Before heading to Cuba, my Cuban friend gave me an advice and I had no idea it would change my trip to Cuba completely.
It had been three months since my breakup from a relationship I thought would be for life. After months and months of contemplating, discussions and tears I had moved out from our home. I was heartbroken, tired and exhausted. One day I had decided to I needed to get away and had ’a brilliant idea’ to fullfil my long time dream and to go to Cuba. On my own. Alone.
It had made all the sense in the world the day I booked my trip but as my departure day was coming closer, I was hyperventilating. If I barely had the energy to get out If bed, how could I travel alone to the Caribbean’s. Isn’t it dangerous, I was asking myself together with a lots of other people. But the trip was booked, flights were payed and I didn’t want back down.
I have close friend who is from Cuba and lives in NYC. We had a Skype talk few days before my departures and I was asking tons of questions from him: Is it safe? Can I walk alone in the streets? What safety precautions I should take? I have to mention here that I had travelled alone before, I had lived abroad but only in Europe. This was , however, the first time I was setting my feet on what is called the Latin America. Latin America had been my dream for a long time but I didn’t know how things work over there. I had heard a lot of stories how it is quite different to travel over there alone as a woman. My cuban friend almost got mad with me as I was paniking and trying to figure everything out before hand (I know, I DO like to plan things…). He told me: ”Amiga, do me a favor. When you arrive to Havana and your room, get undressed, take a shower and wash away that planning, organised Finn from yourself. Let it go down the drain. You need to have (and these words I will never forget) unprescripted communication with Cuban reality.“ I wasn’t sure what he meant but I was soon to find out.
Havana and Cuba greeted me with what I would call ’the warm wall’. That is the sensation you get when you step out of the aircraft in a place with warm, tropical climate. It was like sweaty welcome hug from Cuba and it hit me immediately coming out of the plane. Taxi took me to my Casa particular, a concept where local cubans accomodate travellers in their own homes. Jorge, my host for my week in Havanna, was waiting me in the street and greeted me like an old friend. I felt like home after less than an hour in Havana. I got settled in my new home for the week and took my friends advice; undressed and stepped in to the shower. I was lucky to have warm water so the Finn in me went down the drain without fighting back too much. I was standing there in the shower trying to clear my mind from any expectations. I wanted to give Cuba chance to show what it was like without any prescriptions. I wanted to see Cuba as it was, not the way I was. I went to bed with peaceful mind ready to take what ever would come along.
I had always loved salsa. Salsa was one of the reasons Cuba had been on my bucket list for such a long time. Before going there I had booked myself a salsa lesson in a dance school a friend had recommend me. The first lesson was not a disaster but not a huge success either. I felt my teacher was frustrated to see another European coming and thinking they would learn salsa in a day or two. Even though I didn’t felt the first lesson got me that far, I decided to book myself another 8 lessons more, two for every morning of the week. I was determined I would learn the basics of couple salsa no matter what.
In the afternoons I went exploring Havana and I fell in love completely; the old American cars strolling down the streets of Havana, the candy coloured buildings that where in a poor condition yet so charming, the sounds of salsa echoing in the streets, small art galleries here and there, people hanging out in the streets and commenting the blond passing by. At first I felt a bit akward having this attention. Soon I, however, started noticing the same compliments given to the locals no matter their looks, size or outfit. I started feeling more at ease with the attention I was getting. The attention was never aggressive, people were simply curious and friendly. I started paying attention how the locals communicated with each other and how every shape and size was greeted with respect and admiration. I noticed that the locals walked heads up high, carried their bodies with pride. I absolutely loved what I saw; love and respect. During the week my worries about my own security faded away, I started to come out of my own insecurities, I felt amazing and beautiful walking the streets of Havana. This was particularly healing experience after a break up. In the mornings I continued to my salsa lessons and as my steps, timing and body work slowly got better my teacher’s frustration faded away and my confidence grew also on the dance floor.
It was probably the fourth day of my salsa classes when everything came together. After the first class of the morning, I had a small break from the dancing routine when I had a moment, I had my Havana moment. It was the moment when I felt the time stopped for a while. I was standing in the black and white mosaic tiled floor of my dance studio, the door and windows to the street where wide open. The warm and humid air was embrassing me, somewhere not so far salsa was playing, a dog was barking and the fan in the corner was making quiet humming sound. I was sweaty from the routine yet smiling because I had really been dancing, really feeling the rhytms of salsa. I wasn’t embarrased that some random by-passers had been watching me dancing. Right there and then I though I understood something about Havana, I felt like living and breathing Havana.
For a while I couldn’t remember what day it was, how long I had been there for; had it been four days, four weeks or four months. Havana had swallowed me with its colours, music, life, love and passion. I was alive, first time in months. I was smiling and tears came to my eys. There and then I knew what my friend had tried to tell me, I had had unprescripted communication with cuban reality.
*Originally published in We are Travellers -community