How sad for Cuba! But, before I tell you why, let me first share with you my impressions of this country in the Caribbean.
During the past 10 years of my travels to many parts of the globe, Cuba easily became my favorite. Having heard nothing but praises for this beautiful country, my siblings, their families, and I decided to have our family reunion there last year. As expected, the old world charm of this Spanish-speaking island nation mesmerized us.
Havana, or La Habana in Spanish, is the oldest city in Cuba. With 2.3 million residents, it is also the smallest city in the country. Since Cuba, with its 11.2 million current residents, was disconnected from the Western world through strict trade embargoes imposed by the US, it remains a Third World country, a status that probably adds to its charm.
Havana captivates visitors with its well-preserved old buildings, cobblestone streets, and those attractive old Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles running all over the city. First-time visitors like me easily get this strange but pleasant feeling of being “teleported” back to that rock ‘n roll and mafia era of the 1950s. Of course, because there are so many of these vintage cars, they are used as tourist transport vehicles for a pre-arranged fare.
Adding to the character of the country is its people. They are just like us, Filipinos, in so many ways. They’re always smiling. They love good food, good music, colorful things, and are always hospitable. Yet, in spite of such happy facade, you can still sense the poverty that pervades in the country.
To this day, homes don’t have running water, an indication that living conditions are quite dismal. Residents have to struggle with skyrocketing inflation rates and their undervalued currency, which is why, every opportunity they get, they find “legitimate” ways to get more money from visitors—bigger tips for the waitstaff in restaurants and bars, tips for band members who perform even without being asked to, etc. But all these belong to the country’s well-hidden “sad face.”
I’d rather focus on the beautiful and happy face of Havana because that’s what fascinated me, as it did, I’m sure, other tourists. Aside from the “old feel” of the city that we enjoyed, there is also the Castillo del Morro, a fortress guarding the entrance of Havana Bay. Morro, in Spanish, is a very big rock that is visible from the sea and is, therefore, used as a navigational aid. As one climbs up to the fortress’ ledge, the sweeping view of the bay and the city gives one the feeling of “seeing forever!”
Those are some of the beautiful memories I have of fascinating Cuba, that is why I am sad to have read the other day that the Trump administration has banned Americans from traveling to that country. “It continues to play a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a Communist foothold in the region and propping up US adversaries...by fomenting instability, undermining the rule of law, and suppressing democratic processes,” according to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, as reported in The New York Times.
Effective immediately, “people-to-people” trips to that country, which was the visa category we availed of when we went there last year, are no longer allowed. Cruise ships no longer have the permission to stop in Cuba, leaving tour and cruise line companies in shock, and scampering for ways to offset the loss of that chunk of their revenues.
I’m glad we went to Cuba when we did, and had the privilege of basking in its old world charm, enjoying the sumptuous food, dancing to its perky music and, most of all, relishing the company of its friendly residents.
Aside from those, I also had the opportunity to practice my Spanish. In fact, after a week in that country, I found myself on “Spanish mode,” mentally translating sentences to Spanish, not only because I liked the sound of it but also because it fooled me into believing that I have finally reached an imagined level of aristocracy.
Levity aside, I really feel sad for that beautiful country and its equally beautiful people. Soy triste para Cuba!
YOUR WEEKEND CHUCKLE
My grandpa started walking five miles a day when he was 60. Now that he’s 97 years old, we have no idea where the hell he is.
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