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:
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.
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.
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?