I try really hard to travel with an open mind, but no one’s perfect. I’ve often placed far too much trust in guide books and travel bloggers, only to realize that they their contributions were either too general, or written with such laser focus, it would have been impossible to get a sense of place. And then there’s those posts so positive and syrupy, you wonder if they weren’t written by a tourism board or destination brand. But it doesn’t matter what the angle a travel author takes, we all know travel is so subjective. Not everyone is going to love or hate a destination the same, and will experience events in isolation. Not everyone is going to love a place, a piece of geography, a culture, and that’s totally okay. But whenever someone mentions the name Cuba, my heart starts to race, an uncontrollable smile stretches across my face, and I immediately, almost involuntarily, begin to sway to a non-existent salsa band that is strumming an imaginary song. That is the effect this tiny island nation has on me; I am utterly memorized by it’s imperfections.
Forget for a moment, if you can, its pristine white beaches you see in the glossy travel brochures, the deep turquoise that goes on for eternity and meets the sky. Forget about the unmistakable island breeze that brushes across your face as you lie listlessly on your beach chair, and forget, for a brief moment, that you are there to escape the rat race that is your life back home. Cuba deserves so much more than that. If you let it, it will permeate the very core of you, and fill you with a sense of rhythm and sensuality you never knew you had. Cuba is not three star beach resorts masquerading as 5 star luxury abodes, or all you can eat buffets. It’s not watered down mojitos at the poolside bar, or air conditioned bus rides crammed to the hilt with weary travelers looking to party. I mean, I guess it could be, if that’s what you want it to. But to me, Cuba is the eighty-five year old piano player whose weathered hands dance across the ivory, churning out old Buena Vista Social Club classics. It’s the effortless coupling of two dancers, fingers and limbs intertwined and swaying to the beat of a sultry salsa rhythm on 500 year old cobble stone streets. It’s the the jubilant amassing of young adolescents waiting at the side of the road for their bus to arrive, playing chess to pass the time. It’s the robust laughter you hear echoing in old colonial buildings and the rumbling of vintage engines encased in finitely polished classics, reverberating off paint-peeled, sun-worn walls, mere shadows of the grandeur they once represented.
Che Guevera is still very much seen as a hero throughout Cuba, and is a trans-cultural icon for struggling people’s around the world. The political climate in Cuba has changed dramatically since my very first visit nearly a decade ago, and it would seem that there is universal frustration with the Castro administration. I spent many an evening chatting with Cubans about life under a Communist regime, and many spoke the same language; Libertad. But such an idea meant different things to different generations of Cubans. For some, it meant complete government control, but the ability to come and go from their beloved island at will. For most youth, it meant a life similar to that of their northern neighbours, the United States.
I couldn’t get enough of the exquisite blend of Caribbean and African attire.
Everyone knows that Cuba is renowned for it’s hypnotic Afro-Spanish music, and it’s literally everywhere. Every other street has a band jamming away, and in many a Cuban street you could find me dancing with a local or two. Any opportunity to practice my salsa skills!
While Cuba is geographically beautiful, it’s the people that seduced my camera lens.
And how can you not fall in love with the blending of ethnic groups. So beautiful.
How about a piece of pottery from this brilliant ceramics artist near Santa Clara? He was charging far too little for his pieces, and when I tried to slip him a few more pesos, he wouldn’t have it. Instead, he told me that knowing that his pitcher would be loved and admired in my Canadian home was enough.
Theater, dance, music. Cuban Life.