This week’s hike doesn’t really qualify as a hike. It was more a walk, a wander, an amble aimlessly around historic Havana. Yes, Havana, Cuba.
It all started a few years back when the U.S. lifted the travel ban to Cuba. My travel BFF, Emilee and I dreamily declared how wonderful it’d be to get to the island before it got too touristy. This year, we put that into action.
While our entire time in Havana was amazing, I thought I’d focus on our “Historic Havana Walking Tour.” See, you can’t just hop on a plane to Cuba for no reason. You need a tourist visa and to get said visa, you need some type of reason (educational, cultural, work related, etc.) for visiting. Taking a historic walking tour counts as educational, so we were all set.
We met our guide, David, and started our tour in a square adjacent to the main port. It was around 10 a.m. and the sun was reflecting off the whitewashed buildings and churches. As we meandered down a side street, many of which are closed off to cars (including the fantastically colorful classic cars that cruise the streets alongside brand new Toyotas, tuk tuks and mopeds), the whitewash turned to turquoise, yellow, salmon and every color of the rainbow. The colors made the old buildings seem so much brighter. Not that they need much help with that because the sun is a constant companion in the city.
We came to the main square flanked on three sides by cafes and shops and headed by a Catholic church. David gave us some free time to wander around, and while most people in our group made their way to the church, I made a beeline back down the alley we walked through into a bookstore housed next to the hotel that Ernest Hemingway stayed in. (#BookNerdAndProud) After making my purchase (Surprisingly they had no Hemingway books, so I picked up a book about the mafia in Havanna), I went back to the square and rejoined everyone else sitting on the steps in the shade of a café.
As I’m attempting to form the remainder of this blog post, I’m realizing how little I paid attention to David’s wonderful history lesson. I was constantly looking around at the historic buildings, eavesdropping on conversations – attempting to make out what little I could with my poor Spanish, and generally just taking in the sights around me. The colors, the heat, the zest, the noise – it was all so different than Northeast Ohio, and I couldn’t have been happier to be immersed in something so unfamiliar. I’ve been asked quite a bit about my favorite part of the trip, and there isn’t one answer. I loved wandering around the streets of Havanna – looking, listening and learning. I loved listening to the people talk about their country and how they’re looking forward to the future, but also incredibly proud of their past. I loved eating the Cuban sandwiches and a few things that I couldn’t pronounce and still have no clue what they were (other than delicious). I loved experiencing a culture that will hopefully accept outside visitors, but resist the commercialism that comes with them. I simply loved being somewhere different.
There is something magical that happens when we jump out of our comfort zone.