Havana, Cuba: Romance vs. Reality

In a few weeks, we will be headed to Havana, Cuba. Of all the places we’ve visited, Cuba may be the most intriguing. I’ve had Havana on my list for so many years that part of me can’t believe we are actually going. At the same time, apprehension is starting to set in a bit. I know there are always unknowns when visiting a foreign country, but this trip brings it to another level. We aren’t quite sure what to expect. The Welsh-American journalist and explorer Henry Stanley, labeled Africa as the “Dark Continent” because of it’s mystery and intrigue. For many of us in the States, Cuba could be considered the “Dark Island.”

Ernesto “Che” Guevara

I’m trying to balance romanticizing Cuba with reality. Cuba has a rich, beautiful history. But it also has a history filled with violence, instability, and oppression. For better or worse, the United States has played a significant role in Cuba throughout the centuries, not always to its liking. It only takes three words to give you an understanding as to why Cubans have legitimate reasons to be a bit apprehensive about our new desire to engage: Batista, Embargo, and Guantanamo. With the changes made by the Obama administration, I’m hopeful that the presence of US tourists has a positive impact on the lives of the people.

My sister-in-law sent me a fantastic article regarding the ethics of Cuban tourism, considering the poverty and oppression that still exists. It raises the question as to whether we should even be visiting a country that is so unjust. In my opinion, we can participate if we come from a position of respect and humility. If we first learn about the history of Cuba and it’s relationship with the United States, and then set out to truly engage the Cuban community, our presence can be beneficial.

There are simple ways to interact and support the Cuban people while you visit their country. One way is to is stay at someone’s apartment (Airbnb) instead of one of the State hotels. Another would be to eat at the Paladares whenever possible. These two simple gestures help to financially support the citizens of Cuba. It also shows that our interest is in the Cuban people and not the oppressive regime.

For our stay, we rented a colonial apartment in Habana Vieja through Airbnb. The six of us plan to spend about half of our time wondering around old town and the other half outside of Havana. Our objective, other than to experience the sites and sounds that is Cuba, is to engage people at a local level. By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and interact with the Cuban people from their Sitz im Leben, we can begin to create a relationship that may never have existed between our two countries. It’s a way to show we have their interest at heart, and not our own.

Brenda and I will be documenting our trip, hopefully in real time. We’ll be doing a few lengthy reviews on Havana once we get back to the States. We’re hoping to provide others some insight regarding what to expect from this incredible country.

Thanks for checking us out!

Scott & Brenda

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