Cuba is a beautiful country and the people are open and friendly. I felt completely safe walking on my own on the beach every morning or back to my room in the evening. Before travelling there I knew very little about this small island nation but I learned some tings there and have been learning more since I returned. I am sure that there are some negative things about the politics of Cuba and it is not perfect by any means. But there are things to admire about this nation that seems to have truly put taking care of it's people first:
- Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world (about 99%). All Cubans must finish to Grade 9. University is free but you need to have the grades to go. There are over 40 universities for a population of 11.5 million.
- Medical care is free. There is one doctor for every 150 people and medical professionals are one of the largest exports. Medication is paid for but it is on a sliding scale- so the less you make the less you pay. And before you leap to the conclusion that the care would be sub-par the life expectancy is 79 years which is slightly higher than the U.S. and slightly lower than Canada (Monaco has the highest at 89 years)
- Homelessness is virtually unheard of. Between government subsidies and the cuban culture there is always somewhere to live. It may be small and crowded but it's not the street.
Transportation is a big issue in Cuba and people get around in all kinds of ways. Government vehicles are legally required to pick up hitchhikers if they have room. On the bus ride to the hotel we saw all sorts of ways people were travelling: walking, bicycles, back of pick up trucks
Horses are key part of the transportation system. We saw lots of wagons and horses being ridden.
There horses tied up and grazing along the side of the road and some free around the resort
I saw a few thin ones and none I saw were great conformationally but all seemed sound and, frankly, as healthy as the people. I was talking to one driver and I asked about the tails because they all seemed to be very short- they are trimmed because behind the horse is a 'manure catcher' so that the streets are not dirtied. It was an interesting idea.
Cynthia and I went riding one day and the horses were narrowly built but very agile climbing up the mountain. Mine was named 'Lucera' and he was quite forward and sweet. Our guide was named Louis and he was a civil engineer turned tour guide:
Many of the people working in the hotels and tourism industry have at least one degree. The money is better. Louis and I were talking and he loves the outside and being in the country as much as I do. We compared horse keeping and were both fascinated by the differences. Of course hay is unheard of there - horses are let out to forage. I explained how horses love the snow and he was shocked.
We went up a mountain side through a series of switchbacks but I never felt nervous and the view was totally worth it:
While we were waiting for our bus to pick us up and take us back to the hotel Cynthia and were chatting about how safe Cuba was for women. Louis looked surprised that that would even be a concern. He looked at us and frowned
"But women, they are a treasure. We must protect them. They are a gift."
It sounds smarmy but he was 100% genuine- I am not a swooner but I swooned a bit at that moment.
If you have a chance to go to Cuba take it. It's a jewel.