Have you ever wondered how it would be like to jump into a machine and be able to go back into time?? Well now you can. If you take a direct flight out of LAX, about 5 hours later, you could completely immerse yourself back in the 1950’s with a culture so full of life, passion, dance, live music, and smiling faces, one of my favorites… CUBA!
Ever since President Obama lifted the ban of traveling to Cuba, I was intrigued. My mind always had this wonder of their culture. To be completely honest, I think the reason that started it all was because of I Love Lucy. That was actually one of my favorite shows growing up. Something about Lucy and her silly antics and then there was Ricky, with his “Babaloooooo,” heart for his music and his family. Ricky was from Cuba.. so there you go. I think that’s what stemmed it all. So once I heard Americans were allowed to go to Cuba, I knew that I had to visit. One day, I was just researching flights for cheap destinations (I do this quite often) and I came across Cuba. It was only $350 round trip so I booked it even though the flight was just two days later! (If you know me, I’m the Queen of last minute/spontaneous everything!) I booked my flight with American Airlines because they had the most competitive rates and have always been good to me. Also, MAKE SURE YOU GET A VISA! Visas have always been a tricky thing because you never know if a country requires it or not. So for Cuba, it’s definitely required. Good thing with American Airlines is that you can purchase your visa for $100 at the airport in front of the kiosk while you’re checking in. It was super easy and convenient. I know certain other airlines just automatically add your visa in with your flight purchase too so just make sure you do your research before you book.
And then I was OFF!!!!!
Right upon walking out of the doors of the airport, the smell of diesel gas wreaked in the air, but the site of the beautiful bright classic cars is what stuck in my mind. As I continued out, many shouts of “taxi, taxi” roared in the air, similar to traveling to all third world countries I’ve been to. One man pulled me aside so I decided to negotiate with him. Take note that negotiating prices is always an option in third world countries. They hike the prices up a lot so don’t feel too bad. A ride from the airport to Havana shouldn’t cost more than $30US.
I booked an Airbnb for my friend/photographer George and I. I sometimes enjoy the comfort of having a for certain clean hotel room (but I mean even then that’s not really “for certain”) but to be honest my style of stays have always been with Airbnb. I love the experience of Airbnb because for one, it’s a lot cheaper than getting a hotel and for two, well I really do enjoy being able to be in a complete strangers home and get to know them from their “space.” It’s fun to see how differently people live from all walks of life. I ended up getting a place titled “The best choice to enjoy the Old Havana.” Well that title totally explains it all, got my attention, and plus it was just barely over $50/night. You can’t beat that! So when we got there, it truly was the perfect location. The apartment was clean and had all the necessities. And since there were only specific areas around town where you could get internet, it was so perfect and convenient because there was a spot just downstairs from our place. Not to mention, Karlos, our Airbnb host, was really the best. He helped with setting up rides and tours, and recommended good restaurants and sites to see. He was amazing and I’d recommend his place to anyone and everyone!
After settling in, George and I decided to explore the city before getting some dinner. We walked around the cobble-stoned streets of El Malecon, filled with live Cuban salsa music and just took it all in. I really loved how lively Havana was. People singing and dancing in the streets, it was so vibrant. Then, we ended up at El del Frente for dinner because a friend had recommended it. We ordered empanadas, ceviche, and a lamb burger. To be honest, the food was just mediocre. I think their free plantain chips they provided at the beginning were my favorite thing I had there. But, I’d actually go back to the restaurant and maybe try other dishes because I loved the whole vibe. It was a rooftop restaurant with cute little lights hanging above AND they were playing some old school 90’s hip-hop/R&B mixed with reggae jams, so I was definitely a happy camper. That’s my sh*t! El del Frente was a Cuban restaurant with a twist of cool. So overall dinner was quite a pleasant experience. After that, we walked around a bit more, took photos, I even found me a Cuban man 😉 and then we called it a night.
