17 April 2017

Viva Cuba! Blogpost 1 of 3 . . . #colorlove

In mid-January, I received a late night text from a friend at work that said something to the effect of: “You interested in this? $150 to Cuba. Maybe Spring Break?”
At the time, I was toying with the idea of driving to New Jersey. I calculated the cost of driving North and compared it to traveling to Cuba. Then I thought about how much I missed living in another country. And that last thought was all I needed . . .

I wanted to be able to experience new things again. New things like hailing a cab in another country. Ordering food at a restaurant where the entire wait staff speaks a different language. Seeing color used as a celebratory addition to a landscape or cityscape. I wanted to experience new music. A different culture. An exciting and lively nightlife. I wanted to be out of the United States again, even if only for a week.

I texted my friend back the next day: “Yes, I’m in.” I’ll drive up North to see New Jersey another day.

We arrived in Cuba on the morning of March 18th.

Anjali and I had never spent more than an hour alone together, and now we were in another country about to spend a week together. Could we do this? Should we do this?

Our friend and colleague picked us up at 4:30am for our flight that was leaving out of Orlando. When we got to the airport, I instantly felt alive again.

*When I first moved to Singapore, all of my colleagues overseas told me that traveling would become an addiction. I didn’t believe them until traveling was no longer available to me. Since being back in the very isolated United States, I realize just how much I miss traveling and how desperately I need it to feel alive.*

We walked up to the counter to check-in and purchase our Visas. Both Anjali and I asked for a letter of support from each of our supervisors to show JetBlue and help secure our Visas. But the letters weren’t needed. All that was needed was our passport. JetBlue attached the appropriate Visas to our tickets and we were on our way.

We stepped off the plane into a cool breeze. The skies were clear and there was little to no humidity. We skipped through immigration and waited about 45 minutes for our luggage to appear.

Once we got outside of the airport, the father of our AirBNB hostess appeared. It was then that we realized that our lack of knowing Spanish was going to be a bit of a hurdle. We went to exchange monies—always do this on the US side and not once you’ve landed. We lost a good bit in the exchange.

We left the airport and walked out to find the car that would take us to our AirBNB. All over the parking lot were old cars from the 50’s, just like you see in the movies! I thought this was fascinating. I felt like I was a character in a story that my dad would tell me about the time when he was in high school. It was like time had stood still for 67 years or so.

Once we arrived at our AirBNB, we met Anabel. She was our hostess and the most loveliest of people. She thought I was a bit strange because I giggled a lot. She kept saying to Anjali, “Que comica?” Anjali—it turns out—took Spanish for 3 years, 10 years ago. So she became our unofficial translator for the entire trip.

Once Anabel showed us around and we arranged for our daily breakfasts, she left us to explore and we were on our own.

Our apartment was a third floor walk-up for $29/night. . . A two-bedroom, lovely flat with a beautiful balcony. Each room was painted a different, bright color. There was no air conditioning, and we left the windows open during our entire stay. It was wonderfully comfortable!

The best thing was that we were next door to the most amazing bakery!

In fact the first place we went after settling in was to said bakery next door. We each ate the most fabulous handmade donuts that were sliced and filled with cream. For two of them, we paid about $1.50. Needless to say, we went to this little bakery quite a bit!

One of the things that took a bit for us to get used to was the lack of WIFI. Well, Anjali got used to it within a day or two. Meanwhile: I was in full withdrawal mode, every once in a while foaming a bit at the mouth. We walked around for hours on Day 1 looking for a place with WIFI. We found out later that day that we could only get WIFI from one place, a mildly fancy hotel that charged us $5/hour for a connection. At first, we balked at the price. But by the end of the week, we were like: gotta get that WIFI, no matter the cost!!

Before we left for Cuba, Anjali downloaded an app that let us follow maps and find museums and major landmarks without a GPS. It saved our lives, as far as being able to get around the city. She spent our first day in Havana "starring" all of the places that we wanted to see. That way as we saw them, we could change the star into a check mark and feel accomplished. It was perfect!

Our first two days were spent sort of navigating around and figuring out our surroundings. Where were we staying in relationship to where we needed to go? Where can we go to catch a cab? How much time does it take to walk from point A to point B? What Spanish do we need to practice before attempting to maneuver?

We ate lots of food, drank lots of mojitos and piña coladas, and we listened to some of the most infectious music on the planet. We sat by the water. We stopped by Ernest Hemingway's favorite bar. We met some new people and went with them to another celebrity bar. And we went to Museo de la Revolution. It was great fun!

Late on Sunday afternoon, we saw an opera at the most beautiful theatre. While it was fascinating to me to see a full show in another language and try to follow the storyline, it was also confusing. The cast was very diverse. But there was a character in blackface who sort of played the comedic relief throughout the opera, a butler character. We didn’t quite know what to think of it. Should we stand up with our fists in the air and walk out? Should we complain to the management? What was our place as theatre goers? Theatre goers in another country?

We pondered blackface--also known as Teatro Bufo--as a theatrical device throughout the show. And we talked about it for the remainder of the week. In fact we are still talking about it now. And—to be honest—I feel guilty for not walking out. To me, it’s not just a theatrical device (although it may have been considered one in the past). It’s making fun of another race or culture. And that’s very wrong and very hurtful. I don’t even remember the name of the opera because I was so perplexed and concerned throughout the entire show . . . 

Nuances and differences. Similarities and character. I think about a lot of things when I am in other countries. More times than not, though, my thoughts are overwhelmed with color and pattern, sights and sounds. 

Cuba provided me with some much-needed energy and excitement. I've been to a lot of different countries, but never somewhere where so little English was spoken. This provided a very different challenge with travel. But one that Anjali and I were up for. And--for me--added to the excitement of the trip!! 

I like not knowing things and figuring things out as I go, navigating my way around through spontaneous choices and intuition. This type of travel helps me learn more about myself and the places that I visit. Traveling to Cuba with Anjali was the first time I've traveled with another person in about 4 years. And Anjali was an absolute delight to hang out with!! Everything we did together was hilarious. We laughed so much during this trip, and about things that only now seem to be ridiculous . . . One too many mojitos, perhaps? Never.

I can't wait to show you more from our fabulous time in Havana . . . Stay tuned, folks!