Travel has always been important to me. It’s about adventure, experience, and cultures that are different from my own. Cuba intrigued me for all these reasons. In 2018, I felt it would be a fleeting opportunity and a friend and I were excited to take advantage of it.
Nature is not forgotten in the city with vines growing throughout the crumbling buildings, seeming to be slowly reclaiming its place. The colors were simultaneously brilliant and worn. As an artist, I found this beautiful decay inspiring and mesmerizing. These buildings, which most would consider condemned, still functioned as places to live and work.
We found a secret lunch spot found after exploring crumbling steps beneath exposed wires.
Poverty is present here but not as disquieting as expected. Perhaps because it does not have the backdrop of wealth to contrast against and free enterprise functions wherever allowed. These men have signs advertising places for rent. They gather in the square to advertise property, absent the use of internet real estate sites.
We found the Cuban people to be respectful, kind, and welcoming. During our conversations, we would see them let down their guard and share their stories. One of my favorite examples was a woman who lived near the Mural de Prehistorica (a giant rock mural in the countryside). By chance, we took a detour down a dirt road and encountered this woman sweeping palm fronds from the dirt entrance. She invited us in without hesitation to her simple dwelling. There she shared the story of her life which was illustrated on the walls around us with countless posters and news stories honoring famous leaders and their revolutions.
Our adventures included biking down a lush green lane that led us to a coconut tree farm. On our way back, a farmer stood stone faced in our path holding a giant machete. Needless to say, it was alarming, but as we grew closer, a welcoming smile broke out on his face. We stumbled through a conversation and learned, like most Cubans, that his enterprises were not limited to one thing. He proudly presented his local coffee beans and cigars.
The north west coast offered an unforgettable sight—a classic Chevy Bel Air in the sand. As rumored, old U.S. cars are everywhere and they run without AC on the hottest of days. These were hiding out in the shade at an isolated beach while awaiting their beachgoing customers dunking in the sea.
The El Malecon, originally constructed in 1901, served to protect the city from the sea and connect the steadily growing boroughs. Walking along the broad promenade, you can see life as it was seventy years ago. This is juxtaposed with a sprinkling of new hotels and businesses owned by local Cubans which was made possible by the economic reforms.
Exploring the side streets we found people, living, learning, and making their living.
I hardly set out on trips looking for a vacation, but an adventure. Cuba gave me more than I’d imagined.
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