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22 Things You Never Knew About Cuba

Updated June 14, 2019 51.3k views22 items

As the relationship between Cuba and the United States changes, Americans are discovering a new fascination with this long-embargoed Atlantic neighbor. It's been five decades or so; but at long last, the U.S. government has decided that the Cuban Embargo isn't going to crush Communism in the Western Hemisphere.

True also is that, as stupid as cutting Cuba off from American trade may have been, it's had the unexpected side effect of creating a bizarrely wonderful kind of pocket universe. A place where cab drivers drop tourists off at cantinas in 1957 Studebakers. Where you won't find a Coke, but you will find free penis enlargement. Where hummingbirds can land on your thumb, and where you won't find much Wifi - but you will find that 98% of the population can quote Hemingway on demand. True, there aren't many boats on the water; but under that water lay pristine coral reefs the envy of anyone else in the civilized world. 

Nobody really knows what kind of wonders will open to America, now that we're back on speaking terms with Havana. But one thing's for sure: In this little pocket universe, this consumerism and pollution-free Galapagos of social evolution, this tiny piece of parallel reality called Cuba, which split off from our own reality some 50 years ago... there's a whole world of wonders, now waiting to be found.
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    Wiped Out

    Photo: David Barnas / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0
    Cuba has suffered from many material shortages over the years, owing the the U.S. embargo and its own lack of some vital resources. One of those resources is wood. No wood means no paper, and no paper means no toilet paper. No doubt about it, 2009's toilet paper shortage definitely left some asses chapped.
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    "Does That Chevy Seat a Hundred?"

    Photo: Spanish Coches / flickr / CC-BY 2.0
    Largely thanks to the embargo, cars cost four times more in Cuba than they do in the U.S. A car that would cost $60,000 here would go for about $240,000 in Cuba. Given the average income there (see "Cubans Get One Toaster a Month"), it would take 100 people working every day for ten years to buy one fully-loaded Chevrolet Suburban SUV. Points for car-pooling, anyway. 
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    The Most Pristine Seas in the Caribbean

    Photo: USFWS - Pacific Region / flickr / CC-BY 2.0
    If the embargo had one positive effect, it's that Cuba's coral reefs are among the most spectacular in the world. Credit the lack of shipping travel, tourists, and pollutants in the water. To visit Cuba's reefs is to take a trip back in time, to an era before humanity really learned how to screw up our oceans.
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    It's a Car-Guy Trip Back in Time

    Photo: KroL Productions / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0
    Have you ever wanted to know what life was like in the 1950s? Take a trip to Havana - the place has barely changed. Because they're absurdly expensive in Cuba, at least the cars haven't changed. One of the most amazing and charming things about life in Cuba is how old the cars are. And not "old" as in "falling apart rustbuckets." Cubans still drive around in completely original and well-maintained American cars from the 1950s. It's not uncommon at all to see 1957 Chevy Bel Airs used as taxi cabs, or government officials riding around in chromed-out, tail-finned Chrysler Imperials. By U.S. gearhead standards, Havana is practically a rolling car show that never ends.