Cuba Libre 3

The inshore waters of Cayo Cruz and Cayo Romano, where we spent our time, are startlingly beautiful. Curtains of light and dark race across white-sand flats while warm, clear blue water laps at your ankles. In six days on the water, we never saw another angler. The fishing possibilities stretch across thousands of acres of pristine flats. The fishing itself was easy at times, and tough at others. But I’ve found that steelheaders make the best traveling anglers–our expectations are naturally so low, we’re happy anytime we find a fish or two. And we found plenty more than that in Cuba.

But life–and the fishing–in Cuba is bound to change. On the cusp the Americanization that’s about to descend as embargoes are lifted and U.S.-Cuba relations are normalized, there’s much to consider. Today, at least in the rural areas we visited, there are hardly any cars, no gas stations, and very little commerce. Horses, bicycles and feet are the primary transportation options. One of our guides asked me, “Is it true that in the States, most families have their own car?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that most have more than one.

I was told that everyone makes the same amount of money, about $17 per day. Doctors make $24. When I asked if people wanted to make more, the reply surprised me: “Why? There isn’t anything to buy.” Property crime (at least in rural areas) is low, because everyone has the same stuff. The State owns all property and homes. To prevent “escape,” the northern coastline is largely off limits to Cuban citizens. I felt as though I were experiencing the last true experiment in socialism.

The positives are that Western-style consumerism, and all that goes with it, is largely absent. The pressure to strive, excel, get ahead that propel life in a capitalist society, if they were there, were not visible. In combination with the usual tropical indolence, this seems to free the people to relax, enjoy life and move at a slower pace.

On the other hand, without any monetary incentive to excel, excellence, as we define it, can be hard to come by. Without pride of ownership, the houses and properties lack maintenance and tend to fall into disrepair. The lack of simple “luxuries”–fishing line, for example–prove vexing to locals. And restrictions on personal freedoms we take for granted feel oppressive.

Cuba is about to change. The first direct flights from the U.S. will most likely begin arriving before the year is out. Access to Western products, media, and ultimately, lifestyle, will create disruptions and desires in Cuba that I doubt anyone can foresee. Which is to say, the time capsule that is Cuba today, with it’s horse-drawn buggies and ’56 Chevys lovingly held together with bailing wire and tape, is about to open. And Cuba, for better or for worse, will never be the same.