Traveler Story: Dear Cuba, You Had Me At Hello
By DeAnna Taylor
In March 2017, I took my first solo international trip to Cuba. When I tell people about my experience, they think I’m crazy at first, considering that the internet in Cuba is very scarce and the primary language is Spanish. However, both of these details made me fall in love with this Caribbean country.
When I first stepped off the plane and into the airport, I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous. Often, we equate non-developed countries with poverty and crime. Those thoughts initially ran through my mind. But after I hitched a cab with Jorge, for some reason all that fear went away. I know what you’re thinking: how did getting in a cab with a strange man, by yourself, and without him speaking any English make you feel better? It was something about his genuine happiness of meeting someone from America that let me know Cuba was alright with me. We conversed the entire way in my broken Spanish, but it was like talking to a family member I was visiting.
Once I settled into my casa particular, I headed back out. I began my explorations down the infamous Obispo street in the heart of Old Havana (or Habana Vieja as the locals call it). The vibes of the music and street food at every turn quickly drew me in. Other than tourists, it was refreshing to see folks not walking around with their face buried in their phone.
That evening I met a young Afro-Cuban guy. We quickly hit it off as friends, and he walked with me all night. Like most other folks he didn’t speak any English, but somehow our convo just flowed. I can’t explain it, but it was dope.
I asked him about his life as a Cuban. I learned that he only makes about $20-$30 per month. He didn’t even own a cell phone yet. But he wasn’t sad, jealous of others who did, or angry with his life. He loved his country and his people. That alone instantly made me respect the Cuban people 1000 times more.
He also taught me that Cubans look out for each other. Everyone, no matter how poor, has a place to sleep and eat at all times. They don’t leave each other out to dry like here in the states. Now in regards to the government and how they treat the Cuban people is a different story. But the actual Cuban people come together to make it work for each other.
I felt like it was home. I didn’t feel unsafe once, not even walking alone at night. I didn’t feel as though I needed to dress a certain way to be accepted. I’m confident that my not having access to the outside world via my phone had a lot to do with this. It gave me the opportunity to really open my eyes and take myself out of my reality for five days while truly taking in all Cuba had to offer.
You won’t be able to appreciate Cuba if you go in with the expectation that you’re superior or they owe you something. You have to literally put what you’re used aside to enjoy it. But trust me, when you do, it will be one of the most fulfilling experiences you may have while traveling.
DeAnna Taylor is a criminal defense Attorney turned travel writer. The Charlotte native recently completed one year abroad working as an English teacher in South Korea. Her hobbies include fitness, traveling to new countries, and trying new foods.