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Coming Back Home to Cuba

Coming Back Home to Cuba

Upon arrival at the passport control I’ve noticed that they had new cameras at the booths. They took my picture and stored it. Go Cuba go! Talk about becoming modern.

My foreign friend waited for me outside, he’s been living in Cuba for the past 20 years doing business with the Cuban government. Due to this his take on Cuba is extremely interesting, not to mention how well he knows the city.

We stood there for a second; my bags beside me. A little puppy walked up to me and sat between my two suitcases leaning on one, and gave me a little grin as if to say, “I am with you.” Great, I’ve been adopted by a Cuban dog, and yes, inside the airport! Welcome to Cuba! I’ve turned to my friend and said:” I’ve arrived with two bags, now I have my bags and a dog.” We both laughed. I love how unpredictable Cuba is.

We’ve walked towards my friend’s car. His license plate was orange which signified a foreign worker. He suggested we’d go for a quick bite and then he’d drop me off at my hotel. Sounded good to me! Before I knew it we were in front of the sea, steaming hot and humid, and my feet dipped in the water. I was in heaven. Yes, I was back!

We had a great lunch, which was delicious. We did not manage to get even one smile out of the waitress but the guys were all smiles talking to me. I was enjoying every bit of it. It didn’t matter that I looked like a mess after over 14 hours of travel. Yes, I certainly was back in Cuba, I thought to myself. I have missed the constant flirty sweet attention men gave me here.

I was taking in every word of my friend’s stories. He has a complete different take on life in Cuba than the professional dancers I typically hang out with. I love immersing myself into a culture till I get it. And with Cuba, it honestly felt like I am seeing history in the making – their way of thinking, the depth of their history, the rich traditions, and the recent changes. Cuba is messy and full of life. It draws me in.

We’ve finished lunch and drove to my hotel. The hotel workers were so happy to see me. ”Has it been a year already?” they asked. They always react as if I have lived here my whole life. “Yes,” I’ve replied. It was great to see them too. Typically when they see my name on the list, they reserve the best room for me, with a great big balcony facing the Malecón at the top floor. It’s like one big family in Cuba and this is a big part of why I love and miss it so much.

My friend and I made plans for that evening to go explore part of the city that I did not know, and he left. I turned towards the elevator and there was Javier, my travel agent, with my voucher for the hotel; all smiles. It was so nice to see him again after a year. We sat down and discussed the details of the tour which was about to arrive, the one that I was leading, making sure that everything was ready. And then we caught up on life.

Javier left and I then went on a quest to try and organize a local cell phone for myself with Cubacel, the Cuban cell company. I’ve asked for directions at reception and was given rough ones heading on Galiano Street towards Chinatown, yet I could not find it. I’ve asked for help and got three contradicting answers from three different people. They all seemed convincing. They were actually pretty specific – turn left, walk five blocks etc. And then I realized that they had no clue, but could not admit it either. Welcome to Cuba! So after a long walk that led nowhere, I decided to call it quits for the day. The charming men wooing me on the streets of Havana kept me busy and happy. Nothing ever works in Cuba according to plan anyway, but honestly it’s a big part of what makes this place so charming. Cuba is just full of surprises!

I’ve desperately needed some sleep after the overnight flight so I decided to head back to the hotel. When I got back I asked again about Cubacel just to find out that I was really close. My plan was to go on another quest the following day and this time to nail it down.

I got upstairs and was planning on calling all my friends letting them know, one by one, that I was back in town. But I was so tired that I put my head down for two seconds and woke up 3 hours later. I got up and called my best friends – Yeri and Israel. Yeri was so happy to hear my voice and so was I. I’ve missed them so much. It felt like I was glowing just from hearing Yeri’s voice, and so was she. They told me that they were planning on passing by the hotel the following day in the evening after work in order to see me. I could not wait to get a Yeri hug and give her one.

I’ve made a few more phone calls and unpacked my luggage. Things were grooving along and I was slowly adjusting to the leisurely pace of Havana. It was seriously time for a shower. And just then the phone rang and it was Zuyima, one of my dance teachers. She was downstairs. I went downstairs to catch up with her. We talked for a while; she asked me a gazillion questions trying to condense the whole year into an hour. I then realized that my friend was about to pick me up and I hadn’t even showered. I said goodbye to Zuyima and dashed upstairs. Shower, got dressed and my friend arrived.

