Updated on February 14, 2016
Get a glimpse into my recent trip to Havana, Cuba and be sure to check out my whole series on my trip coming soon. This article was originally published on University of San Diego: Toreros Abroad
This summer, in a historic moment, the United States came to an agreement to loosen travel restrictions for all citizens to the island of Cuba. When this was announced the halls of IPJ were buzzing with rumors of a MAIR trip to Cuba. After years of dreaming about the opportunity to travel to this closed off island, my dreams were finally becoming a reality. I was filled with excitement and exhaustion, after pulling an all-nighter packing, finishing up Dr. Shirk’s assignments and traveling for a full-day from Mexico to Havana I finally made it to Cuba.
Havana Vieja (Old Havana)
Waking up in Cuba we were greeted by the warm tropical sun, a view of the Gulf of Mexico and about a thousand mosquitoes. This is the Havana I had pictured all my life. Not much is known about Cuba. The first things that come to a person’s mind are the Castro brothers, Che Guavara, the Buena Vista Social Club, rum, and the infamous Cuban cigar. But like most things, Cuba is much more than it’s stereotypes.
Cuba is a city stuck in time. Walking down the cobblestone streets you venture in and out of Spanish colonial plazas that were built in the 19th century. The boulevards are bustling with cars from the 1960’s. Chevy Bel-Airs and Impalas are not unusual, in fact, they are used as taxicabs. The Havana of 1959 may have been bustling with Cubans dancing the Rumba in Plaza de las Armas, the Havana of 2015 is filled with citizens trying to selling visiting tourists snacks and small gifts so they can supplement their income.
More Than Meets The Eye
Americans carry a notion that because the people of Cuba live in a Communist country they are unhappy and oppressed. The truth is that many Cuban people are extremely friendly, especially to Americans. They welcome the opportunity to talk politics with Americans and the younger generation loves their smartphones just as much as any USD student.
From day one on my journey to Cuba I met various Cubans with varying opinions on the Cuban government, international affairs, and U.S.-Cuban relations. On my flight from Tijuana to Havana via Mexico City I met a young Cuban journalist who works for the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television. He was very interested in the books we were reading for the class, especially the one of the future of U.S.-Cuban relations, a roadmap for policy makers.
Our tour guide was also fascinated by our class discussion and grew to trust us. She actively participated in our discussions and challenged us to look at things outside of our American frame of reference. Our guide’s love and pride for her country was refreshing to see in a world filled with headlines of Elian Gonzalez and stories of Cubans attempting to flee from the island.
One story that struck me was the story of Hendrix. Currently he is a bartender but used to work in the tourism industry. During his work he met his current wife, a Canadian. He has only left the island once, to attend his wedding in Canada. Three months ago he and his wife welcomed a baby boy into the world. Except, Hendrix has yet to meet his son. He has applied for a visa to move to Canada so he can join his wife and son but must wait months before hearing back from the Cuban government regarding the status of his immigration.
The Pearl of the Caribbean
When visiting Cuba one has to remember that it is still a developing country. Many things that we take for granted everyday are not common in the country. The internet is expensive and only some hotels offer internet service, the beautiful and colorful art nouveau buildings are crumbling and are in desperate need of repair, and it is not uncommon to wake up with a lizard in your hotel room. But despite these inconveniences the island’s rich history, people, and music all make up for the slight travel pains most Americans are not accustomed to.