5 Things You Didn't Know About Cuba

Updated: Apr 29, 2019

Did you know that Cuba...

1. There is an abandoned Hershey’s Chocolate Factory in Cuba.

In 1916, Milton Hershey built an entire town on the outskirts of Havana just like the one in Hershey Pennsylvania. Cubans refer to it as “AIR-shee”. The town was centered around Hershey’s sugar mill which at the time was one of the most advanced in the world. During Cuba’s revolution in 1950’s, Hershey and other American enterprises left the island. When Fidel Castro took power in 1959, he renamed the Factory and town to Camilo Cienfuegos after Camilo Cienfuegos, a revolutionary hero.

The Sugar mill remained in use until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and took Cuba’s economy with it. Since then mill began grinding toward a slow death and closed for good in 2003. Visitors have often taken the Hershey train to visit the abandon factory. Today, the train is being repaired following hurricane damage, and is said to be back up and running soon.

2. Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez, was the first Latin American, the first person of African descent and the first Cuban to fly in space.

After he received training from the Soviet Union’s Interkosmos program in 1978, Tamayo Mendez traveled to space aboard Soyuz 38 with Soviet cosmonaut Yury Romanenko on September 18th, 1980. During their 8,-day space mission Tamayo Mendez and Romanenko conducted several scientific experiments and research studies. Upon their return, Tamayo Mendez was the first Cuban to receive the title “Hero of the Republic of Cuba” awarded by Fidel Castro.

3. Cuba is globally known for its organic farming practices.

In the words of environmentalist Bill McKibben, Cuba may be “the world’s largest working model of semi-sustainable agriculture.” People from all over the world, mainly from America and Europe, travel to Cuba to learn from their organic farming methods.

Two practices among many are known for growing Cuba’s local food systems.

1. Backyard farming

2. Community Supported Agriculture.

The pioneer of community supported agriculture is Miguel Salcines.

Miguel started Organopónico Vivero Alamar Farm located on the outskirts of Havana in 1997 during what is known as Cuba’s “Special Period”. TheSpecial Period was an economic crisis that began in 1991 due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Before the Special Period, Cuba was a largely a monoculture that farmed sugar cane to export. The Soviet Union was Cuba’s largest supplier and trade partner, and after the collapse Cubans did not have access to fertilizer, pesticides, fuel for tractors and much of their imported food supply was drastically reduced.

During the early to mid-1990's, the average Cuban lost 10lbs. The food shortage caused many Cubans to start growing their own food out of necessity, on their balconies, in their back yards and by starting community farms.

Miguel Salcines’ 25 acre farm employee 125 workers, grows more than 300 species of ornamental plants and vegetables and feeds over 80,000 residents living in Havana.

Organopónico Vivero Alamar Farm is still going strong today and the soil has been chemical free for over 20 years. Miguel uses 100% organic farming methods to keep pests away and Cuban’s reap the benefits of eating non GMO and pesticide free foods.

Cuba only turned to organic farming practices due to years of isolation and lack of resources.

4. Off the main island of Cuba is the real-life Treasure Island: Isla de la Juventud, which has a powerful history of its own.

The Republic of Cuba consists of 15 provinces and one special municipality: La Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth, formerly the Isle of the Pines). It is well-known in English literature for its account in both Treasure Islandby Robert Louis Stevenson, and Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie.

Beyond that, it served as a home for many international schools in Cuba, serving students from around the world who had been offered scholarships by the Revolutionary Cuban government.

Isla de la Juventud is also home to stunning wildlife, including a crocodile farm. It features some of the world’s most pristine scuba diving opportunities, with waters that have remained virtually untouched. The island is home to a small airport, but receives relatively few foreign visitors. It serves as a wonderful opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of the Cuban capital, offering peace and quiet while exploring a side of Cuba that few get the opportunity to see.

It most well-known for its prison, known as Presidio Modelo. Built in the late 1920’s under President Gerardo Machado, it was home to numerous political dissidents until its closure under Fidel Castro in 1967. Castro himself was imprisoned there by Fulgencio Batista, as was Fidel’s brother Raul. Fidel used it to imprison counterrevolutionaries such as Huber Matos, and Armando Valladares, who would later become an American Ambassador. Today, the prison is abandoned, and its administration building is used as a school.

5. Cuban Chinatown

Chinese migration to Cuba started in 1857, when hundreds of thousands of indentured servants were brought into replace the labor lost by the declining African slave trade. Though the importation of Chinese labor would end in 1874, many of the Chinese workers chose to stay on the island, and Cuban Chinatown was born.

Havana’s Chinatown was once one of the largest in Latin America, but that all changed following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Many Chinese residents had their businesses seized by the government and promptly fled, severely diminishing the century-long presence of Chinese in Cuba.

Today, remnants of what was once a bustling social scene still remain, as do many signs written in Chinese. There are relatively few Chinese residents in this present-day Cuban version, but those who do remain fight to keep their culture alive. There is a strip of Cuban-Chinese restaurants, including the premier location on the strip: Tien Tan, the lone authentic location offering Chinese cuisine. There is also the Lung Kong Society, which celebrates the culture of the approximately 150 pure Chinese left on the island. There is even a school that teaches Wushu, a form of martial arts which dates back to 1949.

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