said Yadiel Carmenate, a 26-year-old English major at the University of Matanzas who moonlights as a tour guide.
Rogelio Gauvin, a tourist from Canada, predicts demand will continue to outpace capacity.
“I see a lot of construction, very nice restorations — that’s very good,” he said. “But there won’t be enough hotels. There won’t be enough restaurants. There won’t be enough services to accommodate the Americans who will come like rats on a ship.”
And yes, the idiot on the plane from Tampa to New Orleans whose babblings I managed to refrain from retorting to was speaking in that same spirit.
These people who are so concerned about Cuba being “ruined” by American tourists are precisely the people who ruin things.
Because they’re idiots.
We’ll get back to that. In the meantime, you’ve got to read this travel review of a fairly typical trip to Cuba…
I cannot begin to explain how excited we were to disembark and step foot onto Cuban soil. Everyone was taking pictures and snapchatting their new journey into the unknown. We said our final goodbyes to our friends over text message in Miami as we were aware of the non-existent internet situation in Cuba. Little did we know that what was originally planned as a 3 day phone escape would turn into a measly 24 hours of hell.
Almost immediately after landing, we were ushered to what is literally a clusterf*** of an arrivals hall. Although immigration moved rather quickly, our bags took more time to come out than the flight from Miami did. Actually, our bags never made it to Havana. We waited for 2 hours at the baggage carousel after repeatedly asking anyone who looked like an airline agent to help us. Everyone just responded that baggage is slow to arrive in Havana. Another 30 minutes passed and it was only the three of us and the human version of the elderly couple from the movie Up waiting for bags. At this point, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that my friends bag wasn’t going to arrive.
I’d like to think our adventure started before we even left the airport but maybe that’s just because every possible force was working against us. Between one of my friends having the smallest bladder in the universe and my other friend trying to find non-existent wifi, I thought it was time to make an executive decision and go in search of the baggage office. What transpired was beyond comical. We were told by 8 different people that the office was either on the first, second, or third floor. As we set out to find the office, I saw a booth that was titled “Information.” As I walked up and asked where the American Airlines office was, I noticed a group of people in a glass elevator just 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 instead of continuing to try to get help for the people stuck in the elevator.
Read the whole thing. Seriously. It’s highly entertaining, and more or less what you hear from everybody who goes there.
The thing the people who don’t want Cuba “ruined” by American tourists are too stupid to understand is that American tourism was one of the primary drivers of the Cuban economy for decades before Fidel Castro and his merry band of psychotics seized power and trashed the place. The quaint buildings and ancient cars in the streets – the ones which haven’t fallen apart, that is – are largely leftovers from American investment in Cuba in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
So what they’re complaining about, prospectively, is that American tourists and investment in the 21st century will “ruin” what American tourists and investment built in the mid-20th century.
Meanwhile, the Cubans are, in ruptured-duck fashion, given the corruption and incompetence of the communist government they’re saddled with, trying to become “ruined.” They’re attempting to build a tourist economy off the fact Americans can go there now.
Understand, of course, that Canadians, Europeans and others have been going to Cuba since the Berlin Wall came down. It’s Americans they haven’t had, of course. Canadians and Europeans don’t “ruin” a tourist mecca – only Americans do.
And why is that? Because Canadians and Europeans, or at least the ones who would travel to Cuba, don’t have any money and have standards to match. Americans willing to drop $3000 on an actual vacation will actually demand something other than hotel rooms infested with lice, inedible food and service which doesn’t resemble that befitting a concentration camp.
What’s clear so far isn’t that Cuba’s resisting being “ruined.” More to the point the Cubans simply suck at running a tourist economy. One day, perhaps when the Castros are dead and gone and Western capitalism has burned away the last vestiges of communist tyranny on that island, that won’t be true – and on that day, the rubble of those crumbled buildings will be cleared and replaced by new construction, the streets will be full of modern, emissions-friendly automobiles and there will be modern conveniences like wi-fi, working cell service and bathrooms that don’t stink like dysentery.
If that’s Cuba’s “ruin,” you’d be surprised how many on that island who won’t see it as so bad – and how much more successful that country will be once it’s “ruined.” Maybe the people worried about “ruining” Cuba can move on to wishing to visit North Korea before it gets “ruined” as well.