Earlier this year, I planned a spontaneous trip to Cuba. One evening, albeit after a few glasses of wine, I booked a trip to Havana. In the weeks that followed, I became extremely apprehensive about this journey. Not only did I have to consider the current political climate and the historical conflicts between the U.S. and Cuba, I planned a trip with a gentleman I had only been dating for a few weeks. I was reluctant to indulge in a vacation, especially to a country that hadn’t seen many American tourists for over a half-century. To top it off, I sprained my ankle on a hike just days before we were scheduled to depart so understandably, my apprehension grew.
Luckily, I have a carpe diem sort of attitude about life and a small group of incredible friends that coached me through my concerns so soon enough, my fear subsided and we were headed to Havana for an experience of a lifetime. Cuba fue fantástico!
It has been said that when you visit Cuba today, it is as if you are stepping into a time capsule. Ford, Chevy and Cadillac cars from the 1950’s in bright pink, blue and yellow hues fill the streets of La Habana Vieja, or Old Havana. With a socialist government, bodegas (convenient stores) and supermercados (grocery stores) are hard to come by and most household items are rationed out in order to ensure a more equal way of life for all Cubanos.
The Cuban people are very kind in nature and were extremely welcoming towards us. Many only spoke Spanish so after a few days of my broken Spanglish, I settled back into my Madrielleña way of speech. Cuban food is very similar to Spanish cuisine consisting of carne (meat), mariscos (seafood) con arroz y frijoles (with rice and beans). Tostones, or plantains, are not as popular in Cuba as I expected but certainly a favorite of Cuban cuisine. Mojitos and Pina Coladas flow like water and Cristal, the local lager, pairs nicely with rich Cuban foods.
The image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the revered revolutionary war hero, can be seen almost everywhere you turn. Apparently, Fidel Castro, the late revolutionary, Prime Minister and President of Cuba, requested that his image not be plastered everywhere after his death. Many statues and images of Jose Marti, a political activist for Cuba’s independence in the 19th century, can also be found throughout the country. Even though Cuba was triumphant in their independence from Spain in the 19th century, The Museo de la Revolución shows the sad story of the conflicts between the U.S. and Cuba in the mid to late 20th century. Hopefully the democratic socialist ideology can cure some of the historic burdens between our two countries.
My travel buddy, Salil, and I definitely took advantage of the four days we had to explore Cuba. We roamed the streets of La Habana Vieja, enjoyed a few cervezas in the gardens of Hotel Nacional, toured the city in a hot pink Chevy convertible, visited el Museo de la Revolución. attended Guajirito, a show featuring the music of Buena Vista Social Club and visited la playa (the beach) in the east.
Not only did we wander around the capital city of Havana, we took a day trip to visit the countryside of Viñales. We visited a tobacco farm, explored a cueva, or cave, and enjoyed lunch near el Mural de la Prehistoria, a giant rock mural depicting prehistoric evolution.
After a few days in Cuba, my apprehension was mitigated as my sprained ankle healed so maybe a little R&R was all I really needed. Overall, the trip went really well and my initial concerns were kept at bay by the great company and my interactions with the other international visitors and la gente de Cuba (the Cuban people).
Cuba, Estas en Mi Corazón Siempre!