I must confess that I am completely smitten after spending 5 days gallivanting across your spectacular country. I CAN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT YOU. Okay, my internal giddy-meter most likely broke due to that emphatic proclamation. But I can't help but beam after sampling copious amounts of vitamin R (rum). Mucho gusto!
Contrary to what most Eat Drink and Be Myra followers believe, rum was not the reason I flew from Miami to Havana. While I enjoy drinking mojitos and papa dobles (Hemingway's favorite daiquiri), you were a salient blip on my global travel radar for entirely different reasons.
Since Americans were prohibited from visiting for so many years, my curiosity for your history and customs only intensified. Once foreign relations shifted from hostile to conciliatory, I immediately booked a people to people excursion with a fully-immersive educational itinerary. Having embraced this comprehensive agenda, I learned about Cuban literacy rates, housing subsidies, land regulation, dual currency, foreign trade, socialism, economic evolution, and key milestones that heavily shaped your history.
This was exactly what I wanted out of my knowledge-driven trip, and I have an information-packed travel journal to show for it. However, my initial trip expectations were not always so rosy.
To be completely honest, I was somewhat skeptical at first and wondered if Cubans would treat visitors from Los Estados Unidos with disdain after decades of political strife. Thankfully, tensions were surprisingly non-existent as Cubans whole-heartedly embraced our Friendly Planet group. In fact, I never felt more welcomed as I danced with musicians, listened intently to professionals, mingled with organic farmers, and conversed with extremely knowledgable guides.
While I loved hearing cultural tidbits and historical facts firsthand, I was most impressed with your remarkable rebound after the Soviet Union collapse annihilated 85% of your trade revenue. I can't possibly imagine the challenging aftermath that ensued during that "special period" since abject poverty not once defined your vibrant landscape.
In fact, you looked just as beautiful as you did when notable figures such as Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra, and Ava Gardner graced Havana and beyond. This glamorous vintage car in front of well-preserved Inglaterra (your oldest hotel) speaks to your timeless beauty, resilience, and elegance.
While technological limitations and aging infrastructure were somewhat apparent, those paled in comparison to your striking architecture, flourishing artistic communities, thriving paladars (privately-owned restaurants), and Cuban flare. Time stands still there, which is why I couldn't get enough of Havana, Varadero, Matanzas, Cojimar, Finca Vigia, Muraleando, Fusterlandia, and other stops that made you so incredibly unique. Here's visual proof of your aesthetic appeal.
I can see why tourism increased by 20%, attracting over 3 million visitors in 2015 alone. I expect that number to drastically accelerate since the Kardashians just aired their Cuban episode. Glad I visited prior to that impending stampede of Kardashian fans worldwide. Let's just say that I prefer the quieter Cuba that many Americans have yet to discover. That will soon change once relations between our 2 countries soften and expand even further.
I didn't want my trip to end since there's still plenty of unexplored ground to cover. Since I'm not able to schedule an immediate follow up visit, I will pay homage to your hospitality via several blog posts that tout your kick-ass traits. What's not to love since I experienced plenty of "firsts" on this truly rewarding trip:
First Cuban cigar...
First ride in a vintage 1949 Chevy...
First lick-the-bowl moment...
...And my first cultural dance with an an Afro-Cuban performer at Callejon de las Tradiciones in Matanzas. Spontaneity and joy definitely set the tone for this weeklong visit.
With that said, I end this glowing love letter with this gorgeous display from Jose Fuster's Gaudi-inspired, Fusterlandia. How fitting given the context of my heartfelt testimonial.
Until we meet again,
PS. Click here to access photo highlights celebrating everything that's truly wonderful about you. I am smitten and a tad obsessed, but that is to be expected after such a fabulous birthday retreat.
There are so many trip highlights that I can't possibly limit them to a single blog post. The next 2 write-ups will feature my top 10 experiences and travel tips for those planning a future visit.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”