PERSPECTIVES: A GLIMPSE OF CUBA

PERSPECTIVES: A GLIMPSE OF CUBA

Mechelle, one of my best friends from college, recently traveled to Cuba – a place I’ve been dying to travel to! When she returned from Cuba, she couldn’t’ stop talking about how amazing it was, and I thought you might enjoy hearing about Cuba from her perspective.   

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO VISIT CUBA?
Cuba has always been the gem that we could not explore. As soon as we were allowed the opportunity to visit Cuba, I knew that I had to get there. I knew quite a few people that visited and said nothing but great things about it. I chose to visit Cuba because I was not sure if I would have the opportunity to visit Cuba in the future. I knew that if I wanted to see this beautiful place that it was best that I jump on the opportunity to go now rather than later.

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WHAT WAS THE PROCESS LIKE FOR OBTAINING A VISA TO TRAVEL TO CUBA?
Traveling to Cuba was much easier than I thought it would be. I thought that I would have to jump through hoops to get there but I did not, thankfully. I booked my flight through Delta Airlines and it was all so simple from there. When booking my flight, there were about 10 visa options. The visa option I selected was Educational Exchanges - People to People. I did not need anything to show as proof and prior to departure, at the gate, Delta distributed my visa. The cost of the visa was $50. I filled it out and presented it to customs when I got to Cuba and when I was leaving Cuba. It was valid for 30 days.  

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WHERE DID YOU STAY IN HAVANA?
We stayed in an Airbnb (apartment) in Old Havana and I would highly recommend it. It was right in the center of Old Havana so I had immediate access to everything. The owners were absolutely amazing! The apartment had air conditioning and it slept five guests. The hosts provided Cuban coffee every morning, a 1 hour Wi-Fi card when I arrived, maps, and even homemade mojitos. 

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HOW WAS VISITING CUBA DIFFERENT FROM YOUR PREVIOUS TRAVEL EXPERIENCES
Traveling to Cuba was different from my previous experiences because I did not know what to expect. Usually when I travel somewhere, I have friends or family that have been there to give me a complete run down on what I need to know and what I should expect. For this experience, I had no clue. I just knew that I wanted to go to help the Cuban people and explore their culture while doing so. There were quite a few things we did to help the Cuban people. In Havana Center, there is a school (cannot remember the name) and we helped purchase books and supplies for the school. The children also displayed and sold their paintings to make money for the school. In addition, we also provided toiletries and goods to the Cuban people.

WHAT WERE THE CUBAN PEOPLE LIKE?
The Cuban people were absolutely beautiful. They were so happy and lively and it made this travel experience one of the best ones for me yet. We went on an excursion through Vinales, Cuba and visited tobacco and pineapple farms and we were able to sit down and talk with some of the farmers. One of the farmers explained that when he farms he gives the government 90% of his actual harvest and he gets to keep 10%. Despite their government, in which most are completely okay with, the Cubans were so lively and joyful about life. The people were one of my favorite things about Cuba.

WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT CUBA?
Another one of my favorite things about Cuba was that although it is a poor country with old buildings and cars, it is very full of and rich in culture. Life was so modest there and the people were so happy and so friendly. Seeing this made me want to make life changes. Life is beautiful, always! Also, the beaches in Cuba are some of the prettiest. I did a trip to Varadero, Cuba and they have the most gorgeous beaches.  

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WHAT WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT CUBA? 
The food in Cuba was delicious but most dishes contained pork. I do not eat pork so I had challenges when it came to making sure some things did not contain pork so that I could eat it without getting sick. Other than that, the food was delicious.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO TRAVEL TO CUBA? 
Please, whenever you go, take something/anything to give to the Cuban people. Toiletries, shirts, jackets, anything because they will appreciate and be thankful for anything that you give, especially the children. We bought toiletries (tissue, lotion, and deodorant) and handed them to children and families on the street. Also, it’s extremely hot there, so bring bottled water to stay hydrated.

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Mechelle is a Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia College of Public Health. She enjoys traveling and fine dining in her (little) spare time!