As a sophomore in high school, my Spanish teacher, Mrs. Keeney, started one of our first lessons with the Wim Wender's Buena Vista Social Club documentary. Unbeknownst to her (OK, I'm betting she had masterminded this), this sparked in me, a romance with Cuba, and a romance with love itself. This was also the beginning of my inner rebel/idealist/socialist/communist self that identified my teens. While a lot of my angst, and communist ideals have long faded, my desire to fall hopelessly in love, and to travel to Cuba has continued to be a long dream of mine.
One part of that equation happened on a fortuitous, trip as a student abroad in Ghana where I met my husband, Ross, and the second part, was realized due to the kindness of our friends and relatives gifting Ross and I the most appropriate wedding gift we could have imagined, our "Luna de miel en Cuba".
Ross and I have been fortunate enough to share many adventures together but this has undoubtedly been one of the most transformative, and inspiring trips. There were many reasons for us to fall in love with Cuba, fall in love with the world, fall in love with ourselves and fall in love with each other all over again (I didn't know I could love that guy even more than I already did) but I'm not sure I will ever be able to pinpoint the one reason this was such an important trip. Getting married may have been an incredible part of it but the spirit, and kindness of Cubans is simply infectious.
Cuba is blue: an aching, painful, yet beautifully, joyous, content, and calm blue, that seeps romance, nostalgia, passion, and suavity.
We have had a few friends who've lived, worked and traveled to Cuba, and the overarching advice we received was stay in Casas Particulares, and take it slow. Within the two weeks, we had in Cuba, we saw a lot of the country, but to me, Cuba's charm lies in the honest, conversations over ice cold Mojitos, and rum. It lies in the "Ay, Mami" machismo, and the hearty, strong presence.
We, of course, have a lot to learn about Cuba, its' complicated history, the nuances and realities of life, and about the politics that are to come, but in the two short weeks we were there, Ross and I, have begun a relationship with Cuba, that we are excited to see blossom.
At the advice of our friends, we decided to spend our time in Havana Vieja walking. We really wanted to feel Havana, so every morning right at sunrise, we woke up, and took a walk for a couple of hours to get our appetite flowing, and watch the city wake up.
It's cooler during December. Our mornings were delightfully brisk and warmed up with every waking Cubano. Havana really never sleeps. You can feel the city's heartbeat with your eyes closed but to there is something magical about the morning.
I'm frightfully shy, and my Spanish is poor at best, but what I love about photography is that it breaks down these walls. It's my plastic/metal courage, and icebreaker. Thankfully, Ross' is fluent in Spanish as well, so between my coy smiles, toddler-level Spanish, and Ross we were able to have some great conversations with shop keepers, little ladies sweeping the sidewalk outside their home, touts, and children, and the many times we were faced standing in the cola, waiting with the rest of Cuba for life to happen.
Ross and I played a little game on this trip. Every time we heard Guantanamera, we vowed to take a shot of el ron, we failed miserably on holding each other to this task, mainly because we spent the first week terrified we were going to run out of cash, with no way to get more. While we were there the first little Florida based bank, started allowing it's customers to use their debit and credit cards in Cuba but unfortunately we are not members of this bank. Hopefully, in the months to come this will change for American travellers.
We took long lunches, sipping Mojitos and Daiquiris for me, and a doble Havana Club Añejo con hielo for Ross while feasting at what became our favorite paladar, Nao Bar Paladar. Tostones, Coñejo, Langostino, Ropa Vieja, it was all good. The staff was delightful, and soon came to know our faces as we, came is lunch after lunch. Food in Cuba is notoriously, unvaried, and while we were pretty over pork, by the time we left, I fell in love with langostina enchilada, saucy (Unnecessary luxury No.1) tomato based, steamed lobster, usually served with fried plantains, and Ropa Vieja, a stewed saucy beef (ok, it is the same sauce as the lobster).
In lieu of sightseeing, we just walked, and talked, and drank the days away. While we did catch the old, fortress, Plaza de la Revolucion, with the epic Che outline, and a few others, the headliners were definitely the Cubans themselves.
It's been a long time since I felt that alive and connected, sans wifi.