Going Places: The many reasons why Cuba should be on your bucket list.
By MARILYN ROBITAILLE
Someday in the future, you’ll be able to travel to places that have a vivid hold on your imagination. Are you a Hemingway fan? Did you live through the Cuban Missile Crisis?
On a lighter note, do you remember the days of I Love Lucy when Ricky Ricardo was the personification of the Cuban musician and Latin lover?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then Cuba should be on your bucket list. Havana, the capital city, has unique charm, lots of historical significance, fantastic food and art on every corner.
To set the mood and for a visual Cuban experience like none other, I recommend a short YouTube film titled “Faded Elegance: Photographs of Havana” about a Michael Eastman photography exhibit showcased by the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
I saw this exhibit about 10 years ago, and these large-scale photos capture the essence of Havana’s incredible architecture.
At its pre-revolution zenith, the buildings and their interiors showcased times of glamor, opulence, and all manner of beautiful indulgences. Chrystal chandeliers, white-marble spiral staircases, and heavily carved entryways harken to past times when the city was in its heyday.
After years and years of neglect, the paint has faded, walls are crumbling, and once-majestic areas are in ruins. Even though decay is a major theme, the town’s nuanced beauty and incredible mystique still exist.
With politics ruling the way we travel, promising strides made a few years ago have been forestalled. The “People to People” visa no longer exists. Bide your time and hope that post-COVID relationships will again bring the connection and cultural sharing we once had.
Your short flight departs from Miami, and this beautiful island is located less than 100 miles from the U.S. coast.
Although multiple hotels cater to foreigners, the one steeped in the most history is the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. On the hotel grounds, you can walk through Castro’s bunker and see the very place where he managed his side of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The big cannon pointed directly at Miami serves as an additional reminder of that history.
You can enjoy the slow life on the veranda with a cool mojito. Lock up your cell phone because it won’t work here. Internet access of any kind is sketchy and expensive when it does work.
Special suites throughout the hotel have plaques by the door with pictures of celebrities who stayed there. If you’re lucky, you might sleep in a bed once occupied by frequent guest Frank Sinatra.
Don’t expect modern conveniences. Not much has changed, including the carpet, since the 1950s.
A visit to Old Havana takes you back to the days of Hemingway. Visit the Hotel Ambos Mundos and take a look in the lobby at a gallery of photographs of Hemingway in Cuba. Floridita, his favorite bar outside of Key West, is a great place for yet another Hemingway connection.
One of the mainstays for local transportation is the “machina.” Old cars from the 30s, 40s, and 50s that were left by inhabitants who fled after the Revolution have literally been pieced together with bailing wire and duct tape. They look beautiful on the outside, but once you pay the driver and slide onto the spacious back seat, you’ll realize how precarious the ride’s going to be.
Two kinds of currencies used to exist: one for tourists and one for local residents. That has since changed, but economists are still deciding what the results will be, especially in light of the current U.S. blockade and COVID.
Government complications aside, the Cuban people are welcoming and friendly. We met interesting people who wanted to visit at the market, on the street, and in the museums. Many, many galleries prove that artistic expression in the city continues to blossom.
Food options also demonstrate Cuban creativity. A visit to La Guarida Restaurant requires reservations. The art-covered walls took us back to earlier times.
Housed in a former palatial mansion, the restaurant shows signs of more Cuban ingenuity. It was raining the night we visited, and as we ascended the magnificent staircase to the main floor of the restaurant, we walked past buckets strategically placed to catch the water pouring through the roof.
Nightlife in Havana is not for the faint of heart. Things are generally dead until around midnight, but then if you go to one of the venues with live music you’ll be able dance the night away to the music of world-class Cuban musicians.
The Tropicana, one of the most famous venues, required reservations, and we were very glad that we opted for the pricier tables near the front. There was something deliciously decadent about that last rum drink we downed as we swayed to the beat in the wee hours of the morning.