Cultural Reflection-Cuba

Que Bola!

It’s been about a little over a week that I’ve been back from Cuba! I miss the country already. I wanted to write up my experience from beginning to end as best as I could, for those looking to travel to the country also.

Preparation:

Before arriving, I watched numerous travel blogs and read articles about the country and what I should expect logistically when arriving there. I only saw one blogger participate in activities that sparked my interest.  He ended up posting the travel company he made the arrangements with.

The site is : ExperienceTheRealCuba.com . Here you can book a variety of classes, taxi shares, and casa particulares( basically air bnbs)..

The reservations works flawlessly. The company is based in the UK though, the quote is not in USD, so when budgeting the pricing, it is good to be mindful of this. I didn’t slow down to think that through.

The package I requested was for 2 people to receive 2 Spanish lessons(2 hours/class) and 2 salsa lessons(90 mins), room and breakfast for 5 days and 4 nights.

The price was a little over $400.00.

Visas:

I ended up paying $100.00 at the Charlotte airport to get my visa last minute but could have paid anywhere between $50-85 in advance. I read online that I could buy at the Cuban airport, but last minute I decided not to risk it.

Currency:

I didn’t exchange my money to Euros either. However, I believe if you do so beforehand when you exchange Euros to CUCs (the American Cuban dollar) you would receive more than if you exchanged USDs to CUCs. You can exchange your money in the US or at the Cuban airport.

Flight time and price:

The flight to Cuba was an easy and smooth one. I believe it was about 5 to 6 hours total; counting my connecting flight. I flew with American airlines and there were no issues . Staff were courteous and had information when I asked. The  flight attendants to Cuba created a safe but fun atmosphere and were energetic, they certainly set the tone for the energy that lies in Cuba.

I paid a little over $300.00 for the flight

Landing:

When I arrived I saw a beautiful island surrounded by dark blue water. IMG_1921.JPG

The airport in Havana was not too different from the ones here in the US or other airports in Caribbean islands.

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We stayed in Verdado a neighborhood in La Habana. This particulare was hermosa and I was so much at peace while being there. Jorge was the sweetest. He was knowledgeable about the area and extremely friendly. He was interested in learning English and would be patient with me as I practiced Spanish with him. During my first day in Cuba, I explored the neighborhood, watched the sun set at Malecon and rested for the next day.

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Sun setting in Malecon!

 

Day 2 and 3:

I woke up at 7 AM and did my morning yoga routine in Jorge’s patio. I was able to, with his permission, move the table and chairs to create space.

Breakfast was at 8 AM and was laid all the way out.

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At 9:00 AM my Spanish teacher Ernesto arrived and we practiced Spanish for two hours Thursday and Friday. Ernesto was one of my favorites. He was strict  but internally so sweet. If I had a Cuban grandpa I am sure it would be him. I started with a maestro, but left with a friend. Ernesto seriously was one of the highlights of my trip.

After Spanish class I rested and went to dance.

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The Cuban dance studio was about 4 blocks from the particulare, making it extremely easy to walk to and was a great way to meet locals. The class was fantastic and the instructors were skilled and fun. The group is known as SalsaAmiga. After class I just walked around in the community and practiced my Spanish with the locals.

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This reminds me of New York , where books are sold on the street. I loved seeing this passing by.

On Friday I concluded my day with a cerveza and my mom bought a Mojito. From then on I promised that I will not buy a Mojito unless it was a Cuban Mojito. Cubans make the best Mojitos and not a single Cuban disappointed me when I drank one. I don’t really care for the ones I’ve had in the states so I was extremely impressed.

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The Cubans can also make the best Daiquiris and Piña Colados hands down.

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Pictured at a restaurant we visited Saturday night.
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Cuban Food. This dish was my favorite. Fried chicken was so hard to find in Cuba this was the closest that we could find.

Day 4:

On Saturday I, along with my mother, donated toys that were collected in the states to a facility that supports children with disabilities by hosting activities that aim to integrate them into society. The organization also works to educate the community to enhance acceptance. I was not allowed to take pictures of the children but I was able to capture artwork that was on the wall and artwork that one of the children was creating for their mother since it was Mother’s day the following day.

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His artwork for his mom ❤

We also traveled to La Habana Vieja on Saturday and I got to see beautiful architecture, culture and performances.

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Day 5:

On the last day I was sad to go, because I knew I hadn’t seen the entire city and I only received a taste of what Cuba had to offer.

It was on Sunday that we were to leave, Mother’s Day. Every morning that I was there, I woke up and was out and about at 7 AM, even if it was just for a hot second. The streets were always busy. People were out walking, cars would be driving by, people moving and carrying items throughout the streets, and people conversing. There was even a small wooden stand in the neighborhood where one could get liquor and this stand would open at 7:30 AM, having a good number of customers. However, on Sunday the streets were completely deserted.

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The emptiness around the liquor stand the morning of Mother’s Day.

I used the morning to watch the sunrise and to thank God for making a wish come true for me. I always wanted to travel to Cuba because of the distance they have from American influence. I was so grateful and full and I knew it was all God’s doing. I was content with the little time I spent there and had so many ideas as a result.

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The morning sunrise at Malecon. At the end of the wall, in the distance, is Old Havana.

 

I cried when I left Jorge’s home (I’m a dork I know) but I told them Hasta Pronto, because I knew I would be back. They felt like my mini familia!

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Jorge, Me and King ❤

 

I loved Cuba because it was the first time I used my Spanish to get around and learn new information. I got hustled by a local and was disconnected for the majority of the time from the rest of the world. I felt like it was a FULFILLING experience and cultural exchange; something that taught me a little about myself and life.

The one thing I regret was leaving on Sunday. Sunday is a religious day for the Cubans and that is when the street performances occur. I read online that I could go to a particular location to watch performances but I read it was on Sunday, but by the time I figured out when the street performances occurred I had already secured my plane ticket. Online it said that any day, street performances can be watched but when I got there I didn’t see any and was told Sundays were the best.

Tips:

Cubans are light on the seasoning. Their food (at least the paladares I went to) didn’t have heavily flavored food. I didn’t eat in hotels, so I cannot speak on hotel food. I ate close to a hotel once and there food was definitely the most flavorful food I had there. So if you like food with spice and seasoning, I would bring a small bottle of hot sauce in your checked bag, maybe two..

For 4 days: I brought $250 and was able to live off of this comfortably. Only because I got hustled did I have to struggle a little towards the end lol.

But with $250 I was able to buy gifts for others and myself, travel to La Habana, visit the beach, enter into local clubs and eat out for lunch and every night (this included alcoholic drinks).

Exchange your money ahead of time in the US to EUROS, then when you arrive to Cuba exchange your EUROS to CUCs.

Additionally, buy your visa through you airline ahead of time, I would say a month or two in advance.

Don’t leave Cuba on a Sunday if you are only staying for a week.

Stay for at least 1+ week.

Don’t do what the tourist do in Cuba!!

Cuba is a beautiful city but you have to keep an eye out for it’s beauty.  It is an island so it is naturally beautiful. The buildings are gorgeous and have much potential. The people are beautiful internally, and are crafty and opportunistic so when dealing with the locals you must be mindful of this. Cubans are creative and artistic beings and their country is an island of inspiration and possibility.

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