Cuba is unlike any other place I have traveled to. The antique American cars and magnificent architecture are exciting to see but painful to truly understand. They speak of an island that was once flourishing but has now fallen to pieces. Most of the cars that remain are driving on a prayer. They’re missing a radio, air conditioning system, and even comfortable seating. The buildings and houses are also struggling to remain intact. It’s a playground for tourists and a tropical penitentiary for the Cuban people, as they have few opportunities to travel or live outside island and live comfortably in their own communities. The one thing that never seems to change is the high-spirited energy and tenacity of the people who call Cuba home. It’s because of this mixture of adventure, culture, family, natural beauty and history that continues compelling me to visit the island. My latest trip was to a tiny beach town called La Herradura about an hour and a half drive from Holguin airport. Instead of typing all of the details of my trip, I’m going to share my thoughts and experiences that made an impact for me, an Americanita…and they have nothing to do with travel tips.
Endless engagement to media (social or news) is draining and makes us worse humans. Since I don’t receive mobile service in Cuba and WIFI was obsolete in the beach town I was staying at, I had no access to anything. I couldn’t even call my mom to let her know I had arrived safely. As I was swaying on a hammock looking out into the beach I had a thought…If a bomb exploded anywhere in the world right now and destroyed half of humanity, I would never know about it. I would just be here, enjoying the sun blazing down on blue ocean water, not worried about a thing. I think I scared myself by how calm that thought made me feel. Does our constant access to every world affair make us feel more informed or just more worried, cynical and hopeless? All I know is that my mind has not felt that relaxed in a long time.
Free time should be sacred. Once I took my morning walk around the entire town, which took about 20 minutes, finished exploring the rocks around the coast like a professional geographer, and talked about life with my family on the porch of their home, I had about 18 hours left of my day. Luckily, I brought a book that had been sitting on my bedside table in Miami for about 2 months untouched, and finished the entire thing in two days. I loved having free time. I thought about how important it is for us to use our free time wisely, not only to enjoy life but also to invigorate our senses in something new.
Community is life-changing. I will be honest and say that after living 20 years on my street block, I have only had a real conversation with one of my neighbors. My grandma has lived in Miami for about 45 years and she still knows all of her neighbors in the entire beach town. In Cuba, I ate lunch every day with my entire family at the same time, talked for hours on the porch, and even shared a pizza with the kids next door. It seems simple, but seeing the entire community depend on one another and enjoy each other’s’ time was impactful. I realized that I don’t truly feel connected to many people in my life because we all kind of take care of ourselves. Independence is great, but at the expense of losing relationships…that’s just sad and lonely.
As I look over my thoughts, I realize that they are all subjective to where I am in my own life. I think that many Cubans are craving for more access to social media and truthful news reports, more activities to fill their free time instead of feeling stuck with nothing to do, and more opportunities to broaden the scope of the community they live in. Maybe the purpose of this post is to show that traveling is a good way to freshen your perspective and grow as a person. What I know is that my 4-day vacation to a beautiful island has made me wonder about my own life.