I recently returned from a very special trip to Cuba. Prior to 1959, Cuba was a huge tourist destination before Fidel Castro, along with Che Guevara overthrew Batista. Because the US imposed an economic and trade embargo, restrictions have limited travel there by US citizens. The history is fascinating and I am not knowledgable enough to do it justice. I did watch a good movie before I left which helped me to understand something of the struggle. As with all things, nothing is ever black and white and there are many truths and lies to filter through.
Times are changing and I had an opportunity to visit and spend some time in a place that I can only describe as magical. For me, it was a living museum with unbelievably beautiful architecture, historic fortresses, wonderful old cars, spectacular statues and art, political billboards, fusions of new and old music, trendy restaurants , smiling people, and of course, cigars and rum.
I traveled with a girlfriend while Dennis held down the fort at home. We each had a private room and bath in a lovely old ‘casa particular’, which happened to be located adjacent to a jazz cafe. Nightly wine, soft breezes and smooth jazz made for perfect evenings and breakfast on the balcony made for perfect days.
We opted to stay away from the touristy area of downtown Habana Vieja and I’m so glad we did. Being in a home, in a lovely neighborhood, really opened my eyes to what Cuba is all about…the people.
Of course, we took in as many sights as we could and took several day tours which helped us to see what daily life is like. It was very easy to get around and we managed, in a very short time, to see quite a bit. No trip to Cuba is complete without exploring Old Havana, visiting the home of Ernest Hemingway and his favorite haunts or spending time in the nearby towns of Vinales, Cien Fuego, Trinidad, and Santa Clara. We walked the cobble stone streets of Trinidad and saw an old Spanish colonial home that was painstakingly restored to its original splendor. We visited a small place where the Santeria religion, practiced by many Afro Cubans, is popular. We hiked the Escambray mountains, viewed caves, watched cigars being rolled, and swam in mountain waters. We missed seeing at least half of the country, so I guess I have an excuse to return.
Along the way, we met so many delightful folks. Katherine, from Paris, the boys from Holland (I am not even going to try and pronounce their names) , Maria from El Salvador, Anna and Myrna from Mexico, Aida from Nicaragua and Nancy and Papa from Chile. We formed a fun group and shared stories while Jano, our guide, tried to keep track of us and take care of us. Actually, Cuba was the safest place I have traveled and is an experience like no other. I hope they will benefit from better relations with the US, while at the same time, keep their beautiful Cuban spirit. The new generation is optimistic that life will be much better. I am, in no way, political, but I am a humanitarian. Cuba has been locked in a time warp, charming in many ways but limiting in others. A new day is coming and Cuba is excited.
“THERE IS NOTHING TO WRITING. ALL YOU DO IS SIT DOWN AT A TYPEWRITER AND BLEED.” Ernest Hemingway