A Cuban Revolution
In June 2018 I had the fortune of finally visiting a place that I have long held a fascination with; Cuba.
For years we've been told stories about how this island paradise is closed off from modern society; where the internet barely exists, your phone has no service and when you ask for a 'Coca-Cola' you are met with blank expressions from locals who have no clue what you are talking about.
To a degree, this Cuba still exists in the provinces and outlaying towns. But in Havana, this certainly is no longer the case. Whilst the town oozes a certain 1950s Miami vibe in along the Malacon, in other areas it is a town of restoration, heritage and renewal. Of prosperity and potential in future years.
So off I went to Cuba. Why you ask? Well, why not? Why not get the chance to see this island frozen in time whilst I could. Why not explore a land known more for it's revolutionary characters of the 1950s instead of its five hundred year Spanish colonial history.
Normally, I'm happy to find my way around place when I travel; grab a map, walk out the front door and figure it out from there. However, given my distinct lack of Spanish and geographical knowledge of the country, I opted for the 'Beautiful Cuba' tour with Intrepid Travel.
Now, I've done my share of Contiki tours in my 20s; but that was my 20s and these tours were designed for a certain clientele who generally like to indulge in more of the partying in the evening and less of the cultural insights during the day (most likely as we're still recovering from said partying!). So based on previous experience, I thought I knew what I was in for; long days on the road, minimal time in each place and a wealth of information overload from tour guides who have a years' worth of knowledge to teach you and only six days in which to do it.
But what I got from this tour was so much more than my preconceptions. Cuba is a beautiful country, with hospitable and gracious people who welcome you into their homes and lives on a daily basis. It is a country that surprises you at every turn.
As part of the tour we travelled to the heart of tobacco country in Vinales, the port town of Cienfuegos, the picture post card town of Trinidad and the finally, Santa Clara, the resting place of Che Guevara; a man who, despite being Argentinian by birth, became the heroic figure head of the revolution and the embodiment of what it means to be Cuban.
These small towns are the heart and soul of Cuba; they are the place where old is in sync with new. Where horse and buggy's share the same streets as vintage Chevy's and the latest model BMW. Where your mojito comes with an extra bottle of rum just to ensure you continue to enjoy your evening and where, when the music takes the right note, you simply want to move to the sway of the music of Latin America. These are the places that infect you; that make you never want to leave.
Each town greeted us with a smile, handshake and warm welcome. Our hosts, in the quaint casas, welcomed us with open arms and generosity that knew no bounds and where, at a time when the world's attention was focused on Russia and the World Cup, football unified us. Form diverse corners of the globe, we found ourselves in a truck stop on the side of a dusty highway to Havana cheering on Australia, Mexico and England with not just Cuban compatriots but travelers from around the globe.
There was boundless history and yes, it was favoured towards the heroes of the revolution, Castro & Guevera. But that does not mean it has equal merit and warrant any less in terms of attention. It is essentially, just one side of the story of this little island nation that has captured the imagination of the world.
So although I could write for days on Cuba and why you should go, ultimately, what did I take away from my time?
An understanding that just because history portrays one side of the story, does not mean that there is not another side that should be given due consideration.
An understanding that what makes Cuba unique is its vast colonial heritage interlaced with the political intrigue of the twentieth century. That this meld of history is what defines a nation and its people.
An acknowledgement that heroes are not necessarily caped crusaders in comic books; they are living, breathing people whose belief in an ideology propels them into the history books.
An underlying drive to come back to Cuba and explore more of this unique and diverse country and the hope that despite its march towards the future, the people at the heart of this nation do maintain their lust for life and all that it has to offer as this is what Cuba is all about.