In April, Brenda and I met up in Paris for food, laughs, and for her to show me her version of the Parisian streets. It was friendship at first site! A true coddiwompler, Brenda travels the world for three things: Marathons (she runs for fun!!! WHAT!? @RunnerBee08), Hard Rock Cafe TShirts, and experiences.
Recently, with two days free, Brenda shot over to Cuba to beat the inevitable change that’s coming now that Capitalists are planning to mess it up with their footprints. All I asked for was answers to these questions. She’s so dope! Thanks, Brenda!
1. What surprised you most? I think I believed that La Habana was old glamour Hollywood. I believed that time stopped in 1959 but everything was just as beautiful and colorful as 1959 and that is not the case. You can see what was and how it has been difficult to maintain or upgrade because of the embargo. La Habana is a hodgepodge of different times, lives and emotions.
2. What was the scariest moment? The scariest moment was going to the airport. I started to worry if there would be any additional charges or fees. I was scared that maybe I didn’t get to the airport in enough time to check my bags and board my plane. There no boarding apps or printing of boarding passes before making it to the airport. I made it to the airport approximately 2.5 hours before departure which was sufficient time BUT when I saw the immigration line I became worried. I stood in the immigration exit line for an hour but in that time, it was pure chaos!!!! People were missing their flights because the immigration line wasn’t moving fast at all and lots of people in that line end up needing an immigration lawyer because they may not be allowed into the country. Now that I’m home and have time to reflect, I was in Cuba during a holiday weekend. I had not previously heard of chaos in the immigration exit line. I would still recommend that people get to the airport early. You can visit https://www.paultolandlaw.com/ if you ever run into any legal troubles, it is recommended to get help from a professional immigration attorney in these types of situations where you are in another country.
3. Is it a city you recommend people, specifically women, travel alone? I would not recommend La Havana for a solo women traveler who wasn’t a seasoned traveler. I was truly on my own when I traveled to La Habana. I had no phone service to the States. There are only 4 hotels in Habana with Internet access which may or may not work on any given day. I consider myself a seasoned traveler and I had to second guess myself as to what I would do if I needed to contact my family . I’ve voluntarily gone off the grind (not answering my phone) but I’ve never been forced off the grid. Otherwise, I felt COMPLETELY safe walking around during the day and at night even extremely late at night. There were no cat calls or anything that would be deemed offensive to women. I really enjoyed that I felt safe walking around considering most tourist have cash on hand because credit cards are useless.
4. How were you received by the locals? I was received quite well. Everyone was nice, on the streets, in stores, and in restaurants. Cubans love tourist because we bring money into their lives. I also brought gifts for my host… toilet paper, lotions and soaps as a kind gesture. Most people thought I was a French tourist until I opened my mouth and spoke English.
5. Did you have any divine revelations while there? Any spiritual awakenings? I can’t say that I did have any divine revelations. I felt extremely blessed that I was in La Habana, a place I’ve only read about in books and that seems so taboo for years.
6. What was the greatest thing you ate and where did you get it? What was the worst? The greatest was the lobster!!!! It was delicious and succulent. The restaurant I frequented more than once was La Taberna del Pescador. During the entire trip, I didn’t eat anything bad. I ate lobster and shrimp everyday and drank mojitos.
7. What was your reason for going to Cuba? “Brown Dolls for Brown Children” initiative. The initiative is sponsored by AfroLatino Travel (http://afrolatinotravel.com/). I worked with Dash Harris. The dolls in the stores are white dolls but the children are brown. The initiative brings brown dolls to the brown children of Cuba. It’s best to work with AfroLatino Travel because you don’t want to the dolls sold on the black market as they are very valuable and coveted.
8. Would you revisit the city? Yes. I want to visit Trinidad, Santiago and Varadero. I need to see the beautiful beaches that everyone mentioned.
9. If you have 24 hours in Cuba, what would you do there? Eat the food, follow the music, buy the art, smoke the cigars and cherish the simple things that Cuba has to offer. If you’re so inclined to take a tour, book the tour through Urban Adventures.
10. Where does it stand in your list of countries visited? It’s definitely the most unique. I’m usually one of the last of my friends to visit a country so this is a change in that I’m one of the few in my travel circle who’s visited Cuba.
11. What three things do you have to offer for someone who is going there tomorrow? (1) Make sure you have enough money for emergency purposes (2) Learn the history of Cuba while you are there and visit the museums (3) Enjoy the culture, music, art, food, cigars and liquor.
12. If you could do it all over again, what difference would you make? I would bring newspapers for my host. I didn’t realize that they had no contact with world events except what is allowed by the government. I also would bring more money to purchase more art. The art was beautiful
13. How hard was it to get the necessary paperwork to make the trip happen? It was very easy from Mexico. I paid $20USD for a Cuban Visa at the airport. The visa was the only necessary paperwork.
14. What was your mode of transportation? How should folks prepare for traveling around the city? My host provided a car for me during my visit. I paid $25CUC back and forth to the airport and about $25CUC per hour for a guided car history tour. Otherwise I walked around town. I didn’t venture too far outside of La Habana proper.
15. What kind of person is the city/country made for? The country is made for those that appreciate and can see the simple beauty of life. Cuba looks and feels like a third world country. Be prepared for anything… no soap, toilet paper, dilapidated buildings BUT also be prepared for music, art and that fact that Cuban’s are highly educated and gifted people. It’s truly a world of its own… Enjoy all it has to offer.
If you plan to go to Cuba, and want some amazing advice, reach out to Brenda on her IG listed above. Check out her amazing photos.