Cuba Libre

I missed writing last month’s BLOG because I was busy crossing an item off my bucket list: traveling in Cuba. I was one of two dozen walkers on the trip, and we hiked the northwestern part of the island for eleven days, bussing between towns and cities, with a Cuban guide. We hiked farms, beaches, towns, stayed mostly with families in little casas and ate in several home-based restaurants. It was tiring… we walked over thirty miles under the eighty-degree winter sun, but fascinating, educational, fun.

I’d wanted to visit the country since I saw Fidel Castro on television, riding through the streets of Havana after ousting Batista, his predecessor, in 1959. But life got in the way, and the older I got the more it seemed like a romantic notion. When this recent opportunity arose it seemed like a last chance, with our government gradually closing off entry and my own aging out of the trip, so I grabbed it, and am so glad I did. I don’t know why, but surprised me that many of my fellow travelers harbored the same thoughts and feelings.

I met so many lovely people, most of them very poor, but happy. Most of them have so little, but are proud of their free education and free healthcare. They know their history, follow their politics (and ours), smile a lot, ask a lot of questions. One of the most striking things I found, coming from such a robust consumer society, is the lack of choices they have in their lives. One goes to the store not with a shopping list, but with the notion of “let’s see what they have”, to a restaurant with the same attitude, despite what it may say on the menu. You never know what will or will not be available. If most everything one consumes must be imported, and so many restrictive embargoes are in effect, it’s very catch-as-catch-can.

Bottom line, we take too much for granted in this country. We have wealth, jobs, choices for transportation and entertainment and where and what to eat morning, noon, and night. Has it made us happier, healthier, smarter, more reflective than the people I met in Cuba? I’m glad I went there. The trip gave me a lot to think about.