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Kevin Thiessen by Cuban Cathedral.

Walking around Havana, Cuba’s capital, is like walking back in time. Everything about Cuba has that “old school” vibe to it. Especially as you watch the old 1950s cars cruise down the streets trying (not very hard) to avoid pedestrians.


Imagine walking down a bustling street filled with wide-eyed tourists, as well as locals trying to sell you their latest wooden figurine and “leatherish” purse. The streets are not traditional pavement or concrete, they are broken cobblestone, almost like classical Rome. Look to your right and a three story pink building is barely standing. The frame is there, but you can see through it to the other street as time has taken its toll and it’s falling to pieces. On your left of the narrow street is a small coffee shop with Cuban salsa music from the live band filtering out. The smell of cigars is everywhere as you can light up wherever you please. Your mouth starts to water because you can almost taste the rum nearby. This is Old Havana.


But as I was down there enjoying the time travel effect (and of course the hot sun), one conversation kept coming up. What will happen if the United States restores diplomatic ties with Cuba.


Since the 60s, the embargo has banned any kind of trade and travel between the U.S. and Cuba leaving the relationship between the two countries tense. This was during the time of president Dwight Eisenhower and president John F. Kennedy. By 1961, the U.S. embassy was no longer open, ending any form of relations between the two.


The U.S. was unhappy with the way Cuba was run as it did not have a democratic government. They also had human rights issues with Cuba. In 1992 the Cuban Democracy Act was created which continued the sanctions against Cuba until changes were made.


This is where you get the “freeze in time” feeling when going to Cuba. It no longer was receiving any imported cars from the U.S. So, Cubans had to make do with what they had. Although we did see a brand new Chevy truck on our first day so maybe the changes some fear are already in motion.


The architecture – or what is left fully standing – is not like we see at home. You won’t see a big windowed, white picket fence house with a vibrant green yard surrounding it. Everything is beautifully classic. Rows and rows of small, tight and narrow housing and shops fill the busy streets.


But in December 2014, U.S. president Barack Obama made the announcement of moving forward to end the embargo with Cuba and to begin talks with Cuban leader Raul Castro on trade and travel between the two countries.


Raul Castro took control from his brother Fidel in 2008 who was in power during the tense times between the two countries.


One tourist I talked to had mixed feelings about the future. On the one hand, he saw the positives in allowing trade and travel to begin again. Cuba – the economy and the people – could grow for the better, he said.


But on the other hand, he didn’t want to see the Cuban culture change if the U.S. came back into the picture. One of Cuba’s main attractions for tourists, like himself, is its unique culture and how different it is from American’s.


His biggest worry is if Cubans, especially the younger generations, start to see how different their culture is from those around them (looking North to the U.S. and Canada), what will happen? Will they see themselves worse off than everyone else, or better?


Another tourist said that he didn’t want to see Cuba change like Mexico and the Dominican Republic have. If McDonald’s pops up in Cuba he’ll be saying buh-bye to his Cuban vacations (I heard this statement on numerous occasions during the trip, including myself).


The overall concern for tourists that I heard was they did not want to see the Cuban culture turn into our modern North American culture.


I had a quick conversation with one young man that worked at our resort. He was part of the nightly entertainment crew. He didn’t have much to say specifically about the embargo and the U.S. For himself, he was more excited when Canadians came to visit. Canadians are his favorite tourists as they are nice and generous, he said. This was a common feeling among Cuban workers with Canadian tourists.


The language barrier played a big role in getting local opinion on the embargo talks.


If the borders open up, don’t expect to see drastic changes, if any, right away. This is just the beginning of the talks and the beginning of a new era. It’s a step in the direction of a civil relationship, but the embargo will have to be lifted in order for major changes, like American tourism in Cuba, to happen. The U.S. does hope, however, it can reopen an embassy in Havana soon.


So for all of us anxious Canadian tourists, like myself, patiently waiting for what could happen, I don’t think we’ll be seeing a McDonalds popping up anytime soon. But just in case, it might be time to book that long awaited hot vacation down south to Cuba before the potential American storm races through. I know for myself, if Cuba loses its cultural appeal, the chances of my return will be slim. But for now, I think a third trip is in order. There is more rum to be tasted.