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Cuba – about MTV pop-up videos, classic American cars and the Pope

October 15, 2010

Cars in Havana

A post about Cuba covering classic American cars, MTV pop-up video’s and the Pope?! Could there be a link of any kind?

Three indeed very different subjects but with one commonality: they all played an important role during our 1998 Cuba visit.

Before deciding on Cuba as our next holiday destination, we did hesitate. Could we enter the country easily? What kind of problems might we encounter once traveling this unkown territory? But we had an urge for adventure, so right after my 28th birthday we boarded a plane for Cuba!

Houses in Cuba El Socialismo

T for Turismo
Arriving in Cuba, our rental car with a great T (Turismo) on the windscreen and with a special Turismo licence plate left no doubt: we are tourists! That also meant we were not allowed to buy things outside special Turismo shops. These shops were the only ones charging in Dollars (of course the prices were also Turismo oriented). But after the first hour of acclimatisation (and acceptation) we were ready to hit the road!


Varadero has beautiful beaches, but we went for what turned out to be the undoubted highlight of our trip: Havana. Cuba has some beautiful colonial towns like Cienfuegos and Trinidad and the western part of the country (Pinar Del Rio) is famous for its tobacco plantations, but there is no such experience as Havana.

Cuban street scene Colonial Cuba

Our hotel was situated on the sea boulevard Malecón. A fierce and salty sea wind blew around the building, harassing our windows. From storey no. 12 we looked out over Havana and went silent. It was that first moment of rest in a holiday after your arrival: you have reached your destination, stored away your luggage and start to realise where you are.

View on Havana v2

What kind of city was out there waiting for us? Excited and afraid at the same time. What to expect?

Buicks, Chevrolets and the beauty of decay

We discovered Havana, and I mean really discovered. What an amazing place. You have this copy of the US White House, El Capitolio. Former seat of government but now hosting the Cuban Academy of Sciences.

But Havana is also experiencing the beauty of decay. It might be strange saying so, but the city is impressive because of the buildings in deterioration. But there is more to these buildings. Although deteriorating, they breathe history. Havana has an amazing history, where back in the 1950s it was the centre of mafia, nightclubs, casinos and corruption.

Cuban housing

The cars from back then still fill the streets of Havana. What an amazing sight. In the beginning it feels like Disneyland, but after a while it becomes a serious part of the scenery. Taxi drivers polishing their Chevrolet because they are proud of it!

Cuban taxi

Classic car Cuba

The Old Havana is a Unesco World Heritage site.

MTV pop-up videos

After passing Cuban customs, we prepared ourselves for a complete shut off from the outside world for 2 weeks. Naïve, for sure. We were able to watch CNN in our hotel and we even were introduced to the very first MTV pop-up video’s! Pop-Up did not yet reach Europe in 1998, but here we were in Cuba with almost nothing but pop-up videos!

Poster Pope Visit Cuba

The Pope

Who also popped up was the Pope. This was one event that many Cuban people were excited about, the historic visit of Pope John Paul II, only a couple of days after we left the country.

The Pope condemned embargoes against Cuba because “they hurt the most needy.” Posters were found all over Havana, it seemed like his visit really provided people with hope. Many people believed that after the Pope’s visit, “a corner had been turned on the road to freedom”.


All the attention did not change the situation of the Cuban people yet. Citizens still suffer from embargoes and a short-term change in that situation is not expected. This however should not withhold your from traveling to this beautiful country.

And maybe one tiny travel tip. If you decide to travel by rental care, know that oil and gas is scarce due to these embargoes. There are only a few petrol stations all over the island with at least 75km distance between them. So prepare your travels well and prevent from being stuck at the end of the road. But if you are, remember the Cuban people who always have a positive outlook towards the future and the road ahead of them.

End of the road in Cuba


From → Americas

  1. Hi,

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  2. maryrichardson permalink

    Dear Emiel,
    Your photos look great! You really captured what I imagine in my mind Cuba to be like.
    I’m wondering, did you take these photos with a digital camera way back then? They have an old-fashioned feel to them…

    btw, we’re about the same age! Sometimes I’m shocked in blogging how much age difference there is between people…

    • Dear Mary,
      Havana is a great destination for photographers! I did not have a digital camera back in 1998, so these are all analog pictures. I just recently started scanning my 35mm analog negatives. They indeed have an old-fashioned feel to them, but mainly because the colours and intensity of the negatives have faded away during the years. A pity I know, but to be honest, I kind of like them this way. It puts the pictures in a certain historic perspective 🙂
      And yes, we’re about the same age! Thanks for the comment.

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