Why do so many people fall in love with Cuba?
What is it about Cuba that enchants visitors? It’s rare to find the person who has visited the island and hasn’t left with the sense of having seen something unique and magical. For some travelers it’s the music; for others it’s the cocktails and for some it’s the iconic sights of golden beaches, candy-colored cars and palm trees swaying in a Caribbean breeze. For many visitors to Cuba, the most memorable experience is the interaction with the people – individuals who have seen some incredibly difficult and uniquely Cuban hard times, but who are also candid, humorous, welcoming to visitors and impressively resilient.
But what about those people? Are they as enchanted with their home as the hoards of tourists who descend on it every year? I would say yes.
Our dear friend and some-time colleague Yuri, a Camaguey native, has agreed to share some of his impressions and experience of his beloved Cuba in our blog! He starts by describing the scene at the Hotel Nacional, where he and Danny had just finished a tour.
You could hear the toasts of glasses full of Mojitos tinkling over a background noise of laughter, chatter and curses; all mingled in a dense smog from scented habanos and the omnipresent Tres* music, sneaking under your skin without permission. Yes, it sounds like the Graham Greene’s novel Our Man in Havana, but it was not; this was a regular day at the gardens of Hotel Nacional, a decadent 1930s hotel, still reminiscent of those days when Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky frequented its suites. It is true, the Hotel Nacional was the chosen venue for the 1946 meeting of the Mafia, where Il capi de tutti il capi came, to put everybody in the business on the same page once and for all. It is also the place of demigods of public life from Nat king Cole to Teofilo Stevenson, Sir Alexander Flemming and Rita Hayworth.
Despite the threat of heavy showers, you could not see anyone carrying a raincoat under their arm in Havana. If it rains, then let it rain; Siempre que llueve, escampa**. We, Danny and I, were in the gardens of the hotel along with a father and his two sons – our tour group for the week – having the tour farewell drink. It had been my training tour – a Rite of Passage into the mysteries of tour guiding, a rite in which Danny was presented to me as the guru. I had been there all week, afraid of screwing up everything at every word uttered. On top of that, I had forgotten to tell our three clients that it was quite possibly going to rain that afternoon. In the tour guiding industry, the ability to foretell the future is crucial, no matter your source of intel, the morning whether report, A la Mesa restaurants rating app, or the visions of a Babalawo***: you have to be able to say what’s coming next!
Indeed, everyone got soaked, but we were happy. Danny’s notorious ability to dodge obstacles, in a country where the unexpected is the expected, had gained us some credit with our clients. They left the hotel soaked but happy and I felt as if I was finishing the Twelve Labours of Hercules.
Afterwards, sitting there with two or three daiquiris (it was Hemingway’s favourite drink after all) circulating in our blood streams, we faced the ocean. Flanked by a couple of huge cannons that supposedly would protect the Hotel from maritime assaults, a stone’s throw from the still opened trenches of the 1962 Missile Crisis, we could not be less than blatant megalomaniacs, and I, pointing away to my left side said:
Danny, this half of the planet is mine, the rest is yours.
This is being in Cuba: getting in touch with its people, witnessing the daily struggles and sensing the history of places like Hotel Nacional.
It makes you feel the life palpitating deep in your chest.
Yuri. Tour guide and part time physician.
*3 sets of 2 strings Cuban instrument similar to as Spanish guitar.
**Whenever it rains, eventually it ceases. Cuban common saying.
*** Revered Afrocuban religion priest, fortune teller, spiritual advisor.