As some of you may know, I’m fresh off of a wonderful 5 day trip to beautiful Cuba. This was my first solo experience and I truly fell in love with the island and it’s people. This post isn’t my typical travel review( I’ll do one later with more details on where I stayed, what I did, and what I ate). This post is my personal reflection on Cuba and the way it made me feel.
When I first stepped off the plane and into the airport I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous. So often we Americans equate non developed countries with poverty which in our eyes means crime and danger. So those thoughts initially ran through my mind. But after I hitched a cab with Jorge, for some reason all fear went away. I know what you’re thinking: how did getting in a cab with a strange man, by yourself, and without him speaking any English make you feel better? It was something about his genuine happiness of meeting someone from America that let me know Cuba was alright with me.
We conversed the entire way via my broken Spanish but it was like talking to a family member I was visiting.
He dropped me right at the door of my casa particular where I was met by the owner’s son who actually spoke some English. I got a quick tour of the casa, found my room, dropped my bags and headed out to explore Old Havana. But first I had to go exchange money and buy a card to connect to the wifi to let my friends and family know that I was safe. (I’ll explain the wifi situation in my actual travel review)
I began my explorations down the infamous Obispo street in the heart of Old Havana (or Habana Vieja as the locals call it) The vibes of the music and street food at every turn quickly drew me in. Other than tourists, it was refreshing to see folks not walking around with their face burried in their phone. I walked around for a couple hours before heading back to my casa for a short nap to prepare for Cuban nightlife.
I started my night with dinner at El Del Frente on O’Reilly street. It was a cute little rooftop restaurant with really eclectic drinks. I had a cucumber lemonade.
I left the restaurant and found a cab driver named Yodani who also didn’t speak English. He quickly became my new Cuban bff. We headed out towards beautiful Miramar where all Cuban nightlife exists. The plan was to go to Fabrica del Arte but the line was super long and I didn’t have the patience. Yodani explained to me that he needed to pick up his boss and asked if I was ok. Now at first I was like oh lord but he assured me he would quickly take me home right after. Again for some reason any fear that I had (or would have had anywhere else) went away. We picked up his boss who was actually very well known in Havana. Yodani told him how I wanted to go to FAC but the line was long. His boss (who spoke English pretty well) told me he was a rockstar and would walk me in! Whaaaattt??? He held true on his promise and I was able to walk in FAC with no wait. They dropped me off and Yodani asked what time he should come get me.
He came back at the arranged time and took me to the door of my casa. He promised to come get me the next day and take me all over Havana.
That next morning I woke up and had an authentic Cuban breakfast prepared by Gloria (the owner of my casa) I had eggs, fresh fruit, salad, bread, and fresh juice. The Cuban coffee was delicious and I barely drink black coffee.
As promised Yodani came to pick me up for a full day of exploring Central Havana and Vedado.
Despite my Spanish not being perfect I was able to speak with Yodani perfectly. He told me all about the different areas that we went to and even about his own life in Cuba. He was very respectful and not once did I feel unsafe with him.
What I quickly learned from our day was that Cubans love their country and welcome anyone in who wants to be there. They can know you for 5 minutes and yet will still treat you like family.
That evening I met another young Cuban guy, Yuniel aka Cuban bae. We quickly hit it off as friends and he walked with me all night. Like most other folks he didn’t speak any English but somehow our convo just flowed. Like I can’t explain it but it was dope.
I asked him about his life as a Cuban and I kinda got sad. I learned that he only makes about $20-$30 per month. (Along with most Cubans) He didn’t even own a cell phone yet. But he wasn’t sad, jealous of others who did, or angry with his life. He loved his country and his people. That alone instantly made me respect the Cuban people 1000 times more.
He also taught me that Cubans look out for each other. Everyone, no matter how poor, has a place to sleep and eat at all times. They don’t leave each other out to dry like here in the states. Now the government and how they treat the Cuban people is a different story. But the actual Cuban people come together to make it work for each other.
Watching Cuban bae joke with his elders in passing or talk to another random Cuban in a restaurant while we ate was even more indication that Cuba is truly an awesome place. We literally walked the neighborhoods of Havana, ate from the same food carts and cafeterias that locals eat from for super cheap, and explored the local markets for hours on end. He would explain Spanish words to me while pointing them out while I gave him the English pronunciation.
I literally felt like it was home. I didn’t feel unsafe not once, even waking alone at night. Cubans would come up to me and start speaking Spanish with the thought that I too was Cuban. When I gave a confused look they would catch on a say…oh no Cubana? In which I would reply: no, yo soy Americana. (It actually happened quite a few times. Apparently I look Cuban)
I didn’t feel as though I needed to dress a certain way or spend a certain amount of money to be accepted. I’m certain that my not having access to the outside world via my phone had a lot to do with this. It gave me the opportunity to really open my eyes up and take myself out of my reality for 5 days while truly taking it all in.
You won’t be able to appreciate Cuba in its realness if you go in with the expectation that you’re superior or they owe you something. I feel as though Americans go places with the idea that the country should cater to you. But we have to remember, we’re visitsting their home. You have to literally put what you’re used to aside to enjoy it. But trust me when you do, it will be one of the must fulfilling experiences you may have while traveling.
Will I ever go back? Oh in a heart beat and without hesitation.
Cuba I thank you. You officially have my heart and for that I’m grateful that you accepted me and all my Americaness.
DeAnna aka Diana