Have you ever been to a place; a place that makes you feel whole, and happy, fresh and new, free and wild with excitement? I have. For the passed 21 years I have been floating along waiting for something to spark my interest or give me overwhelming joy. I never felt that until I went to Cuba. Cuba is truly the most amazing place I have ever been.
I thought I would come back from my week long excursion with memories that would soon fade by jobs, schoolwork, and internships. I thought I would say Hey I have been to a place a lot of people have never been to and I had a great time, but I am ready to come home.
I did not come back from Cuba with a light-heart and an eagerness to get back to my normal life. I came back in tears. No place has ever felt more significant to me in my entire life. Every time someone asks me how my time in Cuba was I give the same response: It was the best time of my life.
I had no idea that Cuba would be the most magical place I had ever visited. California, as many of my close friends and family know, has always been my dream place. Although I am excited to move there this summer, it does not hold a candle to my true love, Cuba. Cuba turned me inside out, altered my priorities, and brought me back to life.
Since returning from my trip to Cuba there have been a lot of questions people have asked me. Within these questions I have grown to love Cuba even more than when I was on my trip, because I know it is a place I could see myself living.
Here is where the questions began:
“Why would you ever want to visit Cuba when you could go to Mexico or somewhere else?”
I wanted to go to Cuba for multiple reasons. One being that my brother had previously visited Cuba and hearing the stories he told me only pushed me to want to go there more than I already wanted to. The other reason is because I have an eagerness to learn about other cultures, especially ones that have been negatively bombarded by the media. Since I was a little girl there has always been something inside of me that has had the desire to learn both sides to every story. While in Cuba, I did just that. The last main reason I wanted to go to Cuba was because the architecture and landscape seemed so different from the U.S. Prior to my trip I was a fanatic about looking up pictures of Havana (where I stayed for part of my trip.) When I arrived in Cuba, the pictures online did not compare to Cuba itself. The buildings were bright, the water seemed to be untouched, and the landscape surrounding Havana was greener than I had ever seen.
“What did you learn about the government in Cuba?”
Cuba is a communist country. When people in a democratic country hear communism, they automatically think it is a bad thing. People in our society are so focused on getting ahead and having more, that they do not look at what is lacking. I do not know enough about politics to fully understand the extent of the differences between communism and democracy, but in Cuba everyone seems to be fairly happy with how things are going. Unlike the U.S. there are little to no homeless people in Cuba, at least not in Trinidad or Havana. Because the government is communist, everyone gets their fair share of things based on the size of their family. Everyone is given a place to stay, (although it might not be luxurious in comparison to places in America) as well as a certain amount of food, such as rice, beans, eggs, etc. each month. I also learned that unlike what people think in the U.S. the Cuban people love and adore Fidel Castro. The American people see Castro as this terrible man that controlled all of Cuba, the Cuban people see him as someone who saved their economy from suffrage. He gave people equality and kept them from living off the streets. I also learned that, like many other countries, not everyone is happy with how the government is run. Many young people want the newest and latest things and therefore are less likely to love Cuba.
“What is the architecture like in Cuba?”
The architecture in Cuba, particularly Havana is absolutely beautiful. Although there are not a lot of newly renovated places in Cuba, the buildings that are there are stunning. I found there is something so special about the way people live in Cuba. They live in these grand homes, one floor to each family, and they make the most out of absolutely everything they have. Every building in cuba has a story. From family to family, generations have lived in the same homes. Although some parts of the buildings are cracking or falling down, they hold all of their beauty in the history behind the architecture. Not only are the buildings old, but most, if not all of them, are covered with a vibrant paint color. From Italian architecture, to spanish influences, the homes and buildings in Cuba are breathtaking.
“What was it like outside of the main cities such as Havana?”
