For Spring Break, I am on a short tour to Cuba. When I travel alone, I often do everything on my own, but in the case of coming here, I thought it best to play safe. Americans cannot come here as self-proclaimed “tourists” due to lingering political issues that began over fifty years ago. However, Obama (love him!) opened up a people-to-people exchange to make it possible for Americans to visit and have cultural exchanges with the Cuban people. These can be facilitated by a tour company that works in conjunction with a Cuban travel agent.
I came in tired and early in the morning, knowing the room would not be ready. The hotel concierge arranged a city tour for me in a red ’57 Dodge convertible, driven by the friendly Ernesto. As I greeted him in my halting and rusty Spanish, he decided I could practice speaking and listening on our tour. So, with my tired brain working overtime, Ernesto and I explored the city in my first people-to-people experience!
Havana is an interesting city. We drove past elegant large houses next to crumbling ones. We visited Revolution Square where Fidel Castro used to give many speeches, now populated by 50’s Chevys in jellybean colors. We drove up a winding street to Bosque Havana, a verdantly forested riverbank where I witnessed a ritual chicken sacrifice. Finally, we saw what my guide called the world’s biggest couch, the Malecon promenade, where locals hang out on the seawall socializing every evening.
Although I had heard that Cuba does not have good food, in the next few days our tour group visited some lovely restaurants – most in stately old homes – that proved this false. As a pescatarian, I’m sure I missed out on more great flavors in the meat selections, but dishes such as thinly sliced snapper marinated in lime, spicy seafood paella, and creamy butternut squash soup more than made up for it.
I brought some gifts to distribute, having heard that the people do not have much. In passing I was asked for a pen. Another sweet old lady asked if I had a lipstick; I had a brand new one in baby pink. I handed it to her and she frowned, wondering if I didn’t have a darker color?
To sample another country, another culture, in a week is not enough, But it’s a beginning. I’m grateful to have had a small taste of the rich flavor of Cuba. It has left me craving more, hoping to return algun dia!