Discovering Cuba by motorcycle; an American's revealing journey

Posted: 06-Apr-16 10:55

An American writer recently shared his experience of travelling to parts of Cuba few Americans have set foot on in generations. He recounts the striking differences, from the reactions he received from locals to the curiosity of Cubans about life in America. In doing so, he uncovers surprising misconceptions along the way.

Discovering Cuba by motorcycle; an American's revealing journey

As politicians chip away at the decades-old travel ban preventing Americans from visiting Cuba, one writer discovers Cuba is a much more complex country than he even imagined. Reprinted in part by Rolling Stone magazine, Josh Eells recently revealed his experience of spending three weeks travelling through Cuba by motorcycle, on assignment as part of the Adventure Issue of Men’s Journal. He describes meeting Cubans who were both skeptical and enthusiastic about their neighbours to the north.

Eells begins his narrative referencing President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, and the large billboard that likely first welcomed the American leader. He describes the billboard that the Presidential motorcade would have passed reading, “BLOQUEO: THE LONGEST GENOCIDE IN HISTORY”. Bloqueo, which translates as blockade, is the word Cuba attaches to the over half-a-century-long U.S. embargo. The second O of the word, the writer adds, is a noose. He offers this up as an example of straightforward Cuban propaganda, setting the stage for the complexity of Cuba and its people.

Eells then goes on to describe his own travels, how he spent three weeks riding all over the island, visiting the country’s 15 provinces. He says he stayed in mostly casas particulares located in more than a dozen cities and towns, including Baracoa in the east and Havana in the west.

While the writer claims some Americans view Cuba as an “undiscovered paradise”, tourists from countries like Spain, Poland, Germany, Britain and Canada have already arrived; for quite a while now in fact. He says the Chinese influence is most evident, with a number of Chinese cars and motorcycles on the streets. He points out, though, that most American visitors rarely venture outside Havana.

In some rural towns he visited, Eells says he was the first American visitor locals had met. He found younger residents more eager about meeting an American while older residents tended to be more reserved. Even so, the writer points out that he saw American flags printed on everything from clothing to the interior of a car.

He adds that most Cubans he met were curious. In one small mountain village he says young people questioned him about the weather, the trees, employment and how Americans feel about Cubans. He went on to write that many Cubans already know about American culture from TV shows, movies and news delivered to them via "El Paquete", which he describes as an underground network of USB hard drives containing all kinds of U.S. entertainment media and distributed across Cuban households countrywide. He recounted the story of one tour guide at the place where Columbus made landfall turn the tables on him by asking questions about the former Discovery TV show, American Chopper.

The writer highlights the difference between this encounter and a conversation he had with a young professional in Santiago de Cuba, where he shared a story about the fallout from Hurricane Sandy. While Eells described he lost electricity at his home in New York for four days, the local remembered being without electricity for two months. He uses these examples to weave his narrative together, describing Cuba as contradictory yet fascinating.


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