A missed opportunity, subjunctively speaking

At the point where the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Caribbean Sea meet, lies an island of 12 million people fewer than 100  miles from our Florida coast.  Yet it’s a travel destination few Americans consider.

That may be due to the official prohibition against travel to this land that was once firmly enmeshed in the pocket of the Soviet Union — a relationship forced upon her when the US set the embargo on trade to Cuba, shortly after Fidel Castro ousted the US-backed military dictator, Fulgencio Batista.

Sour grapes have a very long shelf life, it seems.

This was the second time I planned to see Cuba (both through the help of Toronto based Jenny Cressman <JennicaCuba.com>) and both times stymied by myopic restrictions my government imposes. It’d be easier for me to travel to Vietnam!

For a refresher of my first trip — the one that also “might have been” — click on these two links:

My Cuba Trip: The Pre-View

My Cuba Trip: The Post View

 

The Lonely Planet calls Cuba “Timeworn but magnificent, dilapidated but dignified, fun yet maddeningly frustrating” and says it’s a country of indefinable magic.

I imagine I’d agree with their assessment, were I able to write about going there without fearing financial ramifications from my government. Last I read, the fine is $250,000 for going purely as a beach-loving tourist.

In many ways, I imagine this trip would have been similar to the one three years ago.  I’d have found the food at the all-inclusive resort both sufficient and healthy. (IMHO, food is not the reason one travels to Cuba.)

The weather (I’ve read) is lovely this time of year, though, had we been there, we’d have experienced a short run of unusually hot days: a nice break from the very long snowy winter we know we’ll have here in Vermont.

The music is omnipresent and loud (and  particularly unpleasant for those with hearing aids), though it can be appealingly personal (I’ve been told). And the people are friendly, diverse, and poor.

This year my travel companions would have been Woody and my mom, Mildred. I imagine they would have been happy to answer any questions you might have had for them.  As would I (have been).  Alas.

 

Three happy travelers. Woody, on my left; my mom, on my right. That was the only time I wore that hat btw.

 

I grew up believing someday I’d see the world. I also grew up, and perhaps you did too, hearing about “the iron curtain,” that metaphor for the travel barrier that the USSR imposed upon their citizens, preventing them from traveling outside the confines of their Soviet empire.  I remember feeling sorry for these people I did not yet know, the ones prevented from seeing a way of life they couldn’t even imagine. And I remember thinking how lucky I was to live where I did, where I did not have such limitations.

Americans, I was taught proudly, were free to travel wherever we wanted, constrained only by our ability to pay. I grew up feeling very lucky that I was not one of those poor Soviets.

What I was not taught was that that freedom I was so proud of was restricted when it came to this jewel only fifty to seventy miles off our southern shore.

Americans have been restricted in traveling to Cuba since 1963, and from trading with Cuba since 1960. The travel ban was lifted under President Jimmie Carter, reinstated under Ronald Reagan, and has now been tweaked so often it’s difficult to know what’s actually enforced, what’s the right (or smart) thing to do as an American who wants to see what it’s really like, and what to believe.

Websites offering Americans “legal travel to Cuba” are proliferating. I’d love to know what their profit margin is however.  Check out <CubaExplorer.com> and <InsightCuba.com> if you are interested. There’s also one through National Geographic. Then compare their prices with what Toronto-based Jenny Cressman offers through her <JennicaCuba.com>) and see why the Canadians are a lucky lot, indeed.

 

A typical morning view

How about you? Are you or have you been a traveler? Have you felt that pull to know what lies beyond a border? What restraints have you experienced in your ability to travel at will? And, what might have been the questions you would have asked us, were we allowed to openly admit to traveling there? 

20 Responses

  1. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    I didn´t realize Americans still can’t visit Cuba. Many Canadians love traveling to Cuba.

  2. Pamela Wight
    | Reply

    Several of my friends have traveled to Cuba recently. One American couple arrived on a cruise. The enjoyed getting (cruise-sponsored) tours given by locals who had to be very, very careful of what they said. This couple were surprised at how poor the country was, how little the people had, and how discontent was replaced at night with music.
    My nephew and his girlfriend (from D.C.) visited Cuba two months ago on their own (not sure how they did it – they’re in their late 20s and quite the travelers). They LOVED the country, rented a car and drove all over, spent time on the beaches but mostly enjoyed the nights in the music scene. They don’t have a lot of money (stayed in hostel-type places most of the time). Yay for them!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Pam. It was shocking to me to learn the price of some of the American based “legal” tours to Cuba, as I prepared this post. Five to ten times what it costs to go from Canada! As for your nephew — do ask him if they got their passports stamped. Cuban passport control puts a sticker on the outside of American passports, which can be removed prior to returning through our own border crossing. They will not stamp. (They like our tourism dollars). I’m so glad you mentioned their trip. Many Americans go from time to time, but for financial reasons they go via Mexico or Canada or Jamaica, etc. We had a neighbor when I lived in Philly who organized a bike tour there each year, but they all flew out of Mexico. And then left their bikes behind.
      Janet Givens recently posted…A missed opportunity, subjunctively speakingMy Profile

