I didn’t know I would be having a love affair with Cuba, back in 2003, when I first visited. In fact, I didn’t know what to expect. I had been to most of the Caribbean islands, but until Ya’lla Tours became a Travel Service Provider to Cuba, I had not given the island much thought. To me, it was just another rock in the sea, though a big one: Cuba is the seventh largest inhabited island in the world.
A close-by Starbucks in Chicago was my first encounter with Cuba. I mentioned to a young woman who served me that I was going to Cuba, and she told me about how her mother had had to leave the island after the Castro Revolution some fifty years ago. I promised to take a lot of pictures.
My first impressions of Cuba were completely surprising to me. I was expecting a dour and unhappy place. Instead, I found that the Cuban people were as sunny as their tropical location, happier in their daily struggles as any people, even those in much better economic situations. Sure, scratch the surface and there was frustration, but they enjoyed what they had and looked forward to tomorrow. They seemed to find their happiness in things we often take for granted: family, friends health and nature.
And music. At night the music is everywhere, as doors and windows are thrown open and anybody who takes a walk will hear it, changing from house to house as you go along.
In 2003, Cuba was still reeling from the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had been Cuba’s main trading partner and which had subsidized their economy, and some of the grimness of the bad economy was evident.
I am going to be returning to Cuba with Ya’lla Tours in a matter of weeks, October 03-13. This will be my fourth trip, and I have seen the economy improve quite a bit. My barometer for the economy is the number of old American cars roaming the streets of Havana and elsewhere. My last trip there I noticed that there were many more of the old cars; so many, in fact, that I wondered if they were manufacturing new old cars. Of course, they aren’t, but I’ll bet every garage was scoured looking for pre-Revolution wheels.
At my local Starbucks I handed a CD of my photos to the girl at the counter. The next time I saw her, she said that her mother and grandmother looked at the pictures over and over again, and she said her grandmother cried.
I will let you know as I go how things are this year in Cuba.
The love affair continues.
Guest blogger Rich Davis is the Ya’lla Tours sales manager in the Midwest region.