Cuba, so close yet so far. I lived in Puerto Rico for 22 years, where as I learned about the rich history of the island I called home, I became more and more fascinated with the other half of this “bird” in Caribbean history. Cuba and Puerto Rico united forces during the Spanish-American War in the 19th century and as brothers, fought valiantly to attempt to escape colonialism, which is why both islands were known as “One bird, two wings”. They needed each other, brothers and sisters in arms. But alas, the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898 also brought the end of Spaniard Colonialism, and part of the booty meant handing over Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, and as the island of Puerto Rico continues to be a U.S. Territory, the bird has long flown away and Cuba could not have been further to Puertoricans. Reading this made me so curious about this mystery island, now known as the island stuck in time that fascinates so many people from all around the world.
For years I wanted to visit, and travel to Cuba has always been nearly impossible unless you had an approved reason like medical, sports or education/research. With less restrictions these days (we purchased a Visa with the People to People option and flew American Airlines), my husband and I finally made the plan to go. So, we visited during our Wedding Anniversary week and it was an eye-opening experience. We saw the similarities between Cuba and Puerto Rico, especially in the Spanish Colonial architecture, the history and the warmth of the people. I can see how they can be brothers. As a woman of Dominican roots, I also felt very at home. I saw so many beautiful skin tones that vary from the fairest (with blonde hair and blue eyes) to the darkest ebony (with the most amazing range of hair textures).
Where we saw the differences, of course, was in the part where the island, especially Old Havana, can seem very old. The preservation of the old architecture seems halted. Of course, you see so many of the old timey cars, most of which have been restored and much to the entertainment of tourists, driving around with the top down. Our AirBNB hostess gave us the rundown of where to go and how to get there to fully enjoy the experience. We followed her instructions, well mostly, and found ourselves walking up the “wrong street” to get to one of the 4 “must see” plazas in Historic Havana. We had the map on our phone and it seemed to be the right way, but it was certainly the least tourist street ever. We loved every second of that walk! All locals, with a sprinkle of 1 or 2 Americans that past us by, we were walking among the Cuban people and fit right in. We may have stood out a tad because we carried a small bag with a camera in it, but not one person looked at us funny or stopped us or even begged for money. Once we arrived at the plaza, we laughed and said to each other “That was a legit adventure!”
At the plazas we could definitely see the change in the environment, where there were tourists from so many countries. A lot more Europeans than Americans, as I could observe the languages and accents I’d hear in their interactions. We stayed in an AirBNB in a part of town called El Vedado, a quiet neighborhood just a few blocks away from the Plaza de la Revolución and a short 10 minute drive to Old Havana, but it’s located away from the bustling downtown and quiet enough to relax when we needed to wind down. Our house was right around the corner from embassies and was very safe to walk to nearby restaurants and parks. The house is a colonial style home with an indoor deck for morning coffee and a gorgeous rooftop balcony where we sipped on Mojitos and Cuba Libres as the sun set in the horizon.
More on our Cuba experience coming up!