Cuba has always been on my short list of places to go ever since I was very young. The history, the fact that it was so close to the US geographically yet so far from us politically, and perhaps the fact that it was forbidden continued to draw me over the past decades. So when I got the chance to visit recently there were no second thoughts-I was all over it.
The flight from Miami to Havana is only about 35 minutes, depending on weather, but in that short time you are transported to a place like no other you’ll ever experience again. Tropical winds, rich textures, amazing music and a people that welcome you smiling and are hungry to learn about American culture.
One of the things that struck me the hardest about the people of Cuba is that their happiness is infectious. Although food is somewhat scarce and hustling every day is the way to barely make ends meet, they smile through the struggle. All around are murals and memorials to the Revolución. Siempre, or “always” is a constant admonition to never forget and it claims space on many a wall. The pride they have for their Country, heritage and culture and for the struggle itself is beyond inspiring.
Mornings in Havana are filled with people going about their daily routines of sweeping their sidewalks and steps, children in their uniforms scattering off to school, people making their way to their State assigned jobs and the sound of classic cars honking as they make their way through the busy streets. Laundry is hand washed and hung on clotheslines on the rooftop or balcony. Coffee is brewed strongly and consumed with plentiful sugar, which most surely came from the island.
Evenings come to life with the scents of Cuban cuisine wafting from the Paladars, rich sounds of their beloved Salsa and people filling the dimly lit streets to socialize with their neighbors and fellow citizens. Local Rum flows, cigars are smoked and dancing fills the music clubs and often the streets themselves by those who cannot afford entrance to such establishments but instead congregate near their doors just to hear the music.
You are immediately changed when you visit this place. The pain brought by witnessing the economic repression is erased by the smiles of such a beautiful people. The withdrawals you may first experience from being away from your comfortable home and luxuries are replaced with the awe of the architecture and history and the sounds of Salsa.
Vibrant yet decaying, heartbreaking to witness…and I can’t wait to go back.