Friday, November 6, 2015

Why Cuba?

I have always had a fascination with Cuba. Since I was in high school, I have dreamed about visiting the one place Americans were forbidden to visit (there are probably more, but in my mind, it was just Cuba).  Over the years I read books about Cuba, listened to the Buena Vista Social Club, and admired Che Guevara’s handsome face on all those hipster T-shirts.  But it wasn’t until recently that I decided it was time to actually pay a visit.  

Last year, I had a boss who was born in Cuba. He was one of the kindest, most open people I have ever met.  We worked closely together and I loved listening to his accent and watching his expressions. He left to take another job, and my workplace hasn’t been the same since. He got me thinking about Cuba again – quite a bit.

Then, last December, President Obama announced he was easing restrictions on travel to Cuba.  What do the changes mean?  America will re-open its embassy there within a few years.  Cuba will start accepting American credit cards next year. Americans still have to fall into one of the 12 categories of people approved to travel there (journalists, religious leaders, filmmakers, etc.), but no longer have to apply to the US Government in advance to get a license. Now travelers just self-identify as falling into an approved category, and go.

While restrictions are loosening, there is still a bit of a forbidden fruit appeal. You still can’t fly directly from the US (unless you take an expensive charter plane) or book a hotel from a US-based website. But if you are crafty, you can buy a flight to Mexico, then a flight to Cuba on a Mexican airline. You can use AirBNB to rent rooms in people’s homes, or European booking sites to reserve hotel rooms.

Thee number of American visitors to Cuba is increasing by the day. Once the embassy opens and credit cards work there – can McDonalds, Starbucks and Marriott be far behind? Probably not. Travel experts are predicting that Cuba will look completely different in 5 years – once American businesses are allowed in.

Because of my renewed interest, and my desire to visit Cuba BEFORE McDonalds gets there – I decided now is the time.  After tons of research and effort, I am booked and ready to drink some mojitos while soaking in some Cuban music and sunshine.  Unfortunately, Madelyn won't be accompanying me on this trip. Fortunately, my Spanish-speaking boyfriend will be. (Well, his Spanish is limited, but better than mine at least. My Spanish comes out in French.)  In late December, we will visit Havana, Varadero, and Trinidad. I will be covering my adventures for this blog and a few others kind enough to let me guest write about my trip.  

In the coming weeks, I will be writing about what went down between the United States and Cuba, and why the United States banned its citizens from going there back before I was born.  I will share how to book a trip like mine (it isn’t easy!) and what is legal/illegal when visiting Cuba these days. And of course, I will blog about the trip in detail after my return. (There's no wi-fi and iPhones don't work in Cuba - GASP!)

I hope you will join along on this journey, because it’s going to be the trip of a lifetime!