Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Postcard from Cuba: 24 Hours in Havana

What is it like when you finally place your feet on a once forbidden, mystery shrouded, yet increasingly exposed, land?  For me, emerging from my cruise ship's portal into the wide-open, humidity-laced, sun-scorched land of Havana, Cuba was on the sorts of a traveler's dream come true.  With little more than 24 hours to explore and experience the phenomenon that has become Cuba, I hardly knew where to begin.  And yet, somehow I did. 

Before I managed to wander far, my fantasy to cruise the streets of historic Havana in classic Cubano style (read: in the backseat of a top-down, brightly-hued, old-school style convertible) was becoming a living reality.  I contained my excitement long enough to arrange a two-hour tour, replete with a driver narrative of historic sights (albeit in Spanish) and occasional stops to allow for further exploration, photo ops and in-the-moment revelry.

My initial hours in Cuba were shaping up to be exactly what I had anticipated prior to arriving--except for the intense heat, I must concede.  But sweat pours aside, being greeted by exuberant locals who often mistook me for Dominican or Brazilian before I explained I was American, to ingesting the old, preserved architecture, color-dotted buildings that lined narrow streets and winding alleys, and the very apparent living conditions that reflect a local lifestyle that is still greatly impacted by the decades of relative oppression, was reminiscent of the authentic lens that I seek in my travels.

As day gave way to night, I prepared to reemerge onto the local scene and experience a Havana night that would further punctuate my time there with yet another high note.  A lover of music, dance, theater and musicals since forever, I decided on a Cabana-Style show in the Parisien Cabaret of the famous Hotel National de Cuba.  It turned out to be over-the-top in ways both good and not so good, so pace yourself if something more subdued is typically your pleasure.  Even still, it was clear that the performers shared their hearts with us and left it all on the stage, as they sang and dance the hours away.

The next morning found me resolved to brave the Cuban sun once more to take advantage of the remaining time at port.  Time dedicated to perusing and absorbing more of the essence of Havana.

I stumbled upon and browsed an outdoor bookshop, toured a nearby museum, chatted with a local or two, and snapped final parting shots, before returning to the ship and bidding farewell to this previous enigma, turned slightly familiar place.  And for a little more than 24 hours, I relished it all.

Happy Travels!

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