The past few days here in Indianapolis were what the forecasters kept calling “extreme heat”… or what Tate & I lovingly refer to as CUBA HOT. It seems to me there couldn’t be a more perfect time to reminisce on the ol Cuba trip.
Without a shadow of doubt Cuba wins my award for best food, and probably a podium finish for warmest locals.
I’d been trying to get into Cuba for over a decade.
Not exaggerating! I remember being a tick over 18, down in Jamaica, hearing tales from newfound Canadian friends about our Caribbean compadres of the South. Needless to say, when I realized for not-that-many American Airline miles Tate & I could enjoy a little getaway down to Hemingway’s Paradise, it was a total “why the hell not?!” moment for us.
Naturally, this is the part of my blog post where I have to say WE DIDN’T VISIT CUBA AS TOURISTS (wink, wink) because that was/is still very much illegal for American citizens. And we are law-abiding Patriots of course. Thankfully for us we found ourselves down there before Trump tightened the rules back up in 2019, further restricting the ability for Americans to go (June 2017)
Since we weren’t passing through on a cruise, there were a few hoops to jump through as far as obtaining visas but all in all I wouldn’t say it was too bad.
Much to our surprise, Cuban officials didn’t seem to care when we showed up, and United States Customs & Immigration didn’t seem to care when we were coming home. The only time we even got documents scrutinized was by the AA gate attendants checking our visas before boarding. At that point I was waltzing onto that plane feelin like Joe Cool though since we got bumped up to First Class for free.
Showing up in Havana was like walking through the gates of ‘1950s Land’ a Disney subsidiary. It was both everything and nothing I anticipated it to be.
Havana isn’t some well-manicured, over-marketed destination.
Havana was Cristal beer cans and pigs heads littering the sidewalks.
Havana was waiting in a line that snaked around the block to get into the bank, and cash American dollars into CUCs (convertible pesos, the kind that tourists can use in Cuba).
Havana was candy-colored convertibles traipsing every street.
Havana was old men playing dominoes on the sidewalks, shooting you a toothless grin as you walked by.
Havana was locals jogging to catch up with you on the street, just wanting to chat as you walked.
Havana was no phones, no internet, nowhere to be but in the moment.
Havana was evening strolls along the Malecon as the sunset, playing frogger to get back across the street as the clouds rolled in.
Havana was young locals huddling in a pizza parlor in a rainstorm, asking what songs were popular on American radio these days, so they could try to find them on the black market.
Havana was locals welcoming you into their home, under the guise of a paladar (a family-run restaurant), feeding you the best home cooked piles of ropa vieja and plantains and rice and beans until you were stuffed beyond belief.
Havana was hiring a guy with a car to drive you a couple hours away to a beautiful, nearly vacant, beach to spend the day while he slept in his car waiting to drive you home that evening.
Havana was pride beaming from every Cuban you met, pride for their country, their food, their sugar, their rum, their way of life. Pride for their little island. They knew it wasn’t perfect, or what some people would deem as paradise, but it was their homeland.