Almost a year ago, Tom & I were sitting on our back patio sipping wine & discussing traveling to Europe–he’d never been & I’m dying to get to Croatia before everyone else does–when our friend Kristen posted to Facebook & in a matter of minutes, we were going to Cuba instead.
People have asked us, “Why?” Well, really, why not? Americans haven’t really been able to travel there for decades–in fact, travel to Cuba still has to fall within one of the 12 categories approved by the U.S. government & we’ve never been the type to take a week off & lounge on the beach anyhow. We’d much rather get lost in an unknown city & eat & drink our way out. Oh, did I mention this was a culinary trip? Where do we sign up?
Cultural Contrast, that’s where.
So, the thing you need to know about going to Cuba is that, for lack of better words, it’s consistently inconsistent. Will your hotel room have one bed or three? Will the shower have a trickle of water pressure or enough to rip your skin off? Will the restroom have a toilet seat & paper (Pro tip: Don’t wait to find out. You’ll want to keep a stash of TP in your bag.)? Will the restaurant have butter or margarine (Good-quality dairy products are notoriously hard to find.)? Will the government turn down the gas across the city making finding a good meal kind of difficult? How much rum will be in your drink?
All of the uncertainties aside, Cuba is an amazing place. It’s been untouched–at least by the U.S. or anyone wanting to do business with the U.S.–for decades. There’s vintage cars, incredible architecture, beautiful countryside, great food & rum & an incredible culture with very proud & welcoming people.
On the other hand, there’s crumbling infrastructure, crumbling buildings, state-run television, people still relying on ration books & being paid next to nothing (about $20 a month) with very little access to internet.
& as we sit here watching CNN’s coverage of Obama landing in Havana, do we hope that the U.S.’s opening dialogue means a better life for the Cuban people? Absolutely. Do we want to see the Havana skyline full of cookie cutter chain hotels & the beautiful coral reefs be ruined by pesticides? Absolutely not. Are we glad we went “before the floodgates open”? 100%
While in Cuba, we spent most of our time in Havana, with this as our view.
We also spent quite a bit of time in Old Havana, visited farms & farmers’ markets, art markets, microbreweries, Hemingway’s house, Morro Castle, plenty of paladares (privately-run restaurants), Fusterlandia, cocktail bars & sampled a good bit of Vitamin R (Cuban rum). We drank rum & sang & danced with what seemed like all of Havana along the Malecón on a Saturday night.
We even traveled to western Cuba to the Viñales valley for the gorgeous views, an amazing meal & walk around the town.
Even though the U.S. government is loosening things up & allowing Americans to travel to Cuba on self-led “people to people” exchanges, we can’t say enough about traveling with a group like Cultural Contrast. The paperwork was a breeze & having our chartered flight, hotel accommodations (which are hard to come by with the influx of tourists), travel within Cuba (& Tommy, the best driver around) & countless other benefits–like tons & tons of bottled water–covered was absolutely priceless. Not to mention, we learned things about Havana & everywhere else we traveled that we wouldn’t have on our own thanks to Jason, our American guide & Rodolfo, our Cuban guide … & we have plenty more of our adventure to share with you, so stay tuned!