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Back in Cuba for the Third Time

  • Submitted by: Leonard Doceman, United States
  • Submission Date: 14th Apr 2007

This is the third time in 5 years I go to Cuba on vacation. There are many reasons for this, most of them are personal, but the most important thing is that every time I go there I come back home relaxed and with the feeling I am taking with me something forgotten or different from that beautiful island.
My roots are there, but as for many Cuban descendants who went to live abroad since a long time ago that land seemed a place to avoid and being forgotten. After the first impact ( my first visit was 5 years ago) now I go there to avoid those places that supposedly are perfect to relax and forget. The point is , at least for me, we must travel to learn, to understand and maybe, if we are lucky, realize the kind of life we have compared to those ones who live in the places we visit.
Of course, there are some things conspiring against our wishes: all inclusive hotels, big travel agencies, the official agencies, an embargo or blockade (depending the political point of view) . OK, in the case of Cuba at the end you go to them (the official ones) due to serious problems with transportation, for snorkeling or scuba-diving, but that is something you can choose, and not the other way.
In Cuba traveling on your own can be more expensive than an all inclusive package. But it is worthy if you are a traveler and just a little more. But the most important thing is to stay at private accommodation. This time I stayed in Havana (the first week on a beautiful apartment on a 17 floor with a great view of Havana coastal line) and the last week in an independent Studio in Miramar. The second week on a beach house, it can be considered modest from our standards, but clean, safe and with good condition for a nice stay. And one incredible week in Pinar del Rio province. There I rented a cottage in a bucolic environment with even an almost private waterfall for me. There, a couple cooked and cleaned.
For me, Cuba is a reminder that life's simple pleasures are its most precious. In its cities and towns, children play ball among decrepit houses. Neighbors congregate on door stoops to share gossip. Women hang laundry on improvised ropes outside windows lined with shattered glass. Car owners are seen patching up vintage Chevy and Ford jalopies from the 1950s and 1960s with self-made or Soviet-era auto parts.The familiar signs of consumerism -- fast-food restaurants like McDonald's and billboards -- are nowhere to be seen. Violent crime is rare.
The sounds of Cuba may be the most uncomplicated of all. Thunderous Afro-Caribbean rhythms seep out of cafes, dance halls or just a simple street corner turned into an impromptu concert. Frequent laughter penetrates the thick air of a humid night.
It's easy to forget when in this largest of the Caribbean countries that it's the 21st century. The complexities and amenities of modern life seem to have largely bypassed the inhabitants of the island, which is inescapably tied to its volatile political past.
That's not to say vacationers don't enjoy the benefits of modern technology. Tourism is now the country's biggest industry, and visitors to the many three-to-five-star resorts can pamper themselves not only with sun-drenched white beaches, but also with nearly all the imported advances of the 21st century. Most hotels have air conditioning and offer their own Internet cafes, although connections are of glacial speed. Satellite television beams in the latest from CNN and HBO.
Indeed, Cuba is a tale of two worlds, one artificially created to resemble a sun lover's paradise and another engineered to be a socialist's paradise but in the end came up short. It's no accident the two remain out of sync. Beach resorts in the towns of Varadero and Cayo Coco feature guarded checkpoints to ensure the worlds don't collide.
All this makes Cuba a fascinating vacation spot because both spheres can be explored. Some of the most popular packages allow vacationers to split their time 50-50 between the beautiful white beaches of Varadero, the island's largest resort district, and Havana, the political, economic and cultural centre of the country filled with stunning, if often dilapidated, colonial architecture. Even those who have booked their whole time in Varadero can plan day or one-night trips to Havana (only two to three hours away by car, bus or taxi). And for a richer taste of the real Cuba, there are numerous fine hotels in Havana catering to tourists. But, as I mentioned before, one can also rent a room in one beautiful colonial styled house or an apartment with a great view to that beautiful Caribbean Sea, and share that part of a life that sometimes Cubans enjoy and we lost sometime ago. It is like to recharge batteries with humanity, happiness, romanticism and idealism, and the vision of an ending era and the start of a new (better?) one