Frustrations, surprises and rewards of Cuba trip


Last updated 2/4/2016 at Noon

Cuba is all about the people, and the Cuban people are all about welcoming American visitors. That’s what Rick Steves and family learned on New Year’s Eve in Havana.

Cuba is a country in transition. Americans are now allowed to travel there, and a tsunami of change will soon submerge the time-warp and idealistic charms of this mysterious island 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

I just had to visit now and share my experience with my hometown — as I will this Sunday night, at 8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7, at Edmonds Center for the Arts, 410 4th Ave. N.

While Cuba’s classic 1950s-era American cars (a result of the isolation brought about by the US trade embargo) are fun to see any time of day, at night the glint of 60-year-old chrome gives the scene a time-passed elegance.

Havana comes to life in the cool of the evening. Friends gather on curbs and on banisters to party — pouring drinks from $3 bottles of fine rum and enjoying music.

Salsa is the beat of the city. Lovers catch an intimate moment, as public displays of affection are a reminder that living quarters can be cramped and busy with many generations under one roof.

There was something strikingly proud and dignified about the Cuban people I met. They earn about $30 a month beyond all of their government entitlements (subsidized housing, utilities, food, free education and free health care).

Communism has trained them to look to the state for handouts, and I sensed that the system has demoralized any interest in working hard to get ahead. The situation was perplexing … and maddening.

Cubans are free to talk politics — and love doing just that. We spent hours on the rooftop of our B&B chatting with our hosts. Their observations were memorable: “Cubans are great athletes. We earn more Olympic gold medals, per capita, than any other country.” “When you give people things for free, they don’t value it.” “We don’t throw away anything. We just repair it and repair it and repair it.” “Resistance and dissident movements get no traction here, because people assume they are funded by the CIA to destabilize our country.”

After so many years of waiting, I loved being able to finally travel to Cuba legally (under the category of “professional research”).

When I returned home, US Customs hardly looked at me. I pleaded, “But I’ve been in Cuba. I bought souvenirs, too.” And they just said, “Welcome home.”


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