For centuries, Cuba’s greatest resource has been its people. – Pico Iyer
I can’t quite put into words how Cuba made me feel but I’ll do my best to try.
I had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful piece of the world with Conscious Cuba just a few weeks short of Obama’s visit. His visit means a lot of things but one thing is for sure, Cuba will endure major change. I feel very blessed to have visited before these changes and I am already planning my next visit. I hope the changes will increase the quality of life for the Cuban people and I hope tourists will be respectful towards the country.
As an American, traveling to Cuba has been a long time dream and although I had few expectations before going, I was already emotional and nostalgic about a place I had never been before. I fell in love with Cuba long before I set foot on land.
You may be wondering how it’s possible for an American to visit Cuba. Currently, you must visit with then intention of traveling for educational purposes and not just tourism. Travel to Cuba must also be organized and provided by a certified tour company such as Conscious Cuba and a Cuban tour guide will accompany the group during your time there along with your American guide. Conscious Cuba did an incredible job of planning and sorting out the paperwork required to visit Cuba as an American! I was truly impressed by their itinerary and loved every experience of each day during my time there.
Photo by Pura Soul Photography
Cuba is a hub for creativity. Art can be found not in just art galleries, but everywhere you turn and in the homes of some very talented Cuban artists. Everything is art in Cuba. The people, the ways in which they’ve been able to enjoy life without much, the tiles on the house fronts, the colors, the iron work on doors and windows, the food, the architecture and most importantly, their passion for love.
Photo by Pura Soul Photography
The people of Cuba have had to make use of what little they have and they’ve done it well. Nothing goes to waste. Old toilets and bathtubs are turned into plant pots, old typewriters are the finishing touches to gardens and patios and leftovers are fed to the oh so adorable street dogs and cats. We even came across a restaurant known for it’s tiny window where cats wait for scraps of food on a daily basis! It was hilarious watching the huge crowd of cats and kittens patiently waiting for their dinner. It was quite inspiring to observe the resourcefulness coming from a country full of excessive waste.
Cuba simply cannot be compared to any place in the world. It is special in every way possible. It came with so many surprises behind every door, behind every smile. It is the people that make Cuba SO special. Passion and love are what make Havana feel so alive. I can’t count the number of times I heard love songs sung in the streets and observed beautiful couples effortlessly embrace one another. Passionate conversation (who knows what the topic was but the intensity was incredible) were the norm. You just don’t see these things everywhere else around the world because we’re all so caught up in the distractions of life and all the things we accumulate.
After a quick 45 minute plane ride from Miami, we arrived to Cuba and got through customs with some much expected delay but hey, we’re on Cuba time after all.
Our first stop was a quick glimpse at the Plaza de La Revolucion. Sure, it’s a giant parking lot facing a couple of buildings with faces on them but this is no ordinary parking lot. Thousands and thousands of lives have been affected by the speeches that took place here. As I walk the cement, step by step, I try to grasp just how it would feel to be affected by the decision making and influence of people such as Fidel and Che. I couldn’t.
As we made our way to the hotel, I observed the streets and wondered what it would be like to live here. That’s the beautiful thing about entering another world. You become a more empathetic person with each experience you have under your belt.
We arrived at the lovely Hotel Parque Central where we checked in and got ready for dinner.
Conscious Cuba sure knows the best places to dine. Dinner was at of the best restaurants in Havana, set on the outdoor terrace of a vintage home complete with mismatched china and mood lighting. The conversation was great, the mojitos were strong and the night was young.
Excited to start the day, I woke up early and couldn’t wait to get out and explore. We visited two very different artists back to back and the contrast struck me. We were invited into the first artists’ home and his work made me feel happy, light and inspired.
The second artist which was an unplanned visit, made me think deep and hard about life and maybe even about what comes next in the after life. His art was dark. His demeanor was dark.
The contrasts just made me realize how our different perspectives shape our own inner worlds.
We went for a long walk around Habana Vieja where we roamed the streets in the evening and learned about Cuba’s past, present and future.
One of my favorite dinners was set in the most beautiful old dilapidated mansion. We went back a couple days later to experience it during the day. It was just as magical as it was in the evening and I even made friends with the construction workers who then serenaded me with the most beautiful song I ever heard. *sigh* Oh Cuba…
We woke up bright and early to roadtrip to the quaint little town of Matanzas. The town is known as the Athens of Cuba due to its significance in the sugar and slave trade in the 18th century.
We had the opportunity to watch a show by Callejon de las Tradiciones a community project that preserves the Afro Cuban culture and music and since Matanzas is the birthplace of Rumba music, this project keeps it alive.
One of the highlights of the day was visiting the Museo Farmaceútico, dating back to 1882, its one of the oldest pharmacies in the Americas and is incredibly preserved in its original setting. The details were incredibly beautiful, I could get lost in that space for days.
Our last stop was a local book publisher founded in 1985. All of the books are handmade and one of a kind. We even had the opportunity to watch the locals put the art pieces together.
Unfortunately, I missed out on an entire day due to a stomach bug but it was a blessing in disguise.
Staying at a Casa particular has its perks. Case in point, Cuban local, Maira. She was the kindest soul and without hesitation, whisked me to a charming bedroom where she offered to take my shoes off and instantly rushed to the kitchen to whip up fresh malanga and green tea to help sooth my tummy. Naturally, the best medicine is love. I healed quickly after this kind and generous treatment from a woman I’ve never met before. I was touched by her kindness and even though there was a language barrier, I felt a loving connection with her and her husband and I will never forget what they did for me!
Shopping at a local market
Old books in Habana Vieja
Friendly shopkeepers at a ration store
He saw me walking the street with a camera so he stopped traffic and posed for me! Ha, I love Cubans.
Photos by Nastasia, see more on Instagram.
Photos of me by Pura Soul Photography
It’s safe to say experience with Conscious Cuba is one that I will never forget.
If you’re interested in traveling to Cuba and aren’t quite sure how to go about it, feel free to visit Conscious Cuba’s website for more information. They are a great help and will make the process smooth and easy for you.
I hope you enjoyed this post and hope you will visit Cuba someday. Cuba instantly became one of my favorite places in the world and I’ll always reserve a special place in my heart for it. I hope you will love it as much as I did.
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I was invited as a guest to experience Cuba by Conscious Cuba. All opinions are my own.