On a chilly February afternoon earlier this year, my friend Cynthia and I were chatting about how neither one of us had taken a break from work or been on a real vacation in years. I really thought about the difference between a trip and a vacation. I was starting to feel mentally drained, stuck and powerless in my life--I needed a reset. We both wanted to go somewhere that would challenge and inspire us, but also allow us to disconnect. Personally, I was also on a mission to rediscover my happy, carefree self and shed this suffocating 'adult' skin I had grown. Rather than start by choosing locations, we listed out things we wanted to do and experience. Hiking. Dancing. Swimming. Learning. Sunshine. I'm a strong believer in vision boards so we started there. I added this quote that really resonated with me.
"Travel brings power and love back to your life." - Rumi
First we thought, how about Peru? Great outdoor activities, lots to learn about culture and it would definitely push us out of our comfort zone. However it was too late to register for the Macchu Picchu hike, and the lack of beaches nearby ruled it out. Next was Costa Rica - beautiful beaches, volcanoes and trails for hiking...but it seemed too tourist ridden for the kind of escape we desired. Somehow, we jumped to Cuba after that. I wrote it off almost immediately. Just thinking about the hurdles we'd have to jump through for a visa and all the documentation it would require immediately turned me off. Yet I couldn't get it out of my mind - the very fact that I had never even considered Cuba made it all the more appealing to me. I hear so little about Cuban culture and happenings, which to me meant that it was somewhat 'untouched' and pure. All I knew of the country was the overly romanticized representation of it in Dirty Dancing Havana nights, and that there had been a lot of political strife in the last 50 or so years. The more I read about their rich history, resilient citizens, and diverse landscape, the more it seemed like exactly what I needed to experience.
After pouring over a few blogs and articles about traveling in Cuba, we noticed almost everyone said it's quite an inconvenient place to travel. There's no centralized transportation, very limited internet access, English is not widely spoken, and absolutely no credit card use. Both Cynthia and I are fairly well-traveled and felt ready to take on this challenge. We booked our tickets by the end of the week. The visa process at this time wasn't bad at all (thanks, Obama--seriously!). All we had to do was list it as an educational visit and we were set. When we transferred in Fort Lauderdale, we would need to purchase the actual visa.
We planned to stay in Cuba for just over a week--enough time to see a few cities, and just long enough to totally disconnect from our lives back home. After narrowing it down to three cities, we looked into the very few options for transportation and booked what we could in advance -- the rest we'd just have to play by ear (so not my style...helloooooo anxiety!!). Instead of booking a cheesy group tour, we decided to try out Airbnb Experiences. There were lots of amazing options in Havana - salsa lessons, bike tours around the city and more. We found an experience that was all about the Afro-Cuban history and Santeria religion. It had a great mixture of activities, food, and learning. We plotted out how long to stay in each city, and the rest--well, we would figure that out as we go!
(Don't worry, the upcoming posts will have WAY more pictures and a video at the end!)