Hola a todos!
Although my study abroad program was hosted in Merida, Mexico, the program included a 4 day excursion to Havana, Cuba. This journal is a special one because it will be entirely about my time spent in Cuba.
On the top floor of an apartment building located in a neighborhood known as “El Vedado”, a few miles from historic, Old Havana, I shared a two bedroom, one bathroom, apartment with 4 other girl in my program. It was clear right away that the resources, technology, and fashion in Cuba was antiquated when compared to Mexico and archaic when compared to the U.S. Yet there in our apartment, in a region where bottled water was hard to find, we were reunited with a luxury that we had be missing since leaving our homes in the United States, air conditioning.
When I say that bottled water was hard to find, that is no exaggeration. During the daytime we would tour the region, mostly by foot, and would ask different restaurants and stores if they had any water to sell. At the first one to say yes everyone would buy at least 2 water bottles at a time because of how scarce it was. The corner stores contained sodas, juices, and rows of Havana Club Rum but no water whatsoever. Additionally, every restaurant that we visited had full 1-2 page menus, however, when taking our order, told us, “Sorry we don’t have any pork (or chicken or meat).” Then we would be informed that only about 3 or 4 options from the menu were really available. Of course this didn’t occur in tourist frequented restaurants located in Central Havana and Old Havana, but we avoided these areas as they were exceptionally more expensive than smaller, local restaurants.
Nightlife in Cuba is amazing and the two nights that I took to the streets were among the top of my list of favorite nights throughout the entire 5 week program. The first night out was spent at a place called La Fábrica de Arte Cubano. This art gallery/nightclub offered an electrifying, versatile experience that I honestly don’t believe can be found in any other place. Even when I try to explain what this location was like it is impossible to find words to describe how alive the art, people, and energy was. Since we were in Cuba, it was only appropriate to go salsa dancing. During our second night in Cuba, myself and 3 other women in the program went to a salsa club just on the edge of “El Malecon”, or the pier/esplanade/seafront. This was a magical location set outdoors with a live band preforming onstage to an open dance floor and seating area. Hanging lights were strung on trees and reflected on the open water of the sea right off of the pier where we were dancing. Two of Cuba’s largest staples, rum and salsa music, flowed as tourists and locals danced all night long.
Bigger than the clubs and the individuals themselves, Cuba’s rich history and culture were the highlight of the trip. In all parts of Havana, museums after museums were packed full of historical information from the discovery of Cuba to the Cuban Revolution to present day Cuba and everything in between, including information on music, food, iconic individuals, and more. We were also able to learn much about the healthcare and doctors of this region, which was the main goal of our trip, seeing as Cuba is one of the leading countries in the world in healthcare.
One noteworthy negative about Cuba is that, should you find yourself out of the tourist dense areas of Havana, it will become apparent that the streets are littered with men of all ages that stare and catcall to basically every woman they see. These men usually do not hold women to the same regard as they do their male counterparts and are very persistent with occasional physical advances towards women. While there, I experienced two instances of physical altercations with men on the street that ultimately drove myself and three other women in my program to spend our last night in Cuba locked in the apartment due to insecure feelings.
That’s a lot for one journal, and yet I feel as though I didn’t even get to speak about half of what I learned and experienced in Cuba!
During my last couple of days in Cuba I remember thinking to myself, “I wish I was back home and with my host family in Mexico.” But once back with my Mexican family, thought, “I wish I was back in San Antonio (TX) with my real mom.” That was the first time that I truly felt homesick. Exactly three weeks and one day after I had left my home in the U.S.
Gracias por la compañía. See you next week if this super long post didn’t bore you away!