"I’m going to Cuba,” my mother announced to me at the Straz one night. “Realllllllly,” I responded, intrigued.
“You can come,” she said. My heart skipped a beat.
Off we went to discover a land mostly unseen by Americans for 50-plus years. Over five days, while traveling on a U.S. State Department-approved People to People Cultural Exchange, we met artists, musicians, organic farmers, an economist, and a fashion designer who paints fabrics on her rooftop under the blazing sun. (The only place we were forbidden to photograph was the cigar factory.)
We spent three nights in Havana at the famed Hotel Nacional and two nights in Varadero Beach with stops in Las Terrazas (a small mountain community where we drank mojitos at 10 a.m., danced to live music and visited a ration store) and the city of Matanzas (which sounds sexy but means “slaughter”). We met a puppet designer there. I remember being fascinated with his hands, his silver jewelry and gentle manner. I wasn’t particularly jazzed about going to the beach (we see enough beach in Florida), but it was worth it to see the ocean’s aquamarine glow.
There were 25 of us on the tour (plus our bus driver, one American guide and one Cuban guide). My mother says she returned with more questions than answers. I came back in love with Havana and feeling like this:
I hope — as relations continue to improve between our countries, and as more people have an opportunity to visit — that we will give to Cuba, rather than take from it. They have lost enough.
I hope the powers that be don’t swoop in and paint the town beige. We don’t need another flavorless tourist attraction brimming with the promise of Tanzanite International, and right now Cuba (figuratively) has a giant target painted on it.
I hope we appreciate that Cuba’s authenticity is worth preserving. Its people are worth knowing, its art and artists are worth celebrating, its beaches are worth basking in, and its streets are worth exploring.
I hope that you go, too. I truly believe that if you aim to discover Cuba for Cuba, she will give you what you came for.