Cuba… May I ask, what are the first things that come to your mind when you hear "Cuba"? Most likely, it is probable that you are picturing long stretching eternal beaches and a forever shining sun like I did before my journey here in Cuba. Of course, I did believe that Cuba had more than just these features, but what I saw here swept me off my feet. Yes, it has all these things, but so much more…
When I first stepped foot in Havana on January 14th, I cannot deny the fact that I was quite surprised. The first thing that struck me was the architecture of the city which took my breath away. I was surprised by the beauty of the buildings that were still standing after everything the country has seen.
Through its colonization by Spain, its role in the African slave importation, its independence, its impressive technological development, its Revolution and much more, Cuba has been influenced by various foreign cultures and has built its magic around it. The details present in the architecture and the different colours of each structure incorporate the rich heritage of a diverse population now unified. It was absolutely beautiful.
On our first day, we jumped into buses and went on a tour organized by the government to learn more about Cuba. What the tour guide was saying was informative, but we could barely pay any attention as we were captivated by the landscapes, the people walking in the streets, and the rhythm of life there. After the tour, we had the opportunity to go explore Havana by ourselves. Most of us walked around trying to open our eyes as wide as possible as if we believed that we could see more by doing that. It was captivating. It seemed like the people there were walking at a unique pace, at their own rhythm. I went to bed with the feeling I had learned so much about this distinct country only by observing the people.
The next morning, most of us woke up around eight o’clock and breakfast was served across the street in a little restaurant. There, there was a piano, and many talented students played lovely melodies throughout breakfast. After, an optional tour was available and I took part in it. Honestly, this was the best tour of my life! The activity was led by an economist and there we learned about the Revolution, about how people live their lives under a communist government, and about everything that concerns the every day of a typical Cuban.
My whole perspective about Cuba shifted. I feel like what I know now about Havana is very little and yet, it is enough for me to realize how uninformed I was . There is so much more than just sandy beaches, shining sun, and salsa music! In fact, this place is beautiful because of all these things but fundamentally, because all the people work together for the better, to build their communities: there is an essence, a fire, a sustainable energy that propels, that keeps on progressing, and that expands their culture.
This is my good friend Sara dancing with a local Cuban on a live music played by talented musicians.
Let's look at music for example! It happens, sometimes, that we believe we know something but in reality, the knowledge we possess represents a tiny fraction of the thing itself. In the past, I have heard many South American artists and multiple songs reflecting Cuba’s traditional music, but what I heard here in Cuba, what I felt, was nothing that I’ve experienced before. Musicians were releasing their magic everywhere, bringing light and joy to every being. It was heart-lifting. The energy here, the very aliveness of Havana is like the wind, something that cannot be seen but can only be felt, and we felt it.
My friends and I really wanted to experience the life of Cuban through music. On our last night in Havana, we made it our mission to dance to every melody we could hear, wandering with excitement in the streets. We must have burst into more than a dozen different places: restaurants, live music areas in the streets, and dance scenes! I felt like I was part of the people there. Us four girls would enter a restaurant and grab a person by the arm that was sitting to bring them to dance. We laughed so much! And the people there too! They were surprised and the musicians seemed to play with even more intensity. Every heart was filled with joy and that is what Cuba is about: spontaneity, courage, colour, music, happiness. That night was one of the best nights of my life and we shall forever remember it.
The next day, I woke up at 6 o’clock to watch the last sunrise in Cuba for this voyage. The sky was a bright red-orange colour, old Havana stretched in front of me in its beauty and from the seventh floor of our apartment building, I could see, slowly, the entire city waking up. The day went by so fast and little did I know, I was back on the ship saying my goodbyes to this inspiring, amazing, and up-lifting country.
The beautiful sunrise of February 16, 2019 on old Havana.
In the end, Cuba made many of us realize how easy it is to be guided or influenced by preconceived thoughts when entering a new place. This country has so much more to offer than what we are told and I believe, the only way to overcome that barrier is to go out there, to observe, to experience, to jump in, to be guided, to be open, and to learn. The best way to discover this place, Havana, or any place, is to put aside everything you though you knew and to simply live in the moment. In the end, if there’s anything that I would encourage anybody to do while traveling would be to just see it!
Written by Class Afloat Student, Penelope C.