Havana, Cuba: This is youth

Havana Cuba

Between Carnival, Fidel Castro’s birthday, and the raising of the American Flag at the US Embassy, last week was a big one for Cuba. For Youth Editor, Sarah Owen and myself, it felt massive.

Unbeknown to us, our WGSN trend research trip fell smack bang in the middle of these celebrations, adding a level of energy we hadn’t anticipated. And trust us, after walking nearly eight miles per day (thanks, Fitbit!) in 104° degree weather, while snapping street shots like paparazzi trailing Kardashians – the energy was more welcome than a post-work Mojito.

While our street shot trend flash, consumer, and youth culture analysis, will be live on WGSN in upcoming weeks, we’re sharing the top four things that surprised us during our trip here on Insider…

Havana Cuba

From teenage girls with pastel hair colours to skateboarders with Pokémon tattoos, manga culture dominates the youth scene, fueled by the escapism the Japanese comic books provide. While cosplay (the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game, typically from Japanese manga and anime) is illegal in Cuba, boundaries are pushed through tattoos, character inspired makeup and hair dye.

Just not what you’d expect. Popular areas including La Rampa, G-Street and the Malecón are ripe with peer-to-peer street trade especially among teenagers and college students. Transactions are quick, non-refundable, and often celebrated with a Facebook photo brag. #sorrynotsorry

We can confirm that for tourists, the internet is virtually non-existent (we tried logging on at various Havana hotels and the connection was akin to dial-up in 1997). However, many Cubans connect to remote VPN’s through hacking. A college student, who requested to remain anonymous, let us photograph the various VPN networks saved on his iPhone. The most popular apps we spotted people using are Facebook, Viber, WhatsApp, and Skype. Nearly all respondents cited communication with the outside world as the number one priority. A close second? Watching music videos on YouTube (despite the lengthy buffering speed).

havana cuba

While the hotels and tourist areas are awash in the sound of Muzak, the streets surrounding the college hangouts and youth hot-spots pulse with the sounds of Wiz Khalifa, Common, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West. The official summer anthem (and by official, we mean blaring in every taxi, café and street market we visited) is La Gozadera by Cuban reggaeton group Gente De Zona. It’s a catchy, upbeat song and much to our coworker’s dismay, we’ve been singing it non-stop. You be the judge – check it out here….

It’s easier to buy beer and rum than bottled water; which trust us, you need! While we anticipated a lack of retail stores, we hadn’t anticipated a lack of general stores selling grab-and-go sundries. Be sure to pack all travel necessities including toothbrush (randomly, these were selling for $8 USD at a liquor store), toothpaste, baby wipes (a must!), sunscreen and plasters. There is no such thing as buying these upon arrival, even in most hotels.

For more snapshots of Cuba, visit our instagram feeds @wgsn, @sarahsarahowen, @instaandrea.

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