Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cuba: So Close Yet So Far Away

Did you know I went to Cuba? Yep. I did. I went on a work trip a few years ago and I barely got through Cuban airport security. Apparently they are very fond of German Shepherds and AK-47's. I just pretended I didn't speak Spanish...or English for that matter. 

For some reason this trip came up over the Christmas holiday, which led me to search for my pictures from the trip, which led me to think that maybe I should post something about it. I am a linear thinker.

I have no idea how you feel about Cuba. You may love it. It is the birthplace of the Mojito after all.

Or you may hate it. It is full of communists that don't allow you to eat beef. True story.

Or you may be indifferent. I was. Although I had always been intrigued by it. I think it was because I saw Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights and thought that if I went there I would fall in love with a cabana boy.

That did not happen.

Regardless of your feelings, you are going to get a dose of Cuba today.

Son listos? Que bueno!

First off, it is beautiful: the people, the scenery, the food, the music, all of it.

Secondly, it is sad and stifling and oppressive and lonely.

How can two extremes be so present in one tiny island? I am pretty sure it has something to do with freedom...or the lack of it.

Cuba is packed-full of history, and is full of old colonial buildings...

And some very old-looking horses...

And some very old, but super cool, cars. Even I know these cars are fantastic. This one had balloons on it in honor of a Quinciera celebration.

Cubans love to party. And dance in the street. I am pretty sure I am part-Cuban.

Then there are things that make you pause and wonder where in the world you are and how you ever got there.

Like roosters sitting on people's laps...

Or witches telling fortunes while smoking very large cigars...

Or propaganda machines that combine Hitler and Dubya.

SIDE NOTE: The U.S. is not popular in Cuba.

But then they go and sell fresh mangoes on the side of the road, making everything seem perfectly right with the world.

 This is my friend Moises who showed me around the island. He is super.

And this is my friend Lily who invited me to come back and live with her. I would do it in a heartbeat if it weren't for the whole "It is illegal to go to Cuba" thing.

And you get to see people watching other people...just watching and waiting for something to happen.

And you see old parts of town that are both charming and lonely. Vibrant yet desolate. Full of life yet full of despair.

That is Cuba: a place of contradictions.

During my last two nights on the island, I stayed in Havana at the hotel that Castro invaded and took over as his command center. Nothing has changed in this hotel since that day. Even the carpet looks 50 years old. Ironically, Cubans are not allowed to stay in the hotel, only tourists.

And you can see Key West from here too.

All in all, I loved every second of my trip. Cubans are warm, friendly, skeptical, smart and ambitious. The culture is inviting, rhythmic and soulful. And their food is out of this world.

SIDE NOTE: Cuban rice pudding has changed my life forever. I am not kidding. I didn't even need peanut butter for this trip.

If you ever get the chance to go, go. I guarantee you will have to sweet-talk your way through customs and immigration, but in the end, it is totally worth it.

Just tell them you are Canadian.


  1. Cuba excites me and saddens me all at the same time. I think we need to lift the embargo. It seems to me it hurts people and helps the government---the exact opposite of what one might want it to do. I know it's a sore point for so many. It will be interesting to see what happens if a Castro isn't in charge.

  2. I love mojitos so I'd say Cuba's pretty cool. ;) But I agree with Sheryl...sad situation, even sadder since it seems so fantastic!!!

    Love the new blob design. So fancy and festive. And I love the reason for the fancy festiveness!

  3. Sheryl and Sara - There is so much to love about Cuba. But it is sad to see how much the people are hurting. Something needs to change, that's for sure.

    And thanks Sara! Yes...I do love January. :)