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A Trip of a Lifetime Brings Deep Reflection

March, 2019
  • Old time car in Cuba
    Classic cars were part of the landscape in Cuba.
  • Pastoral setting in Cuba
    Pastoral setting in Cuba
  • A spectacular sunset in Cuba
    A spectacular sunset in Cuba
  • Cuban businesses
    Business owners enjoyed having tourists see their wares.

When people found out my partner and I were going to Cuba last month, we were met with a lot of confusion. “Can you even go there?,” my friend asked skeptically. Yes, you can go there! It took a lot of online research (and a few travel tips from President Pedraja) to get prepared, but as an American citizen all you need is a valid passport and a visa. To obtain a visa you have to travel under one of the 12 authorized categories such as: a family visit, a professional research project, or the category we chose, which was support of the Cuban people.

 We also had a lot of people ask, “Why Cuba?” Besides the obvious desire to escape New England winter and enjoy the beauty of a Caribbean island, part of the motivation was to see a place that had been off limits for so long. I was always a terrible history student in school, so when I think back to what we learned about Cuba I can only conjure the phrase, “Bay of Pigs.” What happened at the Bay of Pigs? I really had no idea until we got to one of our first stops in Havana. The Museo de la Revolución in Old Havana is only a few blocks from the ocean and was the former palace of Cuba’s presidents. Now it’s a large scale museum that details the lead up to, and aftermath of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, as well as some information on the pre-colonial period of the island.

Given the long standing tension between our two governments, I was amazed at how welcoming the Cuban people were. When people found out we were from America they were very excited to share their thoughts on Obama opening up travel, or to ask us who our favorite baseball players were. They loved to tell us about their daily lives and some of the best parts of Cuban culture, such as free higher education and a robust art scene. We stayed with one family in Viñales that had such a warm presence that I will never forget. We stayed in an outbuilding behind their home with an entrance that allowed for privacy if needed. But they insisted we join them in their kitchen for long conversations that included many misunderstandings (they often forgot my request to habla despacio -speak slowly), a sample of vegetables we’d never had before, and so many laughs that my face hurt.

I am extremely privileged to be able to travel and I try to seriously consider the social, economic, and environmental effects that travelling has on the world. The increased tourism in Cuba seemed to be welcomed by most citizens, as it provides an added income that can make a great difference in their lives. But some people noted that it comes with new challenges. One restaurant owner who we spoke with said he was ecstatic that his family and many of his neighbors were allowed to open their businesses, but that there were growing pains associated with the increasing presence of capitalism. While he didn’t go into too much detail, the main concern seems to be keeping up with infrastructure needs. My hope is that they can find a balance that works for the people, the government, and the environment. I still have a lot to learn about Cuba, and the world in general, but I am immensely thankful to the people there and for my experience abroad.    

This first-person account is written by staff member Rose D'Errico