I recently had the honour of being able to travel to Cuba, specifically Havana. Not since my travels to Bali or possibly even India have I been so enamoured & so quickly smitten with a country as I was when I arrived into Cuba. Walking into the terminal from the aircraft it was like I had been there before, the thick sticky humid incense laden air which I was greeted with was comforting & welcoming at the same time…. it later dawned on me I had experienced this sensation previously, countless times in fact – it was the same greeting I received landing into Bali or India or Thailand…. it felt in some small way like coming home. Immediately I knew Cuba would steal another bit of my heart & feed the hole that exists in me that I find can only be filled with travels to unknown countries & places.
Cuba has been under communist rule since 1965 & has a history scarred with political uprisings & unrest. It is well documented that Cuba dislikes the United States immensely & this is evident in the fact that you would be hard pressed to find anything remotely Americanized in Cuba. They are importing Coke for the tourists from Mexico & slowly any new cars are being imported in from Europe as well as China, Bolivia & Venezuela. As the country & its people are still governed under communist rule – Fidel Castro had been the President from 1965 until 2008 when he announced his resignation – the people who live there are so poor, every Cuban household has a ration book which entitles them to a monthly supply of food & other staples. My driver a local who was educated at University in IT but makes more money driving cabs due to the complete bureaucracy that exists in the government, informed us that the locals are not allowed to buy fish or beef with their vouchers, only chicken, lamb or pork. Fish & beef are reserved for the rich. Most things in Cuba are reserved for the rich… the lucky ones. Cuba also has a dual currency system which means that tourists have their own currency & the locals are not even allowed to touch this money let alone buy anything with the money. Havana itself & this could be because I am a bit of a hopeless romantic, has such a beautiful charm to the city. The buildings are all old & falling apart which only seems to add to the romanticism of the city but all around you is poverty. It rather feels like you have stepped back in time, all of the old cars some of which are in immaculate condition that drive around, at times marooned on the side of the road, owner under the hood attempting to resurrect the ageing machine, breathing life back into its bones. My first morning was spent in a horse & cart touring around the city which saw me sampling rum, dancing with a salsa band, drinking pina coladas out of hollow pineapples & having my tarot cards read by an 97 year old woman named Adelaide. A small homage from home which made me think it was fate that bought me to her that day. Nights in Havana are possibly my favourite thing, salsa dancing to the wee hours of the morning, endless rum, attractive Cuban men & the heady humid air making you forget yourself & the world outside the borders of this enigmatic island. The rest of my time in Havana was spent swimming in locals rivers, jumping from waterfalls, being jostled around on run down local transport buses en route to endless white sandy beaches, cocktails, rum, heat & dancing. The people here, whilst poor, are far more joyous & thankful for the little they have than the tourists that come to visit this land. It is a beautiful privilege to be able to come to Cuba before its charm & rustic appeal is not yet tarnished with the modern worlds trimmings of excess & consumerism. I can only hope it retains its old world past but welcome the liberation of the people & the possibilities of a better life ahead. My little big heart was filled with such joy at the end of each day, my body sank into my bed in a welcomed stupor only hoping & wishing the sun would rise quickly so I could do it all over again. It is these moments in life that you truly understand how travelling outside of yourself, outside of your comfort parameters, really does reward you with riches far greater than money. There is a quote – “travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”. However I think Mark Twain defines this need in us far better – ““Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain