Basic tips about Cuba

Sunny Song, Public Health in Cuba 2014

It has been seven weeks since I left Cuba. I think back to the naïve Sunny who wrote her first blog post in Miami. I went from barely knowing anything about Cuba (except maybe some basic vocabulary: socialism, Fidel Castro, embargo, etc.) to having gained experiences and invaluable knowledge about Cuba. Here are a few of the super-basic things about Cuba that I learned during the trip. *If you are a future IPD Cuba student who is in a similar position as naïve me, consider these as tips.

1. Warning: the cheese…

We were also warned about the cheese. I didn’t take the warnings too seriously because I thought, “Cheese is cheese, and I love cheese. How bad can it be?” …It can be pretty bad, but don’t fret because it’s sometimes just what you need. Plus, you can’t avoid the cheese here forever, especially because cheap pizza is EVERYWHERE. Just… don’t compare it to whatever fresh mozzarella or Sargento you prefer in the states.

 2. Dominos are a lifestyle

From what I’ve seen, dominos are THE Cuban game. Many Cubans, like Yadir (whose domino playing is something we’re all intimidated by), grow up playing dominos. We quickly learned how to lose play… It is a challenging game of strategy. After we got a hang of it, Jordan’s decks of playing cards were used less frequently. Dominos became the go-to game: we played when we lost electricity, were stuck inside because of rain, had time to kill, or just felt like it. If you’re planning on coming to Cuba and winning some domino games, be ready to learn (or learn before you get here and be the pioneer of the group).

3. Change in diet.

Out of the 9 students on the trip, there were two pescatarians (Simone and Kyle), one vegan (Mary) and the rest of us meat-eaters (me, Spencer, Lucy, Jordan, Becky and Sophia)

  • It’s harder to find dishes entirely without meat, unless it’s rice and beans.
  • Mary said her favorite vegetarian/vegan-friendly Cuban dish was anything with yucca… but after four straight days of it… it did get rough.
  • If you’re a pescatarian, it’s possible that your diet will be fish-heavy here because vegetables and root options are not always available and are limited in variety.
  • Simone’s favorite vegetarian/vegan-friendly Cuban dish were malanga fritters.
  • Many meat-eaters admitted to wanting to go vegetarian for several weeks after returning to the U.S. because of how much meat was eaten here…
  • Meat-eaters and vegetarians alike agreed that the mushroom risotto at Mediterraneo (an nice restaurant close to Casa Lilly) was one of the best dishes overall in Cuba. Highly recommend!

4. Public transportation is interesting

a) See my previous post on máquinas.

b) The omnibus (the city’s public bus) does not have bus maps. So how are you supposed to know which one to get one? It’s still a mystery for me. I didn’t get to ride one, but apparently it is a unique experience. *Future NUinCuba IPD students, please give us an update on this!

c) Many buses don’t look like buses. There are the standard American-type public buses, but there are also “guaguas” (buses) that look like trucks turned into buses.

5. Expect the unexpected

Way before we even set foot on Cuban soil, we were told (warned) by Emily and NUinCuba alumnae, to expect the unexpected. Cuba was going to be completely unpredictable, like the Evanston weather we NU students love to hate. Stores and businesses frequently move, close and open. Concerts and events occasionally start on time. Yes, it’s consistently hot, but there are random downpours, especially in August. There were several power outages, some issues with the water in Casa Lilly not working, lack of bottled water in nearby stores, malfunction of wifi at the nearby hotels, etc. For a college student whose life revolves around a color-coordinated Google calendar and/or handwritten planner like me, Cuba required some serious adjustment.