I just got back from spending 2 weeks (or 15 days if you want to sound even more well-traveled) going around the beautiful and perhaps under-appreciated island of Cuba. This exotic place – hosting every terrain you could ask for – is ideal for its wildlife, incredible beaches, trekking and perfect if you want to travel back to 50s America and see how cars used to look.
But Cuba doesn’t hide away from its complex history, one that has left them being one of the few self-proclaimed communist nations in the world. It is this that, undoubtedly, brings its positives and negatives. Along with other capitalist traits – such as super markets and McDonalds – Cuba also lacked a real drug culture, as a matter of fact, it was practically an anti-drug country.
Over the 2 weeks, despite wanting to, I avoided taking any substances whatsoever. Except Rum and cigars of course. Today I’m going to take you through my itinerary and give a description of why I believe I had this experience. A disclaimer as always, I am only one person, with my own solo experience, it might be different for other people. This was my journey.
Communism in Cuba
I would rather not get into a debate over whether communism is or is not a good political system. It always ends the same. One person says that communism sounds great in theory but simply can’t work in practice – they’ll give examples such as Stalin and Mao. The opposition will then reply with something like: “but these people weren’t true communists. They were dictators. Communism has never been given a fair trial”. In a sense, both opinions are right. In addition, it’s not as if capitalism is working either – with the amount of homelessness, unemployment and our eventual direction of climate disaster.
Nonetheless, Cuba is a communist state – according to them. It is based on the ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which advocate for a classless society in which the means of production are collectively owned and controlled by the working class. In Cuba, this has been implemented through the nationalization of industries and land, as well as the implementation of a planned economy.
The government, led by the Communist Party and started by Fidel Castro after the revolution in 1959, makes decisions about economic and social policy. However, the implementation of communism in Cuba has been criticized for its lack of political and economic freedom, and for its failure to provide for the basic needs of its citizens. There have been protests against the government, which have been harshly dealt with by authorities. The New Yorker writes:
“Cubans across the island have become frustrated by their government’s inability to provide them with even such basic amenities as food and medicine”
Power cuts were a significant issue even for my brief 2 week travel. I also had interesting conversations with locals who sought after the capitalist state that many of the West live in. However, it’s easy to act like capitalism is a bright alternative, when in reality there is an energy crisis, huge amounts of unemployment and homelessness too. Perhaps a hybrid of both ideologies is the way forward.
Drug Laws in Cuba
Drug laws in Cuba are extremely strict. There are no signs of even the smallest of progressions, such as medical cannabis or cannabis tourist markets – like those of California or Amsterdam. Possession of drugs in Cuba is illegal and can result in severe punishment, including long prison sentences. The sale and distribution of drugs are also prohibited and carry even harsher penalties.
The Cuban government takes a hardline stance on drugs, viewing them as a threat to the country’s social and economic stability. Many government websites warn against purchasing illegal substances in Cuba for this reason. One of the more recent cases was a 20 year old woman from Florida who was imprisoned for smuggling a small amount of synthetic cannabis through airport control. Although, she suffered from learning disabilities and many believe she was set up.
Regardless, the Cuban authorities were not lenient. There also seems to be very little actual substances in Cuba, especially when you compare it with South America, Mexico and North America. As an island, they have been able to successfully maintain a strict drug policy. This doesn’t mean there aren’t drugs, it just means that they’re hard and risky to find. Plus, there’s a high chance that the substances themselves may be bad quality. Whilst I was out there, I met two Australian guys who had tried to purchase cocaine but were given something that was definitely not that substance. They wasted 50 dollars, felt nothing and ended up with horrible hangovers the day after.
2 Week Cuba Itinerary
My travels lasted 15 days, beginning and ending in Havana. It is quite a common route and ensured that I saw a variety of different landscapes. Although you could definitely spend months in Cuba and still not fully absorb all of the beauty of the country. In each place I had some sort of conversation with locals about drugs, and in each of these places I did not manage to get my hands on any substances. Here’s why.
