Havana, Cuba: The Ultimate Sexual Harassment Dream Vacation Destination
When a friend of mine first found out that I would be joining a ship that visits Havana, having been there before, she warned me that the harassment was extreme and even prepped me with this phrase:
“Por favor, no me molesta”
Everyone knows how I feel about Latinos and so, as much as I appreciate adding new Spanish phrases to my vocabulary (to hopefully impress my future mother-in-law), this was not one that I thought I needed.
(It means “please don’t bother me” in case there is any confusion.)
When you are visiting any country in the Caribbean on an American cruise ship full of tourists, some harassment is to be expected. When you dock in Nassau, Bahamas, for example, being asked very loudly and abruptly in your face: “Taxi to Atlantis?” 49 times and “Hair braiding, get your hair braided” another 17 times between the entrance to the terminal building and the exit on the street, is all part of the experience. In fact, smart people get their hair braided prior to the cruise to avoid some of this.
The worst places for harassment in my experience though, can be narrowed down to Roatan in Honduras, Jamaica (I can’t remember the specific port) and Castries in St. Lucia. In Roatan, they invent all sorts of fees (like entrance fees to free beaches) and taxes (like a port tax if you get a taxi in the wrong place) to scam tourists out of their money. In Jamaica (I was only there once in recent years when I got diverted from a hurricane) the only place we could get away from people constantly trying to sell us stuff was on a sandbank in the ocean. St. Lucia was the worst though. Apart from being harassed by taxi drivers (who refused to take ‘no’ for an answer to the point where they followed us in their cars) was the way the locals made me feel. Different things are appropriate in different cultures, and after the way the men looked at me and spoke to me and my friends in Castries, by the time I returned to the ship I wanted to shower and burn all my clothes. If something makes you uncomfortable in a country and culture not your own though, there’s really nothing you can do about it. So I just stayed on board after that, where there are rules and ridiculous trainings against that sort of thing. I’m not saying there isn’t sexual harassment in other places, but my experience that day was the worst.
Anyway, when that’s what you’ve come to expect, if your friend who has done a lot of travelling in the Caribbean says that Cuba was bad, it must be bad.
My first day in Cuba, I did feel harassed …in the port terminal …by the guests on my ship, with questions like:
“Why is the wifi not working in the terminal?”
“Why is this line so long?”
“Where is the air-conditioning?”
“This is ridiculous! Why do we even come here?”
Most countries welcome Americans and their dollars and so they’re not used to being given a hard time going through immigration (not like those of us from third world countries trying to enter their country). I’m not sure these people had realistic expectations about the place they had chosen to visit, but I do wish I could have seen their faces when they saw what was on the other side of that terminal building.
After that, my day got better:
I left the ship armed with my phrase, and sure enough, as I exited the terminal I was asked “Taxi?”, which is Spanish for “Taxi?”. I didn’t use my phrase though, I just said: “No, gracias”. I almost repeated myself out of habit but it worked the first time.
Then, I experienced something really amazing. As I attempted to cross the street, traffic literally came to a standstill.
I’m the type of girl who sometimes feels so invisible that even the scanners on electronic doors don’t notice my existence and often remain closed and until someone else approaches. Even if I am entirely on my own in Cuba, a row of vintage cars, a bus or two, and a horse-drawn buggy will come to an immediate halt the moment I put one foot in the street and it’s an incredibly liberating feeling! While I would like to believe that I am so pretty that I can literally stop traffic, I think the real reason for this phenomenon is that unlike in South Africa (and a lot of other countries) where laws are more “guidelines” than actual laws, the government in Cuba is still not so much a “government” as a “regime” and therefore there is a genuine respect (and fear) for its rules: Like the fairly strict laws concerning the protection of tourists. Whatever the reason for this practice, I really enjoy it. It’s like the entire city is a chivalrous gentleman.
Boys will be boys though, and the locals are inclined to check you out. I have often thought that all men are really perverts and gentlemen are just the ones who are good at hiding it. The Cubans do look at you but not in a way that makes you feel dirty and never want to step outside in anything less than a burqa. Instead of catcalls, men will call out to you: “Hello beautiful lady?” Their thoughts may be as filthy as those of the St. Lucians and probably are, but they are so polite about it that it’s quite hard to take offence. In fact, on a fat day, it makes me want to circle the block.
If you look lost people will approach you and ask you - in English even (which is entertaining in itself because a lot of Cubans who fled to the US still can’t speak a word of it) - if you need directions. Then they will ask you if you need a boyfriend. For those less fluent in English, it’s not uncommon to hear “Taxi? Novio? (Boyfriend?) Esposo? (Husband?)”
On another occasion, a guy shouted out in my direction “Que linda, que linda” which means “how cute, how cute”. It was a perfectly respectable comment for a five-year-old in a party dress. I had a Peruvian friend who used to try hit on me on the ship. The term he went with was “Que rica!” I thought that meant “How delicious!” but my Spanish is not very good. According to my Spanish speaking lady friends, when used to refer to a person, it means “How hot!” but in a much less respectful almost derogatory kind of way. The more you roll the R on the “rrrrrrica” the greater the effect. I have heard a grand total of zero “que rica”s in Havana.
Que rica’s = 0
Que linda’s = 2
There have been some strange things that have happened. On various occasions with my friends, apart from money, we’ve been asked for watches, pens and other common items (like my plastic flamingo Rodrigo). To say that there is a supply and demand problem in Havana is a bit of an understatement. Shops seem to be understocked consistently and restaurants usually don’t have half the things on the menus. (And I haven’t seen a single lawn ornament in my time here!) I have been told that they have “seasons” and even things like soap and toilet paper can be “out of season”, which means it might be a year before it’s available in the shops again. So I guess that’s what inspires these requests.
The only occasion when I really felt harassed was when I was down near the Malecón (the road that runs along the water’s edge) and I was surrounded by a group of musicians (harassed by Latin musicians, me?) who serenaded me with Despacito (never heard that song before!) and then wanted me to tip them (even though I told them I had no money before they started). Other than that, I have been visiting this place once a week for the past three months and I still have not once been given a good opportunity to use my phrase!
I feel as though Havana is like a hot Latin man. His culture and way of thinking is very different from your own and may be a little warped at times, but he knows you want him. He doesn’t need to harass you. Considering that most things that end with an “a” in Spanish are feminine, it feels a bit wrong to refer to “Havana” or “Habana” (that sounds sexier) as a man, but that’s how metrosexual and confident in his masculinity Habana is! He doesn’t care if you call him by a girl’s name, he still knows you want him.
So the next time you hear that Camila Cabello Song Havana and she sings “there’s something about his manners” and you think she could not have come up with a worse or more forced attempt at rhyming if she tried, now you know. There really is something oddly polite about the way Cuban strangers hit on you. It’s an actual thing.
And if Havana doesn’t give you the ego boost you’re looking for ladies, try St. Lucia.
If you’ve had a similar experience or completely contradictory one, please feel free to share them below:
27 cruises down, 25 more to go
Number of times Havana is mentioned in the Camilla Cabello Song: 17
For more info and stories about Havana, see:
- #Havanagoodtime: How to make the most of Havana, Cuba
- What to do in Havana at night
- It's a'ight and other actual comments from ignorant tourists on their first visit to Cuba