"Cuba is such a beautiful country, and everywhere you go, there's music
and people dancing - especially in Havana."
My Visit to Cuba
I recently visited Cuba. It had been on my list for a long time. When my friend called me and asked if I would go on a cruise with her, which stopped in Cuba, I jumped at the chance. We only had 2 days in Cuba, so it was a quick visit, but it gave me a preview, for I hope, a future trip.
Cuba had been closed to U.S. citizens for many years. That is not to say that Americans did not go there, many did, but they had to go through Canada or Mexico or other places first. And they had to go without our government knowing they went. You had to be careful that you didn't have your passport stamped in Cuba. During those years Cuba still had tourists from other countries throughout the world. During President Obama's term in office he opened up Cuba for American tourists. There are restrictions though. If you go, you are required to take a "People to People" tour. I have never been a big advocate of tours, so I was never that excited about going there and being confined to a tour. However, even on the cruise, we were required to do the tour.
We arrived in Havana and we took our tour. It took us to a senior center which was really quite a nice surprise. We were greeted by a group of 5 women, all in their late 70's and 80's. They performed a Cuban rap song for us, which we really enjoyed. We toured the center, and met some of the people who worked there. It was fun to meet the Cuban people and talk to them. We also toured the neighborhood where the center was. We had lunch in town and visited the old fort. We got to walk through the Old Town section. At the end of the tour we were free to go out and explore on our own.
And explore we did. And yes, the old cars were everywhere. We even took an hour ride in a pink 1953 Ford convertible. The ride cost us $30. The driver was a young Cuban male and he was accompanied that night by his wife, who was riding along with him. They had a young baby at home and this was a chance for the young couple to spend some time with each other, while her mother babysat. We found out that the owners of these cars can make more money giving tourists rides than a doctor in Cuba makes. We enjoyed the ride. They took us all over the city, even into residential areas that we wouldn't of seen otherwise. They chatted with us, and we learned a little about their lives. They were a delightful couple.
An example of a crumbling
Our ship pulled into Havana at 7AM and did not leave until the next morning at 2AM, so we did have a full day to explore Havana. The ship then went around Cuba to the other side and we pulled into Cienfuegos, and we had a day to explore that city.
We were again required to book a "People to People" tour. It was a much shorter tour, and again it took us to an area that I found quite interesting. We went to a community within the city that is full of artists, poets, musicians, and performers. They put on a short show for us and we toured the artists showroom. All of the housed had paintings on the outside, and the whole community was there to meet us. We only spent about an hour there, but it was quite enjoyable.
We then took a short drive that showed us some of the nicer houses in a residential area, and then to the town square, which was Jose Marti Square. The Parliament House was in the square, as was the Tomas Terry Theatre, and church. There were also shops and an outdoor craft market area. We were able to explore on our own from there.
The Tomas Terry Theatre was quite pretty. We were able to go inside. Caruso used to perform there, as well as many other performers. We were not allowed inside the Parliament house, but we enjoyed the craft market and wandering around the park, where there were street performers and local people who were quite friendly.
Tomas Terry Theatre
Too soon our visit to Cuba was over and our shipped sailed off to other destinations in the Caribbean. I was glad we had the chance to see a little bit of Cuba, and it made me want to see more. I urge people to go now, before Cuba becomes too commercial and touristy. Right now, things are just starting to really open up, and it is not overrun with tourists. That probably won't last. The Cuban people were wonderful, very friendly, and happy to have us there.