We drove across the water to El Morro, the fortress that used to protect the city from pirate attacks. I’ve never been there at night time. It was a beautiful sight of Havana with the colours of the sunset reflecting on the water. As I watched Havana from afar with its old colonial buildings and the old American cars from the 50s, I could almost imagine what this city was like before the revolution.

We then drove to a place that I have never visited before – upstairs was great dinner and downstairs were entertaining late live shows of son and bolero. We drank rum and joked about how the format of the show was always the same – ask where people came from, stretch the Buena Vista song to five minutes, and so on. Hilarious!

Cuba is a very authentic place – what is ugly is ugly and what is beautiful is beautiful. When we arrived, my friend asked the doorman for who was performing that night. The guy mentioned the name of a singer and my friend replied, “La gorda y vieja?” [The fat and old one?]. The doorman laughed and confirmed it. It’s normal in Cuba to speak like that. You don’t pretty things up. You say them as they are. And fat and old she was! I smiled to myself as she took her place on the stage and sang. I was glowing. How could I ever explain to people the unique charm of this place, the treasure that I have found here?

We hung out till late, drank, chatted and enjoyed the show. I even got up one time to dance. It wasn’t exactly the kind of place where people dance, but this is Cuba and at one point people just got up and enjoyed the music. I was dancing with a Cuban guy some salsa and a bit of rumba. He just loved the fact that I could really dance. The guys sitting behind us were from Spain, and even though I’ve told them that I was from Israel, they’ve asked me if I was Cuban. I explained that I was training professionally with the National Folklore Group of Cuba and they added: ”You dance like a Cuban.” I smiled my flirty Cuban smile waving them goodbye as we’ve left. They made me feel good.

I got to my hotel and passed out. I am pretty sure that I woke up with a stupid smile on my face. I was back in Cuba. I was back home. And it felt so good.

Chen Lizra
Chen Lizra, an Israeli-Canadian dancer, TED speaker and entrepreneur, is the best-selling author of My Seductive Cuba which mixes her personal anecdotes with an essential travel guide. Think Eat, Pray, Love meets Lonely Planet!

The book won two awards in the US because of its originality. Chen has been leading boutique tours for only ten people inside authentic Cuba since 2008. Her connection to the arts scene through years of dance training gives her an interesting angle on the island.

Twitter: @ChenLizra,
Facebook: clizra,
Instagram: clizra. My Seductive Cuba Tour
Travel on a boutique tour with the bestselling author of My Seductive Cuba. Chen can also be booked to lead private tours, design or customize tours, and to consult individuals and companies.

Embarking on a Hemingway tour in search of the famous American writer’s imprint in Havana, and driving around in old American cars from the 50s. Enjoying a unique, colourful and intense Afro-Cuban show, dance classes with professional dancers, touring in rural Cuba, and indulging in the waters of a white sandy beach in the Caribbean.

Discover a Cuba that hardly a handful gets to experience on this ten day journey. Be one of the lucky ones to go on an exclusive trip with bestselling author, Chen Lizra…. Enough books have been written about Cuba to fill an entire library, but few take the approach Chen Lizra does with “My Seductive Cuba.” Deeply personal and always engaging, Lizra – an Israeli-born dance instructor and entrepreneur now living in Canada – fuses history and politics with her real-life experiences among the people of this often-visited but little-understood island. The result is a moving portrayal of Cuba on the verge of historic change. Packed with practical information on where to go in Cuba, what to pack and the best ways to get there, “My Seductive Cuba” also helps readers ferret out persistent opportunists while finding Havana’s best reggaetón, flamenco, jazz and salsa clubs. A glossary of Cuban slang and a description of the Santería religion – along with a vivid chapter titled “Getting Possessed” – makes Lizra’s humorous travel guide even more compelling. This is one book you won’t want to be without, even if you don’t plan on going anywhere!   July 2011

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