by Eleanor Chatman
Yes, I know what you have been hearing about Cuba, thanks to the thaw in U.S. relationships with the country that has been cold for more than 50 years.
You have probably also often wondered exactly what was going on in that small Caribbean island that is not far from the United States. Well, I had been hearing and thinking about those things as well – the dictator Fidel Castro, the restrictions placed on religions and the list goes on.
So I decided to see for myself. The flight from the United States is a short one since Havana is only 90 miles from Miami. After landing in Havana, I had no problems going through customs and fluent English was spoken everywhere.
Trinidad, where much of the tobacco that makes Cuba’s world-famous cigars comes from, is also where the Bay of Pigs occurred.
The drive to my hotel was in a new air-conditioned automobile. Yes, I did emphasize new model, because from all the photos I had seen of Cuba, I was under the impression that all the automobiles and buses there were from the 1950s.
Not so. In fact, I saw Mercedes, Audis and Bentleys, just to mention a few of the modern luxury vehicles that were rolling around. I had forgotten that the United States of America is the only country that barred its citizens from traveling to Cuba.
En route to our hotel, I saw new modern lodgings like the Melia Hotel, which is part of a Spanish hotel chain. Other modern hotels are owned by Canadian hotel chains.
My stay was in the National Hotel, which is the grand hotel of Cuba. I immediately felt grand walking into the lobby, with its marbled floors and crystal hanging chandeliers.
I was handed a mojito, the national drink of Cuba. The hotel has old charm and sophistication. The likes of Nate King Cole, Muhammad Ali, Whitney Houston and other greats stayed there.
I couldn’t wait to visit the city of Havana, starting with Old Havana, where no one is a stranger, the scent of fresh flowers is in the air, the street musicians never stop playing, the beautiful ladies and handsome men smile at you and the children happily play.
I found myself walking down the street with a beat…sometimes my steps would be jazzy and at other times they took on a slow blues beat. The art galleries are among the best anywhere you travel. In fact, Cuban art is considered one of its national treasures and must be registered before it leaves the country.
There are so many places of interest in Cuba, it was difficult for me to select. I visited the city of Matanzas, which has a large Afro-Cuban population and just a few years ago opened its Afro-Cuban museum.
It traces the voyages from Africa to Cuba, giving many details of the people and what they did after arriving in Cuba. Here is where you will hear some great jazz and other music from an all-lady band. Dizzy Gillespie influenced the music of Cuba greatly and it still shows his influences.
The next city I visited was Trinidad, where I felt like I was really in an old colonial town. This is the area where much of the tobacco that makes those world-famous cigars comes from and again, the art galleries and museum are great.
Not far from Trinidad is where the Bay of Pigs occurred. You would never suspect any adverse happening in this beautiful beachfront city.
My final stop was in Santiago de Cuba with its very large Afro-Cuban population. It is the second largest city in Cuba, second only to Havana, and draws people from all over for its music and art. It is also known as the birthplace of the Salsa dance and even better known as the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution.
I left Cuba knowing I would be returning many times and you may want to consider visiting this fantastic country, as well.
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