Cuba’s Bromeliads in Gardens and the Wild

I love bromeliads. Members of the Bromeliaceae family, they impress me with their range of leaves and flowers. The different environments they are found also fascinate including on trees, rocks and even wires. Cuba’s tropical climate and varying environments ensure it has many bromeliads, both wild and in gardens. Cuba also grows the most commercial and famous bromeliad: the pineapple.

Two of the best gardens to see bromeliads in Cuba are Artemisa’s Orquideario Soroa Botanic Garden and Santiago de Cuba’s Jardin de los Helechos. For wild bromeliads, visit nature reserves and national parks. Often seemingly random trees also have bromeliads.

With international travel limited due to COVID-19, seeing Cuba’s bromeliads in the environment is impossible for most. The next best thing is to check out the bromeliads in my video:

Havana, Cuba’s Capital and a Must-Visit

Cuba’s capital Havana is one of the world’s great cities. Its combination of history, architecture, transport, economics, culture and climate can’t be copied.

Back in 2016-17 I was lucky enough to visit this unique place including for new year’s eve. Coincidentally, also in Havana I saw Placido Domingo, was there when Fidel Castro died and bumped into Enrique Iglesias’ Subeme La Radio video shoot.

This video provides a taste of Havana’s streets:

Following are snapshots of Havana from the trip. Continue reading

Cuban Postal Systems and Mail Boxes

Posting letters outside the Nuevitas Post Office

Posting letters into the Correos de Cuba box outside Nuevitas Post Office

The Cuban postal system (Correos de Cuba) is both a cheap way for locals to communicate and a source of foreign revenue. See, Cuba produces two sets of postcards and two corresponding postage rates:

  1. A touristic card aimed at foreigners costs approximately US1.50 to buy and post internationally
  2. A corresponding Cuban propaganda post card with the obligatory Fidel Castro or José Martí quote costs an unbelievably cheap ~US$0.06 (1.45 CUP) to purchase and send.

Continue reading

Cuban Signs, Branding and Marketing

Truck with plain, brand-less bags of water crackers in Pinar del Rio

Truck with plain, brand-less bags of water crackers in Pinar del Río

Post-Revolution, Cuba has been run as a totalitarian state with the government controlling all production and distribution. With no competition, such a system has little place for advertising or branding. In addition, Cuba’s mass media is all state-owned and commercial-free.  Indeed, Cuba’s marketing expertise lies in propaganda. Interestingly, propaganda in Spanish translates as advertising.

Only recently have Cubans had self-employment options, planting tiny capitalistic seeds and increasing branding and advertising’s importance. Now many Cubans run their own restaurants, guest-houses, transport and other businesses. Below are selected advertisements, signs and brands from Rocío and my visit. Continue reading

Cuban Ingenuity and Repurposing

Bike chain lock on outdoor kitchen, Viñales

Bike chain lock on outdoor kitchen in Viñales

Cubans are great at recycling, reusing, repurposing and modifying objects to extend their usefulness. The limited availability of resources caused by both the communist state policies and US embargo have forced their frugality and ingenuity. This was especially true when the Soviet Union collapsed, causing the 1990s Special Period when extreme rationing occurred.

This hardship-induced resourcefulness has had a positive consequence of lower waste levels, reducing environmental pollution.

Following are some of the examples of frugality and ingenuity Rocío and I saw on our Cuba trip. Continue reading

Shopping in Cuba

Havana hardware store window display

A dismal hardware store window display in Havana

Shopping in Cuba involves buying what is available, not what one desires. Stores have limited variety, especially those aimed at Cubans. An extreme example of this was the bakery Rocío and I saw selling only one line of bread. Continue reading

Cuba’s Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR)

Havana graffiti stating Viva CDR 28 (Long Live CDR 28)

Havana graffiti proclaiming Viva CDR 28 (Long Live CDR 28)

Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (Comités de Defensa de la Revolución), otherwise known as CDR, exist in every Cuban neighbourhood. Established on 28 September 1960, less than a year after the Cuban Revolution, the volunteer-run committees monitor and report on counter-revolutionary activity and promote social welfare. Stephen Smith’s Cuba: The Land Of Miracles quotes a BBC reporter aptly describing the CDR as “a cross between the neighbourhood watch and the Gestapo”.

During our visit, Rocío and I witnessed many CDR references throughout the island. Continue reading

Cuban Communist Country Products

During Rocío and my visit to Cuba we saw multiple old and modern artefacts from other communist or former communist countries. Considering Cuba’s post-revolution political alignment and the United States embargo this should not have been a surprise.

Communist Crockery

A tip for those visiting Cuba: at your guest house check under the china for its origin. With limited access to goods, Cubans often keep items for decades, including their stoneware. We noticed this at our first meal in Cuba with crockery made in Czechoslovakia, a European country last existing in 1992.

Crockery made in Czechoslovakia at our first Havana guest house

Crockery made in Czechoslovakia at our first Havana guest house

At Santiago de Cuba we used a porcelain coffee set produced in Bulgaria, most likely from its pre-1990 communist period. Continue reading