Photos from Scout Rice and Kate Higgins
Too entranced with the view of a completely different country, I hardly notice when my ankle rolls. I’ve fallen victim to the uneven cobblestone, just like all the other tourists in Cuba, courtesy of the old Spanish colonists. My reflex is to look down, tearing my eyes away from the beauty surrounding me, and I see my once-white Converse, ruined in the dirt and grime on the streets.
Cuba is perfect in a unique kind of way. What the country lacks in wealth, it makes up for in a rich history, vibrant colors and architecture, and a welcoming society.
My hope for the country is that with the influx of tourists and cash to Cubans, the old-town charm doesn’t disappear. The old woman who sold me café cubano, a sweet coffee drink, from her doorsteps shouldn’t be replaced by a drive-through Starbucks. The shiny, red 1948 convertible de soto taxi that carried my family and I through the city is more unique than any typical yellow taxi I’ve ever been in.
Tourists should continue to stay intermixed with the natives, living in their government-approved houses and interacting with them on a daily basis rather than at a Sheraton or Hilton hotel on the coast, secluded from the local society.
Looking up once more at old colonial architecture and the charming town of Trinidad, I realized why Europeans, Central Americans, Australians and everyone in between saw Cuba as a tourist destination. Up until 1961, Americans did too.
After the passing of 52 years and with President Obama’s loosening of travel restrictions, tourism in Cuba is beginning to rise with the growing arrival of Americans, whether it be by cruise ship or one of the eight main airlines like Southwest or Delta flying from the U.S.
The common Caribbean vacation for most students is a trip to the Bahamas or Dominican Republic, both places filled with resorts and generally are tourist-traps.These luxuries shield vacationers from the citizens and poverty, but Cuba is a different kind of vacation destination. Although there are resorts along the coast, visitors are welcomed into the generally safe, gunless cities by locals and encouraged to experience the authentic lifestyle.
My brother and I were able to break through the communication barrier on our trip, working to piece together their broken English and our combined knowledge of Spanish. The locals were ready to welcome my family, inviting us to ride in the old Chevrolet cars, listen to the live music at every restaurant and corner and taste their fresh produce like coffee and mangoes.
When walking down the Prado, a central street in a Havana, I saw a pink house, crumbling from age, that lacked walls, portions of the roof and floors in between. Next to it was a royal blue and cream house with intricate architectural details that the pink house also had at one point years ago. Only a few blocks down the street, the capitol building stood out in all its glory.
Every building, monument, and street hold significance to the history, and none of it should be destroyed and replaced with commercial places. The architecture and colors represent the unique aspects of Cuba, drawing tourists like me into the country as a vacation spot.
I walked through the Revolutionary Museum into rooms housing relics from revolutionaries Che Guevara and the Castros. I viewed murals that dominate random walls throughout the cities, stood next to José Marti’s 109 meter memorial, and watched citizens parade the streets flaunting T-shirts with the Cuban flag or the Castros. National pride is a huge aspect to their culture, and I hope that other visitors will appreciate that as I do, in order to preserve the pride Cubans have in their country.
Top of the line cigars, rum, coffee and sugar are the face of Cuba and desired by tourists, but underneath the souvenirs is a culture of love, giving and tradition. It is a nation reviving itself after a bloody revolution and years of tension with America.
I hope the lifestyle remains untarnished by American commercialism as Americans venture the 90 miles to the beautiful country in search of a different kind of vacation. Driving through the old cities in 1950’s cars, I saw first-hand the culturally rich country and hope that while the economy grows to better the lives of the cuban people, the history remains.