The next morning, I woke up and wanted to go to the bank to get some Cuban cash. I left by myself so that George could rest some more. I walked out of the apartment and saw this guy dressed in skinny jeans, a baseball jersey and his hair was combed like Kid ‘N Play. I thought to myself, this guy seems like he would be really cool, let’s ask him for directions. I learned his name was Carlos, he was very kind and open, he asked me why I was in Cuba and the rest was history. Maybe my interest and my enthusiasm for the Cuban culture is what sparked something inside of him, but he decided to take me around town to show me what his Home was all about. He advised that the bank would tax me a lot to exchange U.S currency so instead, he walked me to a local spot in front of a market where there were two older men each holding a large wad of Cuban cash in plastic bags. He exchanged a handshake and whispered something to one of the men. The man then smiled at me and gladly gave me Cuc (Cuban cash) for my American bills. It felt so cool and special to have this kind of connection. After that, Carlos asked me if I liked coffee. I don’t drink it on a normal basis because I don’t want to get dependent on it but when I’m on vacation, I do enjoy a nice cup. So he took me to a tiny little casa (which is a home, but these homes serve food and drinks to the public) to get some real Cuban coffee. They serve it in a tiny little cup, as small as a shot and oh boy.. was it THEE best coffee ever! The sweet, rich smell and taste of the cafe still lingers on my lips. After that, we decided that I go pick up George so that Carlos could give both of us a tour of Havana. I really didn’t want to take too much of Carlos’ time because I knew he had to go into work but he insisted. He even told me that since it was his birthday, his manager just called and said he could take the day off. Wow, it was like kismit!
Literally upon meeting George, Carlos said hello and said that he had a little gift for him. He pulled something out of his backpack and handed George a local Cuban cigar. My heart literally melted… What??? Carlos didn’t even know him but already was so giving and generous. I was really in awe at this. After that, Carlos gave us a tour of Havana. Mostly on feet and some places we needed to take a taxi but he paid for everything. I tried telling him numerous times that I would pay but he wouldn’t take it. He was telling me that there’s two different types of Cuban currency. He was paying with the local currency and told me not to worry about it because it’s very cheap, so I just let it be because I knew that there would be others ways I could pay him back. I was truly in love with how beautiful Carlos was treating us. No one has ever been that kind to me from the get go, like EVER! My heart was so full!!!
After our tour, Carlos said that he wanted to take George and me to meet his family in Centro Havana.. he called it “Cuba real” meaning “REAL Cuba.” I didn’t truly comprehend it at the moment, but either way I was ecstatic because I wanted to meet his family!!! I knew for sure that Carlos’ family would be amazing because he was such a great man himself. So we took a short taxi ride and had to get dropped off because where he lived, no cars could pass in. Right when we got dropped off, I knew that his neighborhood was definitely different than what I’ve been seeing this whole time. It was quieter and Carlos had mentioned that no tourist would go in these areas. It’s for locals only. In the streets of Centro Havana, there were bunched up electrical wires hanging from posts and on those lines were also gas lines. (Uh.. I’m not an expert or anything but I don’t think that’s very safe.) Then we finally reached his home. There was a tiny little door that opened into his complex. Upon walking in, there were clothes lines hung up in our path. (This is the type of thing you only see in movies, I thought.) A few short steps in, we reached his home. His door was bright blue with paint scraped off of it. The floor in his home was the same concrete as the one outside. I thought to myself, I literally just walked into a concrete box. Carlos told me that he shared this space with his whole entire family. For his bedroom, it was about 14×7 sq. ft., long enough for the length of two twin sized beds and a little bit of walking space to spare. Inside their bedroom was also a little stove, hooks on the walls to hang their plastic bags filled with clothes and they had a TV. Their restroom was separated with a curtain and it was just a hole in the ground. Right next to it was a bucket of water. I assumed this was to flush out whatever you had to after you did your business. I couldn’t believe my eyes. This is how Carlos lives and he is one of the happiest, warm-hearted, generous, and kindest people I know! It was truly such an eye-opening experience for me. In these moments is when I realize I truly live in abundance and that I’m so thankful for what I already have.
Join me next week, as I dive deeper into the lives of these special Cuban people I had the honor of meeting. <3
Partial photo credit by: _geedoubleyou_