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Journey to the Heart of the Caribbean

Journey to the Heart of the Caribbean

· 7 min. read

Before I attended CUBA: Journey to the Heart of the Caribbean, I had some misconceptions in my mind about what to expect. Going into it, I expected the 40-minute IMAX documentary to discuss things like Communism, the American embargo, the Bay of Pigs Invasion, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and possibly their infamous Cuban cigars.

Instead, I was surprised instead to learn about farming and the effects on marine biology, architecture, classic cars and ballet.

My perception of Cuba is partly based on the media's portrayal of it, but also from my time working at a travel agency. While I worked there, I was told that although Cuba was nice, the food and drinks in Mexico were much better. For many of our travellers, that is reason enough to bypass it. But I never really wondered, why was the food better in Mexico? Or, to be exact, why was the food so poor in Cuba?

Havana from above

CUBA: Journey to the Heart of the Caribbean talks about that. Following the American embargo in 1962 by the Kennedy Administration, Cuba formed a close trading relationship with the USSR. In exchange for sugarcane and fruits, the Soviet Union would provide them with farming equipment and fertilizer. This deal worked out well until 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, and Cuba was left without its largest farm equipment provider.

Resilient and determined to survive, Cuban then resorted back to its traditional forms of farming. Instead of using mechanical tractors, they would use oxen. This reduced the amount of food they could produce, but it also improved the quality of the food. But for many tourists, it isn't the quality of the food that they care about, but the endless supply of it - which is something Cuba doesn't have. Because of this, this has formed a misconception that the food isn't as good in Cuba simply because there is less of it.

Havana streets

The embargo had other affects on Cuban life as well, including transportation. With limited or non-existent trading with the United States, they had to preserve what vehicles they had - all of which were before 1962. Keeping these vehicles functional is paramount to Cuban life and commerce, so most Cubans are novice mechanics. Because of limited parts, many are resourceful too, and use things like shampoo for breaking fluid. This conglomeration of parts creates a brand new breed of car. These cars are no longer Fords, or Dodges, or Cadillacs. Instead, they are all "Cubans".

Restored Cuban cars

The film also talked about the architecture of Havana, which is over 500 years old. Once upon a time, the city was the largest port in the Caribbean, but the embargo changed all that. Now it is still popular - but the loss of income has put cracks in the infrastructure. Ancient stone cathedrals are sitting in ruin, massive halls lay empty, ceiling chips cover the floors, and the dust hangs thick in the air.

But the embargo brought in a new philosophy to Cuba, one that goes back to the dawn of architecture. This philosophy is that beautiful buildings make beautiful minds. If you want the citizens of a city to feel good and be successful, they must live near inspirational buildings. One Havanna resident, Eusebio Leal, took it upon himself to save this amazing architecture and help preserve Havana. He started in 1967, and he is still doing it today - although he is 75-years-old. Since the 1960s, Leal has saved hundreds of buildings in Old Havana.

The film then focused on Patricia Torres Diaz, who spends much of her time in Old Havana. Diaz is a young ballet dancer who is trying to get into the Cuban National Ballet Company. I'll admit, going into the film, I did not know that second to Paris, Havana, is world-renowned for its ballet scene. This entire part of the film interested me, but I wish I had a better understanding of ballet so I could appreciate it.

Patricia Torres Diaz doing ballet

Although Diaz and Leal never cross paths in the film, they are two faces of the same coin. Leal is trying to preserve the past for the future, and Diaz is trying to embrace that future. In fact, the ballet hall that Diaz performs in was on the buildings that Leal could bring back from dilapidation.

Restored old building with Diaz dancing in

I was expecting to learn a lot from CUBA: Journey to the Heart of the Caribbean, but I ended up learning that I actually knew very little. Yes, it is Communist, and yes, there isn't as much food there, but it is much more than a tiny island nation, and it is transforming just like the rest of the world. My only complaint is that the film was too short. I wanted to see more about Leal's efforts of restoration, more of Diaz's success in ballet and more amazing footage of the thriving coral reefs around Cuba.

Cuba: Journey to the Heart of the Caribbean main poster

If you want to see the film for yourself, it is at the Saskatchewan Science Centre's IMAX until the summer for only $11 per adult, $9 for a child, or $9 for a senior. It's much more affordable than flying to Havana yourself, but you might walk out of the theatre it might inspire you to go explore the heart of the Caribbean yourself.

Thank you to the Saskatchewan Science Centre for the tickets, popcorn and drinks to see this film. All images belong to IMAX and the Saskatchewan Science Centre.

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