The list of things that make Cuba special is vast, but there’s one trait Cuba has as a society that sets it apart from most places you’ll ever visit. It is the fact that Cubans are amongst the most accessible peoples in world.
What makes a society accessible, and why is that important for a traveler?
Accessibility is a concept I’ve been using to establish comparisons resulting from my personal travel experiences; it measures how closely you get to interact with the people of a given country you visit, assuming you didn’t do the resort thing, and also takes into account additional factors that can influence your experience with locals, such as safety, cultural norms, economic situation, and development of the tourism industry, to name a few.
The importance of accessibility resides on the fact that connecting with other humans from other societies is, by far, one of the most touching and wonderful experiences we could have. If you’ve done some traveling, when you think of those experiences abroad, the ones that will probably stand out the most are those that involved connecting with the locals and experiencing the magic of being able to interact despite your obvious differences. These interactions usually went beyond the typical purchase of an item, or a joyful exchange of words as you were being offered a service you had paid for. Accessibility involves connecting with the locals in interactions that are not mediated solely by monetary interests.
To illustrate the subject, let’s think about some experiences that could happen to you when you visit Cuba, which are not as likely to happen elsewhere.
- Casa Particular as tourism model: the very existence of this business model tells a million things about Cuba as an accessible society. How many countries in the world have been able to launch such an en masse tourism concept based on something so private as sharing your home space with foreigners, feeding them and even becoming their friend? Looooooong before AirBnB, there was Casa Particular. Yet, an AirBnB experience doesn’t come close to what a Casa Particular can offer you. Casa Particular owners speak with pride about the so many people they’d hosted and the many friends they’ve made along the way, meaning that, despite being a business that emerged out of necessity to make a living, having international visitors at home is very much enjoyed.
- Visiting someone’s house: in Cuba, it is very common to make local friends who will immediately invite you to come over to their homes to hang out. This usually involves improvising a little dance party where you will contribute some rum and be obliged to dance, while people will be chatting to you as if you understood Cuban Spanish. In how many countries out there that are safe to visit can you experience such type of friendly hospitality?
- Dancing with locals: whether it is in the form of dance lessons or just life while clubbing, chances are high you’ll dance with someone when you visit non-resort Cuba. Even if you didn’t go to a dance club or live music venue, the simple act of walking past a group of street musicians could lead to you being pulled out to bust a move. You should always agree to dance in these spontaneous settings. Being social and open is seen as a good personal trait. Now, tell me where else in the world visitors can safely enter the traditional dance scene of a culture?
- Interacting in the streets: from the approximately 40 countries I’ve visited, Japan strikes me as the one where folks would spontaneously ask me questions in the streets. “Where are you from?” they’d say, to which I replied: “from Cuba” to always get a “That’s far!” as reaction. I figured any country where people look like me is far from Japan! In Cuba, these interactions with foreigners are very common. Don’t be fooled by those striking up a conversation with you to sell you something. While some could be about business, Cubans are indeed very curious people, and you’re likely to meet folks genuinely interested in your background, who will also surprise you by telling you things they know about your country.
- Emergency situation: when in trouble, don’t hesitate to ask for help from anyone that’s around you. Cubans are inclined to help out, by upbringing. It is a very important societal value, and a majority lives by it. If you find yourself in a car accident, it’s probable that someone will take you to a hospital sooner than an ambulance will. In some countries that are safe to travel, should that happen to you, you might be have to wait until authorized entities (ambulance, police, firefighters) can intervene.
- Sex and romance: yes, yes, yes… we all know about the stories of some tourist who believed the Cuban 30 years younger than them was truly in love, and used them for the passport benefit. That being said, no one can deny that genuine sexual interactions do occur and that your chances of getting intimately involved with a local are higher there than in other countries. The accessibility of love and sex with beautiful and hot people is a fact. Cubans are not shy about mixing with foreigners. It is a nation of immigrants, in the first place! When you have a romance with a local, you’re often times bound to meet their families because most Cubans live with them. When you meet your lover’s family, you also meet the neighbours, and the kids, the dogs, the fruit vendor… the whole neighbourhood.
Cuba is the safest place to visit in the Caribbean and Latin America. A safe social environment, when combined with cultural traits of friendliness, hospitality, spontaneity, sex-appeal, cultural manifestations that encourage connection (such as music & dance) and solidarity, makes for an overall very accessible society. There are countries that share very similar cultural traits with Cuba, but their unsafe environments lead foreigners to stay at the resorts and not venture out into the cities.
The cultural tourism concept put forth by 7 Days In Cuba offers you the opportunity of experiencing the accessibility of Cuban people, primarily through the experience of dance, but as you explore the society with us, other manifestations of this peculiar trait will become evident. Just keep your mind and heart open.