my love for cuba runs deep

So I’m sitting here in a coffee shop, alone ( shout out to me-time, trying to do this WAY more often! ) and I’m just reminscing about my recent trip to Cuba. As I said before, I absolutely loveeee Cuba. There’s something about the people, the culture, the lack of wifi and the beautiful beaches that just really gets me going. The day after I got back from Cuba, my Instagram timeline was being overwhelmingly blown up by the Kardashians ( as they do ) on a family vacation. This time I knew the “exotic” location looked familiar & after a quick click through, I realized they were in Cuba.

My first thought was “OMG – not only were they filming Fast & Furious while I was in Cuba, the Kardashians were there at the same time too. HOW cool” & then I quickly realized that what the Kardashians were posting didn’t look legit to me. They were posing with big, fat cigars in their mouths, wearing designer clothing and spiky high heels while traveling in a limo and going to the super touristy places in Havana that were totally shut down just for them.

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Their captions were all about loving Cuban culture, praising the kindness and devotion of the Cuban workers and basically just gushing about how much they loved “Cuba”.

I’m not gonna lie – this made me really mad. Kind of sick feeling, angry and annoyed. How can they gush about loving Cuba and Cuban culture when what they were involving themselves in was superficial things that they could post on Instagram and get a million likes?

What I really saw them loving was attention.

But why am I surprised?

I’ve seen enough “family vacation” specials of Keeping Up With The Kardashians that I should know that the exotic locales that they visit aren’t TRULY experienced and appreciated, but I guess I always just took it at face value. I’d never visited any of the locations that they’ve featured on KUWTK – surprise surprise, who can afford a trip for 15+ to St. Barts or Bora Bora…

I love Cuba for all the same reasons that the Kardashians were posting about. The culture is welcoming and inclusive, the people I’ve met in Cuba are the kindest, most sincere people that I know, they are extremely devoted to everything that they do… Cuba is as phenomenal as the Kardashians say it is, but I don’t really think that they truly appreciated it or realized it. They were too busy looking for a photo op, smoking a cigar and traveling in a limo to really experience CUBA.

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The Cuba that I know and love isn’t experienced through the tinted windows of a limosine. It’s not walked through in spiky thousand dollar heels. It’s not adventured through while wearing a full face of makeup, perfectly applied by your traveling glam squad.

The Cuba that I know and love is experienced through the old minivan, driven by the kindest soul you met on the beach, who takes you to his house for lunch prepared by his wife. It’s walked through in flipflops that you aren’t super attached to because you bought them with the thought in mind that you may leave them behind for your maid who always had your room cleaned and left you the cutest towel creations on your bed with fresh flowers or for the super awesome and devoted bartender that makes you feel so welcomed and cared about on your stay. It’s adventured through while wearing no makeup and with probably un-brushed hair, because you’ve been too busy sightseeing on double decker buses and being in & out of the chlorine pool or salty water of the ocean to even bother to try to drag a brush through your hair.

There is no place like Cuba.

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Stand-outs from my past Cuba trips include ( but are not limited to ):

++ We were approached by a man ( who insisted he was a lifeguard for our resort ) on my first trip to Cuba. He asked us if we had been to Havana yet – we were staying in Varadero which wasn’t much farther than an hour and a bit away from Havana and it was one of the most advertised, talked about and encouraged day trips by our travel agency. We said ‘no’ and he offered to take us to Havana on his day off. He said he owned a minivan and could take all 5 of us with him. Havana was where his family lived and he wanted to show it off. We said we would get back to him and the next day we told him ‘yes, please take us’… I was 18 at the time, Daniel was 19 but we were traveling with 3 older ladies ( one was his mom’s BEST friend so we felt safe ) and they were all down to come on the random day trip with us. Now I’m not gonna lie – my anxiety was off the chain the night before and during the drive to Havana but I am honestly SO glad that we took him up on his offer. We really got to experience Havana. He stopped along the drive a few times to show us gorgeous views, point out tourist attractions & he showed us universities, children’s schools, hospitals and more. It was really amazing. We saw places in Havana that really mattered to HIM and to his history as a Cuban citizen. Sure, we saw some tourist attractions like Hemingway’s, cigar factories and lots of statues / murals, but he also showed us things that he was proud of – things that made him proud to be Cuban and to want to share his culture with us.

++ Day trip to the sugar cane factory. Okay, seriously there was a ton of other things that happened on this day trip too, and I mean yeah, they were really cool but nothing was as standout to me as the sugar cane factory was. The past two times I went to Cuba, I’ve stayed at the same resort in Cayo Coco. Cayo Coco is an island on the island basically. It’s separate from Cuba – there’s like a road that attaches it to the main island ( I guess it’s not really an island on the island because an island is a solo thing… and this is attached… whatever, bare with me ). There are no Cubans that live in Cayo Coco. It is strictly resorts and tourists are the main inhabitants which is cool because it’s SO peaceful and you aren’t right in the hustle and bustle of a city like Varadero – HOLY BUSY! But it’s also not that great because you don’t get to meet a ton of people or wander and end up in a different part of town and experience CUBA. So anyway, we went on this day trip to Moron and the best part was the second to last part when we went on a train ride through the sugar cane factory. There were so many smiling kids chasing the train and waving to us. They were SO happy and SO cute. They loved their lives and it made me so happy.

++ The staff ( bartenders, maids, hotel workers, gardeners, security, etc ) that I’ve interacted with. Never in my life have I met people who are more passionate about everything that they do and who are so willing to go above & beyond for others. There have been so many stand-outs, but the one who stands out the most is the ‘mojito man’. Daniel and I remember him from our first time at Memories and he was always super accomodating but this year one of the guys we traveled with instantly connected with him and from then on, he was ALWAYS asking us if we needed anything, talking to us and he even gave us all shell / bone carvings and seemed genuinely upset when we were leaving. Even the gardeners in Cayo Coco were always friendly and welcoming.

Basically I’m just obsessed with Cuba and I encourage you all to go and really experience it. Or go somewhere else & get to know people, talk to them, ask them questions, listen to their stories, go to places that aren’t SUPER touristy, go on an excursion that isn’t planned out for you by your travel agency, etc. Really experience it and you’ll be so incredibly thankful that you did. Do you guys have any go-to places that you could travel to over and over and not get sick of? Mine is definitely Cuba…

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