Outside of the main cities, such as Havana, it is very much like the United States. There is a lot of farmland in Cuba, but unlike the midwest where we grow corn and wheat, Cuba grows a lot of coffee and tobacco. During my time in Cuba I was lucky enough to visit both a tobacco and coffee farm. Although I had never been to either a tobacco or coffee farm, I grew up in Indiana around corn and wheat and I figured it would be similar. I was so wrong. Unlike the new tractors and combines I had grown up seeing, Cubans generally pick their own product and have help from cows or oxen. I had a first hand experience, as I was able to grind coffee beans, see a cigar being rolled, and ride in a handmade wooden trailer pulled by two oxen. Outside of Trinidad, another city in Cuba there are several beaches that are absolutely breathtaking. Although we visited two beaches, my favorite was the beach near Trinidad because the water was so clear and warm.
“What were the people like in Cuba?”
The people in Cuba must have been my absolute favorite part of the trip. Although I only got a small taste of the Cuban people, the group I met were truly the kindest and best people I have ever known. The two tour guides I, and my Her Campus group had, were two of the most wildly fierce, loyal, and best people I have ever come across. Sara, one of the first people I met in Cuba, is funny, strong, kind, and is a firecracker if I have ever met one. She knows EVERYONE in Havana. Sara is a hard worker and is kind to everyone she meets. She would look out for anyone, even if she met them five minutes ago. She was meant to live in Havana. She is the truest representation of Havana and Cuba. She is fun, energetic, colorful, and wild with life; someone you could never forget. Another person I met was my other tour guide, Martha. She is my Cuban sister. She is graceful, stunningly beautiful, quiet, with a lot of attitude. She was such a bright light on my trip and is one of the main reasons I would want to move to Cuba, just so I could see her all the time.
Other than my two tour guides we met many people along the way. Every single person touched my heart so deeply. There is something so special about the cuban people. They are kind, loving, curios, and simple. A lot of people in Cuba do not have a lot, but they ask for nothing. They would give their very last dime to you if you needed it. If you were naked they would take you in, clothe you, give you coffee and a cigar, and ask you about your life.
Martha (left) Sara (right)
“What was the strangest thing you experienced while in Cuba?”
The strangest (and BEST) thing I experienced while in Cuba were all the “wild” animals running around. Although they were not technically wild there were plenty of stray dogs and cats running around. I called them the community pets because everyone in Havana knew the animals, but they did not really belong to anyone. That did not keep them from coming up to everyone they met in hopes for food or some cuddles. Basically, the Plaza Vieja, or Old Town Square was my dream place because there were dogs coming up to people the entire time looking for attention, and I was more than happy to give it to them. Although slightly grungy, every animal I encountered was sweet and so worth loving on. For everyone’s viewing pleasure, below is an array of stray Cuban animals that I fell in love with.
“What was your favorite thing about Cuba?”
My favorite thing about Cuba was how vibrant it was. Everything and everyone had this sort of bright light surrounding them. People seemed so alive and so happy. The buildings were so bright, and the people seemed so in love with everything around them. The Cuban’s were so passionate about everything and they seemed to enjoy and care for the simple things in life. There was little to no internet except for small internet cafes, people loved to be outdoors enjoying themselves, and there seemed to be less of a focus on getting ahead and more of a focus on enjoying what you have.
“Would you ever move to Cuba?”
Maybe I am a tourist, and the life people live were altered because I was on vacation, but I would absolutely love to live in Cuba. The people there have a much simpler way of life than here. They are given what they are given and find a way to make beautiful things out of the simplicity of their lives. The jobs are not as grueling as the U.S. and people have a way of living that allows them to enjoy their life. The Cuban people I met were not materialistic; they enjoyed adventure and the company of their closest friends and family. They enjoyed dancing, listening to music, and all different kinds of art. I have never felt more alive than I did when I was in Cuba, and I would love to live a life like the Cubans.
An Ode to Cuba: The people I met and the places I traveled to will never be forgotten. Cuba will always hold a place in my heart. I plan to love this place forever. A big thanks to www.cubacandela.com for putting together such an amazing trip! Cuba changed my life.