Traveling Light (and Cheap): Six Nights in Cuba with a Beater GUL Ana-Digi

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Cuba has been closed off to Americans ever since the Bay of Pigs in 1960. But that changed when President Barack Obama ended the United States embargo on the country in 2016. Thousands of Americans have begun applying for visas to the visit the country. While Americans are still not able to visit Cuba for tourist purposes, and with the future of that status currently up in the air, my wife and I recently booked a six-night vacation to Havana. According to our visas, we were there for “journalist activity.” My particular “journalist activity” was to test out my latest eBay acquisition—an analog-digital (ana-digi) Gul watch.


To read more about digital and ana-digi watches, read Children of the Digital Revolution.


Made by the same company that makes wetsuits, Gul watches are designed in Sweden, made with a Miyota movement and assembled in China. The watches were originally made with water sports—particularly windsurfing—in mind. It was a perfect companion for the Cuba trip. It was cheap enough (there’s one currently selling on eBay for $70) to where I didn’t mind banging it around and to where I wouldn’t mind it being stolen in a pinch. A search of recent Gul watches shows a lot of sub-par timepieces, but luckily I found one that was solidly built with great retro styling. And for the price, there’s some great built-in functionality, too. I thought it would make for a nice, summery alternative to my G-Shock.

The unidirectional bezel features 360-degree markings. The ’70s-inspired yellow dial features a sub-dial and three digital displays. The small blue and white sub-dial with the analog time display is located at the one o’clock position. It’s set by a crown in the 10 o’clock position.

Strolling through the Plaza de Armes.

One digital display allows the wearer to choose between two alarms, time and date functions, a stopwatch and a timer. Those functions are all set with three pushers, located at the two, four and eight o’clock positions. The largest digital display shows whatever function you highlight. I usually kept it on the time. The small digital display at the three o’clock position displays the seconds. Since the watch is made to use in the water, it is water resistant to 10 ATM. I put it on a Citizen Windsurfer strap, which shows wind velocity calculations. I’d say it’s a fitting pairing.


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We stayed in the Centro District of Havana, which is about 10 minutes from everything. This is where the locals live. It’s a rough looking area. Workers were tearing up the streets to install better gas lines when we arrived, so there were mounds of concrete, asphalt and garbage on the streets nearby.

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The Centro District can be pretty intimidating. Though Cuba is known as one of the safest countries in the world for tourists, visitors are still told to keep on their toes when walking through the Centro District. We never had any problems. We walked with money in our pockets and cameras around our necks and we never felt threatened.

My wife summed up Havana perfectly as an “assault on all of your senses.” The first thing to you notice–even before the old American cars and the great architecture–is the smell. It’s a mixture of diesel fuel and sewer. It’s not a very inviting or pleasant smell, but it’s something you get used to quickly.

Then you notice the noise. But it’s not like typical city traffic–nothing like you might hear in New York City. There are no sirens or horns. Instead, you hear barking dogs, loud cars, and roosters. Bands play on every street corner in tourist-heavy areas and boomboxes blast at night around the city.

Cars driving along the Prado.
Centro District.

After those two senses, you get into the sights of Havana. There’s so much to see that it’s overwhelming. The colonial architecture, cobblestone walkways, unique artwork and old American cars are as incredible and otherworldly as you’d expect.


Our mornings started with a loud alarm from my GUL, a function that certainly came in handy. Another neat little feature of the GUL is that you can set the analog and digital portions of the watch separate from each other, which allows you to track two separate time zones. That’s obviously an incredibly useful feature for any globetrotter, and the solution here is as straightforward as it comes. It was nice not having to rely on my phone for this function.

An old watch repair store in Old Havana.

Much of our days were spent in Old Havana–or Habana vieja. While it’s geared more toward tourists, it’s still plenty full of beauty and local charm. Our days in Old Havana start by walking down the main artery–Calle Obispo. Closed off to vehicles, the Obispo is packed with big stores, small shops, art galleries, restaurants and museums.

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One of the most interesting day-trips we took was to Casablanca–a district on the other side of Havana. We took a ferry from Old Havana to Casablanca for one dollar per person. The area doesn’t have a ton to offer, especially when compared to Havana. But what it does have is pretty great.

When you arrive, you begin climbing a ridiculous number of steps. After what felt like an eternity and a solid indictment of my fitness level, we reached the Christ of Havana. Carved out of white Carrara marble, the 66-foot statue of Christ looks over the city from Casablanca.

I couldnt help myself.

A 20-minute walk from the statue we found Morro Castle–a fortress once used to guard the entrance to Havana. We were unable to find a way inside, so we joined the handful of tourists sitting on top of the walls taking pictures of the sunset and relaxing.

As I noted above, this cheap little Gul watch–designed with function in mind–performed well on this trip and did everything I needed it to (it also proved itself to be a great alternative to my ever-reliable Casio G-Shock DW-5600E-1V). I should also note it was solid in the water, despite my not testing the water-resistance beforehand, and it took a beating on the beaches of Santa Maria del Mar. I expected no less since it comes from a windsurfing pedigree.

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Despite this period of openness, Cuba isn’t changing for a long, long time, no matter how many Americans come over. It’s a nation full of dichotomies. It’s old and new. Fun and serious. Cheap and elegant. Much like the watch that accompanied me on my trip. And speaking of the watch, this is one that will surely join me on adventures to come. It’s already passed its first test.

Images from this post:
Christian discovered his love for watches around the same time he discovered he could make a living as a writer. An award-winning journalist, Christian has covered everything from presidential campaigns to princess tea parties. Now, he's combining his passion for vintage watches with his passion for writing. Christian lives and works out of central Pennsylvania.
CRAwriter
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