I have just returned from 2 weeks of pure magic.
Feeling panicked at the possibility that Cuba and the U.S.A. may mend fences and change Cuba's heart forever I threw together an "emergency" trip. Normally before going on a trip I plan for 6 months to a year. I wanted to be more prepared, I wanted to at least have some basic conversational Spanish and to read up on Cuban history (history was never my passion or my strong suit). With 6 weeks from booking to departure all I managed was the purchase of the "Rough Guide to Cuba" and a condensed Dictionary with helpful Spanish words and phrases. I made my peace with my lack of prep-time because the most important thing was getting there.
I had many reasons for the trip besides the political/cultural worry of the inevitable changes coming down the pike. On top of my "Reasons to go to Cuba" list was research for the novel I am working on. Part of my story takes place in Cuba and I wanted it to be historically accurate, but more importantly I wanted to describe her essence in a way that people could connect with in their own spirit. I discovered things I could never have known had I not walked on Cuban soil. The white sand beach and turquoise sea of Varadero was breathtaking; the ornate architecture, classic cars, and numerous plazas and statues of Havana definitely left a lasting impression, but Cuba's true treasure was the depth and beauty of her people. These people work ridiculously hard for socialist wages and they do not allow that to rob them of their values. Their greatest joy, their pride, and their world is their family. In a world where common sense is not that common they know that the only really choice is to choose to be happy because life is too short not to be. I saw many pictures of people's children and spouses and could see and feel the unconditional love in their eyes. The things they have right they have SO right. I adore that Cuba has 100% literacy. I think the whole world needs to allow people to go to school as long as they want for free. Healthcare and dental are available for all. There are no guns and no drugs. There is no racism! I did not witness a single car accident in Havana, a city of 2.2 million people in my 5 days there. I saw amazing art made of recycled material. If someone needed a ride and there was room in a vehicle they pick people up. I never felt like a tip was expected but experienced genuine gratitude when I did tip. I saw people struggling themselves share their money with those less fortunate without hesitation. Cuba is not without her problems to be sure, but for me who has grown disillusioned with how spoiled our society is, how people worship money and stuff, the blatant disregard for the environment and horrific lack of value placed on life, Cuba was "almost" paradise.
Te Quiero Cuba... you taught me much.
Thank-you to all the beautiful Cubans that made this a trip of a lifetime. xo