What do you think of when you picture Cuba? For fellow Americans, I am afraid that this question may be puzzling because quite frankly, most Americans have no inkling of what Cuba was, is, and is becoming. We tend to think of Cuba as only a socialist land of desolation where a huge chunk of Miami dwellers originally escaped from. We may have puffed a Cuban cigar and sampled Cuban cuisine…but unless you’re from South Florida, your knowledge may stop there. It’s a sad reality, but it’s true. And, it was for me as well until very recently.
The large island fills the Gulf of Mexico at a whopping 42,426 square miles. And even though most people equate the entire country with its capital Havana, the land provides mountainous vistas, caves, underground swimming holes, pristine beaches and a stunning archipelago all beckoning to be explored.
Cubans are relaxed, friendly and enjoy company. You will be hard pressed to be one day in a local town without hearing music and the sounds of dancing. Old American cars drive past decaying colonial structures; and although this lack of infrastructure makes traveling difficult, it partly adds to its mystique. Tourism has been happening in Cuba for decades, much to America’s surprise. In fact, Cuba is a cheap vacation destination for over two million tourists a year, who come to the country for soaking in the sun and it’s rough, but charming culture.
The destruction of Fidel Castro’s rule should be far from charming. However, you cannot deny that Cuba’s history has shaped a fascinating culture that will continue to propel it forward into its future of tourism, possibly lifting it once more out of its “picture perfect” rubble.
On December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama announced plans to revive diplomatic relations between the two countries, stating, “Today, the United States is taking historic steps to chart a new course in our relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people. We are separated by 90 miles of water, but brought together through the relationships between the two million Cubans and Americans of Cuban descent that live in the United States, and the 11 million Cubans who share similar hopes for a more positive future for Cuba.”
The full plan as noted in the White House Fact Sheet, most notably started off by relaxing American travel restrictions. A full revoking of the ban will require congressional approval, but sights are already being set on the island as a future hot spot for American tourism.
What will be the effects? How should Americans respond? Should the rest the world hurry before the United States gets its hands on her?
Some may say, “Don’t go.” Others may say, “Go before it changes.” But, I don’t feel either of these answers offers any positive change.
The Right Way
The Global Commute is all about embracing and enjoying the cultural exchange of travel, and Cuba is no exception to this rule. Travel is a tool that changes not just the visitor, but the local as well. It’s no question that the growth of enterprise will certainly bring wealth to the nation. Our only job is to participate in a positive way.
As massive American investment projects drool over the island with dollar signs in their eyes, there is potential for Cuba’s history to be swept away for comfort and efficiency. Our job throughout the transition is to value the flavor of Cuba, its people, and the overall essence the country that provides a sense of place to its locals and its tourists. Our job is to go, and to vote with how we spend our dollars.
If we value comfort over culture, than Cuba may lose its luster quickly. But don’t be fooled, many may underestimate the feisty independent spirit of Cubans who are breaking out of their shell and venturing into entrepreneurship, focused on personal expression and creativity that has been halted for decades. Boutique hotels, art galleries, shops and restaurants are already starting to take shape.
In fact, foreign investors may be much better off forking over money and leaving the creativity to the Cubans themselves. But time will tell. Just don’t let too much time pass before you experience the nation. Go now, before it changes. Go now to effect its growth in a positive way.
The Global Series:
Cuba – A Rise from Charming Rubble
In the Global Series we will highlight some fantastic itineraries for exploring the entire island’s rich landscapes and quaint colonial towns. Road-tripping, home-stays and pub-crawling are all on the agenda. Of course, we will also share how to Journey beyond the Bucket List by giving to local, social businesses while you are exploring. Let’s start planning our meaningful trip to Cuba together.
P.S. – See you next week for my tips on how to create an American DIY trip to Cuba now before the travel ban is lifted! It will have great tips for finding local guest house accommodations for my international readers as well (I know you are out there -thanks for reading!)
Feature Photo Credit: Thinkstock/istock/nazlisart