With my past few trips, I’ve been doing this thing where I don’t generally announce that I’m going somewhere until I’m there. Or at least on my way. So when an opportunity to visit Cuba came up, I was definitely only going to tell a few people. Would you trust your trip to actually happen when the government is so strict about said country? (I mean, Trump literally just reinstated some of the restrictions Obama eliminated on June 16th – I made it into the country just in time.) I finally revealed my travel plans to the general public when I was sitting in the airport the morning of my flight. When I was already through security. No chances.
But my trip actually almost didn’t happen. You see, my plane ticket was a birthday present from my parents, but they were not comfortable with me traveling to Cuba alone (see: strict travel laws). And when you work in hospitality, it is hard to find someone with whom can afford to take time off and align that time off with yours. But literally a month before my chosen date, my friend Jessica from work was magically able to join me! So tickets and an AirBNB were booked that day and a month later we were sitting side-by-side on a plane. I am so thankful that this trip happened, and that it happened while it was still marginally legal for Americans to visit. Overall, I have my parents, Jessica, and former President Obama for enabling my Cuban adventure.
Jessica and I stayed in Old Havana for our trip and it was incredible. We did and saw a lot, but there were a couple of occurrences that stand out to me – the first of which, there is no photographic evidence. Within one hour of us being in Havana, Jessica almost broke our taxi… and basically did break the bicycle taxi passing by. It was entirely an accident; Cuba traffic is confusing and the one-way streets are so narrow. When we had arrived at our AirBNB, our taxi driver pulled over and I realized that Jessica should get out of the cab from my side, since her’s was the side of cars passing by. Unfortunately, I was telling her that as she was literally opening the door and the bicycle taxing was whizzing by. So of course, her door hits the bike’s front wheel, almost tipping the entire thing over. He yelled at us in Spanish, but our taxi driver said nothing to us. So when the bicyclist left, we just went inside. No harm, no foul? We definitely lucked out, but I’m sure it didn’t help American-Cuban relations any.
On our second day in Havana, we opted for one of those hop-on/hop-off bus tours of the city. Our thinking was that we could ride the bus once all the way through to decide which stops we wanted to get off at later in the day. The entire route took about an hour and a half, mainly through the greater part of Havana. One stop in particular was packed, so after a quick lunch, we got back on the bus and went back. Just our luck, the crowd had disappeared by the time we arrived. We got to see the last remnants of a flower market packing up, but it was not a wasted trip. There was a cemetery nearby that quite a few people were going in and out of. As we walked in, we found out it cost 5 CUC (1 CUC roughly equals $1) to wander through. Yes, we did pay it and began to explore. Our “luck” kept going, because five minutes into the cemetery, we were caught in a downpour. It forced us to try hiding under trees… I also hid behind a mausoleum or two when it blocked the direction of the rain (I gave thanks to the families, don’t worry). But honestly, the overcast and rain made the cemetery even more beautiful. Cuba is a very poor country, but all of these tombstones were above ground and made from marble. It really displayed just how much respect Cubans have for their deceased friends and family.
Finally, when in Cuba you go to the Revolutionary Museum and learn about the propaganda from their side of the Cuban-American conflicts. Our last morning there found Jessica and myself at this tourist staple, which costs 8 CUC to get in. Clearly, the museum focuses on the Cuban Revolution. Then it goes on the document the timeline of Cuba’s sketchy history with America during Castro’s rule. It was fascinating to see all of the propaganda – I’m sure some of it is true and some of it’s a stretch. Just as I’m sure the same applies to what I was told in my high school history classes. As with most situations, the truth can probably be found somewhere in the middle. My favorite part was a wall of caricatures: Batista, Reagan, Bush Sr., and W. Bush. Essentially, the wall blamed them all for the creation and solidity of the Cuban Revolution. Whether or not you buy into what they’re selling, it’s still worth a walk-through. (If only to help out the Cuban economy.)
There were plenty of other memorable moments – eating full meals for 5 CUC, hanging out on Obispo at the shops and restaurants, odd Sunday evening beer searches, and late night churro runs. You can’t leave without getting churros, it’s illegal. But I think what really made our trip special was our AirBNB hosts. Rafael and his mother (and basically their entire family) were the absolute best hosts we could’ve asked for. They did everything in their power to make our stay enjoyable. The optional breakfast they make for you is a delicious feast. For three days it felt like I had a Cuban mother… Funnily enough we were staying at one of their properties on Mother’s Day so we got to see firsthand how the Cubans revere their mothers. Rafael gave Jessica and I great tips about what to see and where to shop for gifts. His wife made breakfast for us one of the mornings and she is also as sweet as can be. They even scheduled our taxi back to the airport for us! I honestly don’t think I can say enough nice things about them, not to mention how perfect the location is and the affordability. If you are planning a trip to Cuba, you really need to stay in one of their rooms*.
Also, Spellcheck, “churro” is a real, vital word. You better recognize.
*Views are entirely my own. No compensation was received.