CABALLO!! CABALLO!! I will never stop hearing the sound of the horse tour guy yelling at Matt’s horse to stop ripping corn out of every field we passed by. “CABALLO!” He’d yell, and I’d turn around to see Carmelo The Horse standing in a corn field, munching away.
We decided to go to Cuba with my sister, Danielle, and her husband, Matthew. (Matt squared all week!!) Calling them “experienced travelers” would be a huge understatement. They have been EVERYWHERE! So I knew they’d be great travel companions for my and Matt’s first international trip together.
We visited three cities: Havana, Trinidad, and Vinales. Each had something very different to offer. Havana, unmatched architecture, a deep history, and many, many cars. Trinidad, a mix of rural and small city life, also prides itself on keeping history alive and well. No cars drive on the main streets downtown. The city of Vinales is a lush, agricultural oasis that basically looks like the set of Jurassic Park.
As luck would have it, the Trinidad leg drove us right into the path of a tropical storm. For two full days, it poured. And poured. And poured. We had soaking wet clothing hanging from every door, window, and chair in our place. I was starting to wonder if I would ever be dry again. But do vacations stop for a little street flooding? Of course not!
One night we decided to go to a club in a real freakin’ cave underground. Club Alaya would never be allowed to happen in America. But to get there, we had a half mile walk in absolutely insane rain that had turned every street and alleyway into a babbling brook of sewage and mud. We did it anyway. In heels! And dresses and dress pants!
By the time we got there, we looked like this. The four of us, along with about a hundred drunk European teenagers, danced ourselves dry with a mojito in our hand anyway. Don’t even ask about the walk home, after it had been raining for another two hours.
In Cuba, nothing works exactly the way it’s supposed to or is done precisely on time, and that is exactly what you should expect.
What you also should expect is an incredibly welcoming and kind people. Though I’ve had lots of experience in Europe watching out for pickpocketers, never once in Cuba did I feel unsafe.
We found that for the most part, people there like Americans and want their tourism. And that includes ROBERTO!! A dude I won’t soon forget.
We were pulled over along the highway while driving towards Vinales, and a security guy told us that the bus to the city had broken down and they needed to start getting people to work. In short, we had to take a guy with us in our car to Vinales. Before I could so much as move into the middle seat, a small, quiet Cuban guy, who later introduced himself as “Roberto”, was sliding into the car next to me.
For a full hour, we tried to make small conversation, pooling our minimal Spanish skills and listening carefully to his botched English. We learned he was a tobacco farmer in Vinales and traveled an hour on the bus to work every day. At the end of our commute, he welcomed us to the tobacco farm for free Cuban cigars.
I would go back one day. Cuba is a country unlike any I’d been to. It’s full of resilient, resourceful people. And chickens. Lots and lots of chickens.
To bring it full circle (literally), Matt got to run his track! With Che Guevara watching over him, he ran the Estadio Panamericano in Havana. We found a pretty easy way into the old stadium, but could hear the people who now make their home in the walls.
We did lots and lots more in Cuba. Hikes, jumping into a waterfall, having a panic attack while jumping into a waterfall, meeting a random lady on a mountain named Sophia who gave us this weird lukewarm mango juice… I’ve only shared with you some of the highlights!! 🙂
A few people have asked me about the Visa process to get into Cuba. If you plan on going and have questions, just ask!