Travel for us is like an itch your not suppose to scratch…no, that makes it sound bad…it’s like putting cake in the fridge and telling us not to eat it, yeah …cake…
Cuba all started in October when we worked with a guy named Raphael at the Beet Harvest, his wife Lia was from Cuba and he spoke highly of it and said we should visit if we got the chance while in Florida…he also showed us a video of a fish that walked on land that’s only found in Cuba…SO he put the cake in the fridge, if you will.
In December I was doing laundry one Monday while we were selling Christmas trees in Boca Raton and I wandered into the cigar shop next door, (if you know me at all you know cigars are one of my weaknesses) sat down and smoked the best hand rolled cigar I have ever smoked and enjoyed my first Cuban coffee. The shop was owned by Raul and his wife. Raul left Cuba when he was 26 and also encouraged us to go as well. He made the trip seem very doable and easy. For the next six weeks I would go to do laundry, enjoy a Cuban coffee, a hand rolled cigar and listen to stories of Cuba or politics, food or whatever world problem they were solving that Monday. Needless to say Cuba was getting closer to becoming a real possibility. We ended up having a week available between jobs in January and so I played with the flights and found that Southwest had just started flying directly to Havana from Ft Lauderdale for $150 round trip and if you booked with them they would take care of the visa for you for $50 and you could pick it up at the airport. It seriously could not have been any easier. We signed up for an Educational- People to People Visa and I spent the next two weeks before we left on our trip itinerary and securing an airbnb. Everything I had read on the internet had said we needed an itinerary of educational activities to go along with our visa for everyday we will be in Cuba. AND everywhere you read online had written how it needed to be detailed down to the hour and for the next 5 years you are required to keep all receipts of your travel transactions in case you are audited. It seemed pretty freaking intimidating, so I spent hours, no days making sure my itinerary looked like it was legit, I didn’t want to get in trouble for wanting to go Cuba to smoke a cigar in Havana. Each hour was planned with some “educational” activity, although I did find out an educational activity did include teaching English and learning Spanish with locals and talking to a local shop owner about there business or craft so I was sure to put a lot of those types of things in our itinerary so that we got to have wiggle room for walking around Havana and experiencing the city.
If Justin was Marty McFly and I was Doc then Southwest was our DeLorean. We boarded our flight at noon and were in Cuba 38 minutes later. We only went for 5 days so only packed backpacks by doing that we actually avoided paying any fees coming in on our baggage. The Lines’s were short and we were out of the airport within 20 minutes AND not one person asked or looked at our itinerary! NOT ONCE on our whole trip, all that work, for absolutely nothing! Outside the airport was a mob of taxi drivers waiting to give us a ride they all charged about the same $20-25, which made it easy. Our driver, Peter waited while we exchanged some money then we hopped in his car for our 30 minute car ride to Havana. We arrived at our Casa Particulare, which was much cheaper then a hotel and better from what we experienced, got settled in and met Raul and Icha our hosts.
That evening we started walking and except for 1 day trip to Vinales for 5 days we didn’t stop. Cuba is like going back in time; old 1950 cars are newly painted and well taken care of, children are playing in the middle of empty streets at all hours, fruit stands and on the corners or old women selling coffee out their front doors in the morning. Most everyone we came in contact with was wonderful and the old buildings were my favorite part, the contrast of newly painted vintage cars and old crumbling buildings was so beautiful we could not stop taking pictures.
I would recommend a trip to Cuba anyone that enjoys experiencing places for their people and beauty because neither are perfect and if you can handle traveling to a place that doesn’t cater to your every need because it can’t. For us it was worth every bit of that cake even though we never did see that fish that walked on land, I guess we’ll just have to go back!