When many people think about Cuba, their mind goes to rum, cigars and Fidel Castro. But there is so much more to this Caribbean island than that! It is an interesting and exciting place, and it is only within the last five years that U.S. citizens have been able to legally travel there. Here are five things about Cuba that you probably didn't know.
Christmas Was Once Banned in Cuba
When The Grinch - ehem, I mean, Fidel Castro - came to power, he went right to work banning things that everyone loves, like Monopoly and, yes, even Christmas. He declared the entire country atheist and abolished Christmas and the paid work holiday that went with it because he wanted people to work on harvesting sugar instead of celebrating and giving gifts. After 30 long, sad years for the people of Cuba, whose population is truly largely a Catholic one, the Pope visited Havana and convinced Castro to reinstate Christmas. Even though it was January at the time, Cuban citizens ran right out to buy the Christmas trees and religious statues they weren't allowed to have before. It is unclear whether Castro's heart grew three sizes that day, but it seems unlikely.
Cubans Only Recently Got the Right to Buy a New Car
If you have ever wondered why Cuba is full of so many classic, 1950s-style cars, the answer might make you a bit sad. Beginning in 1959, Cubans were not allowed to buy a new car, so there were no cars on the streets newer than the 1959 models. In 2013, though, the laws changed, and citizens were able to start buying new cars without getting special permission from the state. The only problem? These cars are marked up by 400 percent, with prices running between $91,000 and $262,000. The average monthly earnings for a citizen of Cuba is equivalent to between 20 and 30 U.S. dollars, making owning a new car an impossible dream for most.
Cuba Once Had a Toilet Paper Shortage
In 2009, Cuba faced a crisis that no one else wants to think about: a shortage of toilet paper. While this seems a bit preposterous for a country like the U.S., keep in mind that Cuba produces some of its own toilet paper but has to import the rest. In 2009, the country did not have enough natural resources to make its own toilet paper and was also facing an economic crisis. Luckily the country eventually recovered enough to allow people to stock up on this bathroom essential, but it was surely a tough few months.
Cuba Is Home to the Largest Colony of Flamingos
Cuba is home to many beautiful and rare species of birds, including the bee hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world. The birds stay here because the habitat is both perfect for their needs and located within protected areas. Flamingos are no exception, with the largest colony in the Western Hemisphere nesting in Cuba's wetlands. In Humedal Rio Maximo-Caguey in particular, nearly 70,000 nesting flamingos have given birth to more than 50,000 chicks. That is one big feathery family!
Hardly Anyone in Cuba Can Access the Internet
While travelers can usually buy a scratch-off card that allows them to use the internet, as a rule, internet is hard to come by in Cuba. In 2011, a study reported that only around five percent of the population was able to access the worldwide web instead of just a government-created intranet that didn't let them view anything that their leader didn't want them to see. It was only in 2008 that Cubans were allowed to start buying computers at all, even if the prices were ridiculously high. The number of internet users has surely increased as technology has advanced, but it is highly likely that our friends in Cuba won't be reading this article.