Cuba's digital destination
By Katherine Dobbs
A new outlook on life, a few serious sunburns, a Cuban boyfriend and hundreds of mojitos later (don’t judge!), I am back in my home base of classy Charleston, South Carolina, USA, alive and well but with an unquenchable thirst for a return trip to Cuba.
I cannot even begin to tell you the full-frontal sensory experience that Cuba has to offer: experiencing the strength and revolutionary spirit of the Cuban people, eating heaping piles of savory rice and black beans for almost every meal, dancing to reggaeton and sipping on sweet and flavorful Cuba Libres (Rum and Coke mixed drinks!), swimming in brilliant turquoise oceans, feeling the beat deep in your chest of the pulsing music and sound that comes out of the city from every corner, and cat calls from every guy over the age of 10—Cuba took me by surprise and left me wanting more.
It is a beautiful place—hauntingly so. Never one to stick to the main tourist traps, I immediately found my happy place in the back streets of Old Havana and nestled myself into the daily life of this incredible city. I lived for the smells of street food, the sounds of the bustling city life, dodging out of the way of the constantly whizzing-by like it’s the Autobahn vintage Chevrolets, and the warmth of the Cuban people that greeted me at every turn. The buildings are crumbling—or at least the ones on back streets out of the main sight of tourists, and they are decorated with Che murals, revolutionary quotes, and Hasta la victoria siempre (Victory forever) in as many bare spots as the city’s muralists can find. Many of the main buildings, El Capitolio (the Capitol) for instance, and the beautiful colonial architecture lining the world-famous walkway along Havana’s shores, the Malecón, have been gorgeously preserved and renovated. However, there is another side to the infrastructure there in Cuba, but it is a side that seemed to connect with me in a very personal and beautiful way. I found myself imagining the stories of all who had walked through those chipped doors, stood on the balconies seemingly perched by a few bricks. Looking at the architecture of Havana is like being on a treasure hunt: you honestly could never imagine what you will uncover while exploring.
That being said, I came to love that city with all my heart. I was visiting Havana on a study abroad trip: yes, twelve college-age Americans studying abroad and roaming the streets of Havana. We quickly became like family with our Cuban professor and his neighbors, friends, and family. College students in Cuba are exactly like my friends at home—they love music, parties, and hanging out with friends. I hate to admit it, but my new friends probably were more well versed in American pop culture than I was!
After classes were done for the day, we would all meet up with our new friends, and that is when the real experience began. Six or seven of us would climb into a máquina, aka almendrón (the private taxis of Cuba: vintage Chevrolets, Fords, driving at the speed of light and no seatbelts included!), piling on top of each other, laughing, singing, and excited to begin our adventures. After haggling with the stubborn Cuban driver to charge us the Cuban and not tourist price, we finally would be on our way. A few things were always necessary to begin the night. Now, Havana Club Rum is the best, most incredible rum you can buy. And we were able to buy bottles upon bottles for a ridiculously cheap cost, as most things in Cuba were not very expensive. Less than ten bucks later, my friends and I were well outfitted with our provisions for the night: rum, TuKola (Cuban version of Coke) and cups.
Flash forward about fifteen minutes of a fun, blurred taxi ride and we are being scooped out of a taxi at the Malecón walkway, ocean waves spraying over the sea wall and welcoming us to the city’s nightly party. The Malecón pulses with sound and people after nightfall—it becomes a living, breathing entity that could very well sum up the spirit of Cuba. Young and old, friends and family, all gather here to meet, greet, drink, and socialize. It is a beautiful, beautiful party, night after night, requiring no RSVP or invitation, but welcomes all with open arms and a rebel spirit.
After the Malecón nights, we would go salsa dancing, plain and simple. There really was no other option—salsa is a way of life in Cuba. So…if anyone who knows me, knows me well, they know that I was absolutely hopeless at dancing—and scared to death of it. After several soul-crushing middle school dance experiences, I gave up my hopes and dreams of being a gorgeous ballerina. However, a very special person was able to transform this girl right here into a regular dancing queen. This brings me to my novio cubano—my Cuban boyfriend. He is a green-eyed, beautiful, and wonderful Cuban student who I met only a week after being in Havana. My life would never be the same. I won’t bore you with the long details, but let’s just say I fell in love with him, and I think there’s a good chance it’s leading towards a happily ever after. He taught me to salsa, taught me to vanish my fears, and most of all taught me how to be myself in a world where so often you are forced to be someone else. It may sound exaggerated, but there is no other explanation for how I felt by the time I left this beautiful country.
I feel like in this day and age, surrounded by politics, chaos, and who knows what else, we are all just looking for a little bit of happily-ever-after in our lives. Therefore, if I know anything for certain, it is this: when life hands you something good, you take it. This was my experience in Cuba. I was presented with a constantly moving, beautifully chaotic, yet peaceful and honest life there, and I decided it was something worth having. I plan to return to beautiful Havana soon, to learn more and more about the amazing and strong people of Cuba and to continue my happily-ever-after, all with a mojito in one hand and a genuine, true smile on my face.