Since I was in High School, I have always dreamt of visiting Cuba. I had this silent connection with Cuba and it is weird because I am not even Cuban. Im 100% Puerto Rican (BORIQUA!!!!, Well, NuYorRican!) So, to talk about this connection is hard for me. I didn’t know anyone who travelled there before, all I knew was what history class and the internet taught me and I am sure 50% of it was fabricated. I was very interested in their healthcare since they had free healthcare and affordable medications for everyone (Read what the Atlantic.com has to say about it). I guess you can say it was the hidden nurse in me that wanted to learn more. Cuba just seemed out of reach and I always thought that me visiting Cuba would never happen (I never realized you could visit via Canada or Mexico- I never did my homework). When Obama made that shit a reality, I got my passport and convinced some girls to come with me.
Side note: As the dates got closer, I kept telling my homegirl that I was going to find my husband in Cuba. Of course, I didn’t think it was possible. Maybe a fling or a pen pal, but a husband???? Please! But there was something about a Cuban man I had to find out about.
Finally, destination: HAVANA, CUBA!!! I think I slept about 30 minutes the night before my flight. I was so ready to go. I did my research, I read up on Havana, the night life, the people, but nothing could prepare me more than actually being in Havana. I had changed over my money to Euros and checked for my passport 100 times (yes it was right where I left it every time). I had hand soap, wipes, hand sanitizer, snacks, sun screen, and whatever else you would need to bring to a third world country.
I arrived at the airport a bit nervous. It was before the policy change so I said I was there for “People-to-people education.” Got my visa and boarded the flight. 5 hours and a layover later, I arrived!!!! From the moment I step out of the airport, seeing the old vintage cars, the Cuban people around me, the smell of diesel; I was in my zen. I was happy and nothing or noone would change that. I had a lot of firsts with this trip. First passport stamp, first time riding in a vintage car, first time sleeping in an Airbnb, first time just winging it, and it was the best decision ever.
As I met up with the girls, I saw our cab driver, Jose, standing there holding a sign with my name on it. He was a young man with nice eyes who spoke broken english, but good english at that. But no worries, I did speak with him in Spanish since I speak the language. He packed up the van and away we went. The 25 minute ride form the airport was interesting. I took a step back. Geez, we are spoiled in the States. About a week ago I was thinking about how I need to upgrade my lease and there were cars in Havana from the 1960s still running. Buildings were old but colorful and there were people everywhere. Jose took us to a case de cambio or Cadeca so that I could change my Euros to CUCs (tourist money). It was this tiny hunt that was gated and guarded by one police officer. Only one person allowed in at a time. (Future note: if you change you USD to CUCs, you get a 10% penalty. Do the math before you leave. And NEVER change your USD to EUROs at the airport in the states, they also tax you on that. Go to your local bank. If you have an account, they usually don’t charge you on top of the fees).
Anyways, we finally arrived at Tia Olgas house (she wasn’t really my aunt but she treated us like her family). Talk about stepping back in time. Everything around us was dated with the exception of the flat screen TVs and cell phones. Even on the outside, the houses, the cars, the stores- you name it, all were dated. Not even wifi was available. I was disconnected to the States. But like I said, I was in my zen and I surely didn’t care. I had access to make and receive calls for my sons sake, but other than that- I have no idea what was going on back home.
Now our rooms are picked, airport clothes were changed, and our belly were hungry. So what’s the first thing we did after we got to our spot? Of course- Dinner and SIGHT SEEING. We were in walking distances to Malécon. So we hiked it and ate at this restaurant/bar called 1830. I can’t remember if I liked the food, but I don’t think it was too bad. And the price for a drink- $3 CUCs yea, I remember having more than one. We went during this bands sound check, so we basically had a free mini concert and our first taste of a live Cuban Salsa band.
After dinner and just enjoying the scenery we found two taxis (because there were 8 of us that day) and went sight seeing around Havana. What a beautiful sight.