I’m lucky to have been born into a family that values travel. You might’ve read all about my trip with my grandmother to London and Paris, which was wonderful. The Collette guided tour “Rediscover Cuba” I recently traveled on was just as magical in so many ways and, again, seamlessly planned.
In case you are unfamiliar with tourism in Cuba, for many years Americans were not able to travel to the country. In fact, tour operators have to possess a special license to bring American tourists to Cuba. Because of this, I had never really thought about Cuba as a place I would ever have the opportunity to visit. Not only was my group able to visit Cuba, but we also visited the best museums, restaurants and attractions. I savored each moment knowing I was extremely fortunate to be on this trip among 27 fellow travelers, which, by the way, I was the youngest by about 45 years. If you know me, you know I can have an insightful conversation with even a brick wall, so it was no problem. Many of the group members were alive during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the issuing of the Embargo, so I enjoyed learning about the relationship between the United States and Cuba just by talking to them.
In the last few months before the trip, many friends and family members kept asking, “Why Cuba?” In a sense, I wasn’t exactly sure either. But once I arrived, I realized exactly why Cuba was such a fantastic travel destination. Antique automobiles, sandy beaches, colorful houses and horse-drawn carriages are all things I loved about Cuba.
When I left Dallas, Texas on an early March afternoon, it was cloudy and windy. When I arrived in Cienfuegos, the sun was shining and the palm trees were swaying in the breeze. It rained once while we were on the road to Havana, but the weather quickly cleared up and resumed its beauty.
Before I left the United States, I heard Cuba didn’t have the best reputation when it came to hospitality or cuisine. However, my experience was just the opposite. We went to the finest restaurants and hotels during our stay, including an enjoyable stay at our resort in Trinidad for the first few days. Although it was the perfect environment for relaxation, there was no time because there were so many exciting things to see and do in Trinidad. In the city, we saw hundreds of buildings with “Trinidad 500” markings. Our guide informed us that 2014 marks the 500th anniversary of the quaint city. What a pleasant surprise!
The ration store, art museum and sugar mill were only a few of the places we visited. After exploring Trinidad and Cienfuegos, we were whisked off to Havana in the tour bus. Salsa dancing, a visit to a train station, Hemingway’s house and an hour-long ride in a 1950s red convertible were a few of the things that made the city so special.
Overall, the music was something I loved most about the country’s culture. A mariachi group, acoustic guitar duo or percussion ensemble serenaded us at nearly every meal and a few of the musicians even asked me to join in! Music is not just in the background in Cuba. In many places there were musicians playing in the street or at markets. Wouldn’t it be nice if every meal were accompanied by music?
The art and architecture were stunning. Because of the country’s deep history, there are so many styles of buildings. Some had regal columns and others resembled pastel-colored boxes. Each city we visited had its own style and, more excitingly, some neighborhoods had their own theme. My favorite was Jose Ramirez Fuster’s neighborhood. Fuster is a Cuban artist whose style can be described as a hybrid between Picasso and Dr. Seuss. Each house in his neighborhood had elements of Fuster’s unique mosaic style—then BAM! Fuster’s house is an explosion of colorful imagination and creativity. I would’ve been perfectly fine if my group left me behind.
Most of all, I loved the laid-back, easygoing way of life the Cubans enjoy. In the countryside and even in the large cities, I saw families sitting together on their porches or congregating by the fences and talking to their neighbors. Most houses and apartments had all their windows and doors open, partially because it’s so hot and humid, but mostly because the people see their neighbors as family. The thought of even leaving my door unlocked is frightening. It’s hard to imagine living life with an open-door policy like the Cubans enjoy.
Needless to say, our countries have had their differences, but I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to explore Cuba and I hope someday I can take my grandchildren like my grandmother took me.
Author: Lauren Frock
Collette Travel Service, Inc. d/b/a Collette has been issued a license (license number CT-2012-299283-1) by the Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) which authorizes registered guests of our programs, under the auspices of Collette, to legally travel to Cuba, to participate and engage in a full time schedule of authorized educational exchange activities in Cuba, which will involve meaningful interaction between you and people in Cuba.
Prior to departure, Collette will provide you with a Letter of Authorization to confirm your legal travel status, the authorized travel agenda and activities, and your recordkeeping responsibilities.
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