Havana really is everything you expect it to be and more. It has the hecticness of any capital, mixed with the soul and sounds of salsa. Everywhere feels like it could burst into a Buena Vista Social Club song at any second. As you walk the streets, you’re greeted by almost everyone. They ask where you’re from, how you are or whether you want to go to a fictional cigar festival this evening. Whilst it isn’t many, there were still mentions of substances. A few offered cocaine and cannabis, but it was a deep whisper that was hardly audible. If they were to be caught, it would be instant jail time.
It was in Havana that I’d heard the Australians’ story and was put off from attempting to purchase anything there. They had also mentioned that the dealers did not allow them to try the substance before buying it either, evidently highlighting the bad quality of the drug. Whilst decent substances weren’t easy to find in the capital, rum at a low cost was basically coming out of the taps. Drinking glass after glass of pure rum in the Hemingway bar in Havana reminded me just how much of a drug alcohol is. Why did we ever need other substances anyway?
The next stop was Vinales. This is a small countryside town in the middle of nowhere. A great deal of cigar making happens here, with a large amount of tobacco farms. If I was travelling in any other country in the world, I would presume this kind of laid back lifestyle would breed cannabis dealers. However, yet again, drugs were not an option. After a day of cycling around the caves outside of Vinales and zip-lining over the mountains, we attended a Cuban street party. It was crazy. Locals danced salsa and drinked Mojitos, whilst us tourists only really knew how to do the latter with any grace or expertise. Although, we did try to salsa as best we could. Even here, with mountains of rum on offer and the smell of cigars in the air, there were no signs or whispers of any other substances. Pina Colada is all they seemed to need.
After a few days in Vinales we headed to the beaches of Playa Laga. This is also, historically, very close to where the Bay of Pigs battle took place during the Cold War. The beaches were incredible, with the sand as white as stone and the water translucent. Cuban music brushed through the palm trees with, as always, rum being poured as regularly and freely as the tide. Still no signs of any other substances. In fact, in Playa Laga, I would almost go as far to say that there were no illegal substances whatsoever. It just did not feel like the place. There’s barely any restaurants or bars, let alone dealers with excess drugs to sell. So yet again, I waited for the next stop. Although my passion for finding drugs was definitely diminishing, the soul of Cuba and the alcoholic drinks were enough for me.
Cienfeugos felt like a place that may have had substances within its streets. It felt like a mini version of Havana with a French twist. Although parts of it – such as the main boulevard – felt a bit like Los Angeles in a weird way. It was yet another odd Cuban city that I instantly fell in love with. Except for a group of boys trying to make me pay them 5 pesos to use their lighter, I wasn’t too keen on that. One night we found a small bar with a pool table but were unable to play due to a group of scary Cuban men occupying it.
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After a while, shyly and fearfully standing by the bar, I was the first of my friends to muster up the courage to speak to them. In the end, they were a very kind group of guys and let us play with them. Don’t trust first impressions. I asked the ringleader, so to speak, how hard it was to get ahold of drugs in Cuba. He told me, again in hush tones, that it certainly exists and is possible, but is too expensive for the quality. He said that dealers are few due to the risk and the actual amount of drugs on offer. It isn’t really a beneficial market for anyone – the buyer or the seller. Although he did say he had a guy that he could call if we wanted something. We weren’t too keen after that.
Our final stop before going back to Havana was Trinidad and this stunning city was definitely my favorite place. With cobbled streets, horses trotting about and incredible European style town houses, it felt like being inside Disney’s Encanto. One evening there was even a power cut – the stars were magnificent and all you could hear was the sound of music and the smell of cigars. In the last few days of my trip I had given up on finding drugs in Cuba. There really was no point in my eyes. The place had enough. Behind some difficulty in transportation and Wi-Fi, not the best food options and frequent power cuts, Cuba has an incredible zeitgeist. It really is unmatched by anything I’ve seen before and it highlights just how great a country it is to visit. Trinidad was a hard place to leave.
Whilst Cuba may not be the best place to visit for drug or food tourism, it has the greatest soul of any country I’ve been to. You can walk the sun-lit streets, drink quality cheap rum and let the cities take your breath away by themselves. You honestly don’t need drugs. Even if you feel like you do, you’ll find it too hard to find them to have any other option but to exist without. Either way, travelling Cuba for 15 days was an amazing experience, and felt like a high in itself.
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