Although it seemed like we spent a while in Havana, we spent the majority of our trip outside it, traveling from city to city in shorter durations.
I think my favorite stop outside of Havana was in Viñales, a small farm town that’s latched onto the growing tourism industry. I’d imagine just 10 years earlier, it was still a quiet farming town, but today, it’s far from it. There’s a vibrant downtown area with bars and restaurants and a street where we stayed which is lined with bed and breakfast-type places.
But just beyond the rows of B&Bs was vast farmland and beautiful rock formations called mogotes. We were able to explore the farmland and mogotes, first by horse and then on-foot as part of a four hour hike, which many in our group, including myself would say was one of the most difficult things they’d ever had to do. I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot. But I think we all, even Olivia, felt pretty accomplished in the end.
Other stops outside of Havana were a lot of fun, too. I especially enjoyed our brief stopover in Jibacoa where at our hotel, we found a puppy who we named Lil Taco. We kept him in our house while we were there, feeding him some leftovers from our dinner. We thought we were helping him, but when he started whining and got sick overnight, we realized we’d made a huge mistake. That wasn’t the best night of sleep I had the trip since Lil Taco whined in the bedroom and throughout the whole house all night. In the morning, Maira graciously took Lil Taco from the house and reunited him with his mother.
Trinidad was another highlight, it reminded me a lot of Havana, just on a smaller scale. We ate lunch at a pizza place, which we were all delighted to see after almost two weeks of eating primarily chicken and pork. We were overjoyed to see fries on the menu, but in true Cuban fashion, they were all out since their power went out, which was a real blow to our moral. That pizza felt like it was the best pizza any of us ever had since we were so hungry and desperate for anything outside of our typical Cuban diet.
I’m glad we went outside of Havana, because I think staying in Havana like many tourists do doesn’t give you an accurate picture of what Cuba is really like. I think a lot of people in the U.S. often forget that there’s more to Cuba than just Havana, myself included. Before we went, I thought I would be underwhelmed by the cities outside Havana, but they’re what made the trip more enriching. Just going to Havana would be like visiting the U.S. and just going to New York City. Obviously, New York isn’t an accurate picture of the entire U.S. just as Havana isn’t an accurate picture of Cuba.
There’s so much culture and so many varying ways of life in Cuba and I’m thankful and lucky I was able to see as much as I did.
Months before the trip, I wrote in my essay that I felt that the only way to experience and understand Cuba was to go there myself. And this trip proved that point.
One day, with my Spanish skills more developed, I hope to return. That day may not come for sometime, considering Trump’s new regulations, but when it does, I hope to find a similar place: rich with culture and hopefully rich with more freedom and opportunities for the Cuban people.