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Cuba: A Retrospective

Posted on 1/23/2018 12:00:00 AM in Traveler Insights

The powerful Cuban rhythms found on every corner were a siren song for Howie, who longed to return to the country.

By Howie A., 23-time traveler and 8-time Vacation Ambassador from Ashland, MA

I first met Lady Cuba in 2015, and immediately fell deeply in love with her. Since I left her sweet embrace I have not been the same. What is it about you beautiful señorita that I can’t let go of? You have so many wonderful attributes. Your Cohiba and Romeo and Juliet cigars, your sweet Havana Club rum, and your unparalleled shade grown coffee, are the world’s best, and coveted across the globe. But your allures are so much more than these. Your music is rich and vibrant and oozes from every home, restaurant, and street corner. Your dance and art, so brilliantly colorful and alive, mesmerizes me. You have a personality like no one else I have ever met. Enchanting is the word that comes to mind. Oh yes, you are so special. Your warm and gentle people of all colors from white to black, live, work, and play together in total harmony. For you no one is Cuban, unless all are Cuban. You epitomize the concept of “Mejunje”—a place for all.

Cuba’s vibrant colors and welcoming people keep drawing Howie back.

Since we have been apart, I cannot find peace. I awake in the night to the sound of your unique musical rhythms playing in my head. I have apparitions of colorful Cuban dancers as I ride the bus. On the streets of Boston, I believe I smell the aroma of your sweet cigars, only upon further investigation to find out otherwise. Starbucks coffee, once my favorite, now seems mundane. I filled my suitcase with your treats in 2015 and carefully rationed them, but eventually ran out. When I hear a Spanish voice I ask, “Cubano? Cubano?” only to be disappointed.

In 2015, I tasted the forbidden fruit in your Garden of Eden, and it rocked my world. The minute I left your shores, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I knew that you were my true love, and I would soon return to your awaiting arms. In 2016, life got in the way, and it did not happen. This was so painful for me. I rebooked for 2017, bought a Cuba-themed calendar, and began to “X” off the days. It made my sadness and desire more manageable, but my heart ached constantly for your embrace.

On January 13th, I found myself in the skies approaching your shores. As the plane descended from the clouds, I saw the striking change in color where the azure blue waters of the Gulfstream become the shallow reefs of the Cuban coastline. It is here where Papa Hemingway spent his afternoons aboard his beloved boat Pilar in search of giant marlin, with a Havana Club cocktail always within easy reach. When I spotted your beautiful island nation, my pulse quickened, knowing I would soon be in your arms again. Upon departing the airport, I heard Spanish voices and smelled your sweet tropical air. The countless 1950s American cars working as taxis confirmed that I had not been dreaming.

But sweet señorita, you have changed. We are no longer alone. Your once quiet squares and plazas have been found by others. Cell phones are beginning to arrive. Horse and buggy transportation is yielding to bicycles and scooters, which in themselves are yielding to automobiles. The word is out on how marvelous you are, and many are coming to share your allure. Although your 140,000 1950s classic American cars still abound, they now share the roads with newer vehicles from Asia and Europe. Your population of 11 million people now hosts an unbelievable 4 million visitors per year. This is all for the best of course, as this incoming tide raises all boats. You are growing as a nation and progress is inevitable. I see the many ways that this benefits your people and rejoice in this. Trickle-down economics is a slow process, but already I see the early results. It is heartwarming to see that your sweet gentle people struggle less now, and that new opportunities abound across your magnificent island. I love your people and am sincerely happy for them. As I once again traveled across your land, I came to realize that we still are very deeply in love, and all your charms are intact. How foolish I was to believe that you would always be mine alone. A lady of your beauty attracts many suitors. I must put my selfishness aside and rejoice in the fact that you are able to make others happy too.

Once Howie saw the 1950s American cars, he knew he had been reunited with his love.

Sweet Lady Cuba, you have been open to every country except America for over five decades, and were the “forbidden fruit” for us and us alone. You were so near, yet so far. As I once again traveled across your land, I began to accept that you are still as magnificent as ever, but now have many lovers such as I. I can still follow in the footsteps of the Three Amigos—Che, Fidel, and Camilo. “Ernesto” Hemingway’s ghost still walks your streets. Your music, art, dance, and people are still magnificent beyond compare. As the most cultured and educated population in the Caribbean, you have attracted so many, yet you are still my lover and I yours. This will always be. Your appeal is boundless. No country on planet earth can compare.

Changes are afoot in Cuba. You have lost your brilliant Leader Fidel who brought your country to where it is today. You are proud of your 100% literacy rate, lack of discrimination of any type, world class cigars, rum and coffee, healthcare for all Cubans, and your 30 medical universities. The hundreds of billboards I saw demonstrate how deeply you loved and now mourn Fidel. You celebrate him by placing his photo in every school, public building, and shop. In both Cuba and America, the administrations have changed. What does this mean for our love affair, Lady Cuba? Will you again become the forbidden fruit, or will you continue to fill my heart with joy year after year? Such will be revealed only in the fullness of time.

Howie stresses the urgency of visiting now before Cuba loses its special charm.

Reader, I have shared my recent experiences and personal thoughts with you. Cuba is still fantastic, but don’t wait. I have traveled the globe and can assure you that the impact of tourism threatens to dilute what is still a pristine and uniquely pure experience. Cuba awaits you. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Go now, while Cuba is still a magnificent, alluring, and unparalleled lady. Love awaits you. As for me, I am again crossing off the days on my Cuban-themed calendar and rationing that suitcase full of Cohibas, Havana Club, and coffee I brought back in January and dreaming of my 2018 return to Cuba.

Fall in love with the people and culture of Cuba when you join us for Cuba: A Bridge Between Cultures.

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