  3. Clive Pilcher
    | Reply

    The US treatment of Cuba seems odd to those of us who live thousands of miles away. I have friends who have been there – not Americans – and they loved the country and its people. I wonder if many Americans know why such (to me) seemingly random sanctions are still in place? Not much chance of the current President changing anything, is there!
    Clive Pilcher recently posted…The Great Pea DisasterMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      So much of what we do often seems odd to Europeans, I know. I recall fondly a discussion with our Dutch friends about gun ownership in the US. Yes, we are a worrisome lot. The reasons for the continued blockade have much to do with the large number of Cuban refugees who have settled here since 1959. They quickly formed a rather powerful political bloc that Washington listened to. Slowly, they are dying off and their children and grandchildren don’t appear to be as vengeful; so I am hopeful that barriers can come down in my lifetime. Still, I’m not at all supportive of the idea of the US just moving in again. I’d hate to see their pristine beaches filled with hi rise condominiums like so much of my east coast now has. I hope you get a chance to visit there, Clive.
      Janet Givens recently posted…A missed opportunity, subjunctively speakingMy Profile

  4. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Wow, Janet. What a fascinating travelogue! I enjoyed living this vicariously. I recall you mentioning it so I’m happy to hear your dream came true. And to experience Cuba with your grandson—you have made an amazing memory that will stay with him for a long time.

  5. Laurie Buchanan
    | Reply

    Janet — Like Darlene foster, I, too, didn’t realize that Americans still can’t visit Cuba. I never fail to learn something new in your posts. Thank you!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      You are very welcome, Laurie. Cuba has fascinated me since the early ’60s. I only wish it were just a bit easier to get there. I always find it interesting to hear my own American history as seen from the other side.
      Janet Givens recently posted…A missed opportunity, subjunctively speakingMy Profile

  6. Jenny Cressman
    | Reply

    Perhaps I should add a new slogan to my website (www.jennicacuba.com) to encourage American travelers by indicating that I won’t discriminate against them due to their nationality! Most non-Canadians who’ve gone with me to Cuba, whether on my bus tours of the island or to my “second home” along the isle’s southern sole, have felt they had a right to travel there if they wanted. They lived their dreams!
    Jenny Cressman recently posted…There’s still space! It’s not too late…My Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Or you could do as we did when we told folks we were American: we always added, “Shhhhh.” And they’d chuckle. You make it very easy to go there, Jenny. I’m so glad I found you (through Shirley Showalter a few years ago).
      Janet Givens recently posted…A missed opportunity, subjunctively speakingMy Profile

  7. Cathy Marshall Monaghan
    | Reply

    Hola, Janet! Many Americans fly to Cuba via Cancún, México. Flights to Cancún from the USA are very reasonable most of the time. Cancún to Cuba is usually under $200 round trip, and even cheaper off season. I’m glad you finally made your dream come true, and I can’t wait to see your photos!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hola, mi amiga. I remember seeing a notice for a flight to Cuba when we were in Cancun years ago. But I didn’t know what to expect and time was limited. I chickened out, in effect. Now that I’ve done some homework, . . . I’ve got the photos off my phone and onto my computer. The rest will come probably Saturday. Fingers crossed. (thanks for the reminder).
      Janet Givens recently posted…A missed opportunity, subjunctively speakingMy Profile

  8. Frank V. Moore
    | Reply

    Way to go, Janet! Doesn’t it feel good to thumb your nose at anachronistic stupidity – – well, all stupidity, actually. Can’t wait for the pics. Cuba is on my bucket list, but I’m afraid that’s where it will stay. Haven’t done any traveling in quite a few years. It’s a major logistical endeavor just to get to Salisbury!

  9. Ally Bean
    | Reply

    When I was younger I was more of a world traveler, but now I’m content to stay home, or travel regionally. Still Cuba does look and sound interesting.
    Ally Bean recently posted…In Which I Snark About Something Regarding Interior Design Whilst Sharing Words Of WisdomMy Profile

  10. Carolyn
    | Reply

    How sad to think one can be barred from travelling to a country (except where it is clearly dangerous to go like Libya currently). It sure seems like sour grapes. Cuba is a very popular destination for British tourists and all I have met have been charmed by the people, loved the country and architecture (and the vintage cars). They often take little presents, especially if stopping in hotels, as tips for local women (nice underwear, sanitary products etc) and usually return to see more. It deserves to be visited.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      It’s a simple way to support the locals, with whom we have much contact actually. Woody cleaned out his fishing paraphernalia, mostly reels and one pole, which was challenging to wrap. My dentist’s office gave me a slew of toothbrushes, and my mom and I also had our collections to distribute. Or we would have, if only we’d been allowed to go openly. 🙂 Thanks for joining us here Carolyn.
      Janet Givens recently posted…POWER: My word for 2020My Profile

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