Cuba in Love
I wasn’t sure what to expect on my trip to Cuba. Of course, everyone had told me about the cool 1950’s cars, and I’d heard travelers’ tales of locals and tourists dancing in the streets of Havana. I knew many people were visiting to check it off their bucket list, but I wondered what I would get out of it. The answer, it turned out, was much less obvious.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Havana was the architectural detail of the city. Every building was an unexpected color, hues of turquoise, green, pink, orange, and yellow, not vibrant, but dulled with age. Every crumbling wall looked like it had been intentionally carved to give it character, and the multitude of colorful and diverse balconies stacked on top of each other gave each building so many intricate layers that it was hard to take in all at once.
It took me time to absorb the tragic beauty of Havana. It’s not a classic beauty. It’s the kind of beauty that requires a bit of letting go of what you think you know about beauty. To appreciate Cuba, and surrender to its charms, it takes a willingness to consciously open your heart, find a bit of courage, and dig deep into your own vulnerability. But once you get a glimpse, you feel like you’ve just uncovered a hidden treasure.
Our guide in Cuba was Tony, a handsome, thirty-something American who spent half the year in Cuba leading groups and the other half in a van traveling around the U.S. climbing mountains. He was cool. One night over a glass of rum he told me that Cuba was like the most passionate romantic relationship you’ve ever had. “One minute you’re completely and utterly in love; the next minute you’re totally getting screwed. Then when you least expect it, you’re sucked back in and just can’t stay away. That’s just how Cuba is.”
I wasn’t sure I totally understood how a place could do that to you, but it was clear that I was in a love affair with Cuba.
One night I was walking through the streets of Havana enthralled with its sights and sounds when I found myself in an unexpected state of mind, given my new love interest. Suddenly I was feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by solicitations from every direction. Street vendors were aggressively waving cheap hats at me, taxi drivers were yelling in my face trying to sell a ride, waiters and waitresses were shoving menus at me, and a local woman chased me down the street asking for money to buy “milk for baby.” Apparently I was just some non-special, white tourist girl to make money from. But I was there looking for inclusion, an opportunity to connect. Why couldn’t they see that? I felt totally screwed. It was just as Tony had said.
As I walked back to my hotel thoroughly “over” Cuba, I got lost and found myself far from the crowds. I rounded a corner and saw a blown-out building filled with Cubans of all ages dancing the tango around a large column. The music was not loud as in the tourist areas, and it seemed to gently wind around each dancer as they danced cheek to cheek, most of them with their eyes closed. I felt like I was seeing something extremely special. As I walked closer, a few of the dancers smiled at me and gestured for me to come in. I stepped into their world, leaned against one of the crumbling walls and absorbed the beauty. This is what I was looking for.
All of a sudden, I thought to myself: I can’t believe I’m in Cuba! I love it here!
Yep, sucked right back in.
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