Visiting Cuba for the very first time is like none other travel experience. Here are my thoughts ahead of my inaugural trip to the Caribbean island, from the perspective of a Romanian-American.
by Monica Suma
As a sassy five year old, I remember my determination in putting red beads together, one-by-one, on a long, thin thread, for a very well thought out gift for my mother. It had been a few months since she had been away on an extended trip abroad and I missed her terribly.
At the time, I was upset she hadn’t taken me with her. In reality, she was traveling to the United States for the first time, to visit her sister, which she hadn’t seen in eighteen years. It was 1990, in a former communist Romania that was suddenly breathing the sweet taste of freedom. For the first time in decades, Romanians were now allowed to travel to non-Soviet countries, granted you got the visa. In those early days, you were lucky if you received a visa for two weeks for yourself, let alone for other members of your family. It was the first time we found out the lady my mother was occasionally writing letters to was in fact our aunt, not just a friend, and that the “forbidden land” that was America all those years ago, was now a little bit closer.
This is how I imagine Cubans must feel, not having been able to travel to the US for so many decades, and vice versa, Americans not being able to enjoy the beauty of a land that is so close, yet so far away.
In my case, twenty some years later, both my parents and I can now travel anywhere in the world. As a citizen of the European Union, I could go to Cuba anytime; as a US citizen, not so much. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. And yet, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to live this experience, given my country’s tormented political past. Although I was too young to ever know, I understand what living in a fenced isolation must feel like, at least through my parents’ eyes. I also know what it means to take so many comforts of every day life - including what life is like in today’s Romania - for granted. I am now searching for that perfect balance.
And so, what I am mostly looking for in Cuba is meeting its wonderful people. Having traveled so much already, and having interviewed plenty of people that have been there, I know for a fact that it will be a travel experience like none other. For Cubans don’t ever seem to give in to despair. I want to learn from them how to enjoy the simplest things in life, and I want to see the authentic smiles of children’ faces that are content and proud to dance to the beats of Cuban music. I want to spend hours with a guajiro to see what his every day life is and read from the creases on his face some of his country’s history.
I don’t like salsa, and I’m not much of a dancer. However, I know once there, gazing at the sunset on the Malecón, I will have an urge of succumbing to its beats. I want to steal its energy and its happy vibes.
As I close my eyes, I’m envisioning my sandals eagerly pounding the cobblestone pavements of an architecturally enrapturing Old Havana, swirling the pleats of my summery dress to a fine tune in Hemingway’s finca, sipping a divine mojito, listening to incredible jazz, and smiling at the sight of the brightest, liveliest colors I may ever get to see.
A transformative travel experience is upon me; take me to Cuba, I am ready.