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¡Viva Cuba libre!

It’s been 3 years since I visited this beautiful nation of Cuba. This was the trip that helped rediscover myself and inspired me to follow my true passion in life. It was this same trip that opened my eyes on how extremely fortunate I am and realizing that we often take freedom for granted. The friends that I met on this trip turned out to be some of the coolest people I’ve ever met and I lived some of my best moments with these folks.

Why did I choose Cuba of all places? I was still kind of fresh out of college and I had a strong desire to explore the world. Since I started making a little bit of money, I now found the means to afford a vacation. Sure I could’ve gone to Europe like most people do upon graduating but I wanted a different type of experience. I wanted to go somewhere new, a place where most people haven’t been to.

During that time we still had my main man Barack Obama in office and the US  was finally easing up tensions with our neighbor. Even before talks about US visitation took place, I thought about how cool it would be to see the world from a different era. Cuba provided this experience where the cars and buildings have not changed since the 50’s. I saw this as a perfect opportunity to come.

I knew I had to act fast because T.V. shows from Anthony Bourdain and the Kardashians rapidly built interest in visiting Cuba. It was only a matter of time before the world tried to move in and commercialize everything. That’s when my fraternity brother Rudy Calderon came in and offered a special opportunity to see Cuba. Rudy is a global studies major who has years of experience of traveling all over the world but this was one trip that he didn’t even know what to expect… None of us knew what to expect but one thing for sure is that we were open-minded and that’s all you need.

So there we were, a group of 6 individuals curious to see what Cuba had in store for us. None of us knew each other with the exception of Rudy. By the end of trip we became the best of buds and I will forever be grateful for Rudy to have put this trip together.

We spent the first half of the trip in Havana, a city filled with tons of history and culture. It’s hard to pinpoint what was my favorite memory about this place but I would like to think that drinking cold Cristals (Cuba’s official beer) during sunset by the Malecon, listening to a live Salsa set from the famous club El Cato Tuerto, or checking out the hipster scene at Fabrica de Arte Cubano is up there.

If you consider yourself a person who loves technology and always feels the need to stay connected to the internet, then you might have a tough time in Cuba. Believe me when I tell you it really feels like you’re in a different era largely because these resources are scarce in Cuba. There’s only a handful of spots in all of Havana that offers wifi. This only makes the trip better because you’re forced to engage with the Cuban culture on a more personal level.

I recall waking up every morning to the sounds of different music instruments being played by the locals from the street. As I carried on throughout my day, it felt like my mind was continuously playing a music video because everything I saw in front of me appeared as art. From the type of Spanish dialect being spoken, the street sounds, and the views brought me so much peace. Each encounter I had with a local was very pleasant and I saw Cubans as some of the most peaceful on the planet. The way of life was so simple.

Food was basic but in a good way. In Cuba you’re bound to eat fresh organic food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Despite the widespread of poverty, this may contribute to the idea on why nearly every Cuban citizen looks healthy and have a long life expectancy. Menu options is limited in a lot of restaurants so don’t come with high expectations and bring a hot sauce bottle. Aside from that, the drinks were spectacular! Best mojitos, best rum and best coffee ever. It also doesn’t take an avid tobacco smoker to enjoy their cigars. I would say I smoked a Cohiba each day.

I spent the remainder of the trip in the colonial town of Trinidad. This was a more slow-paced environment where the people were just as equally nice. I mostly enjoyed my time here by bumming at the beach all day and drinking at the town’s central square. It was also nice finding a gorgeous home to crash at for almost $10 USD a night.

The trip was coming to an end and I couldn’t have been more satisfied with the overall adventure I had. I left all my worries at home including the personal issues I was dealing with at the time. Ironically I felt the most freedom in a country where the government is known for having stripped some of the freedoms from it’s people. Also couldn’t have enjoyed this experience as much without the special peeps I met. I didn’t want the trip to end but I did acquire hope that I would return one day.

If you plan on coming to Cuba one day, just remember to come with an open mind. Eat where the locals go. Avoid staying in the mainstream hotels and crash at the casas paticulares. Try not to take pictures of everything and take a moment to admire the views. Cuba will be a wake-up call for you and I hope it brings you peace as it did to me.

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