By Katherine Dobbs
HAVANA TIMES — I cannot even begin to tell you the full-frontal sensory experience that Cuba has to offer: experiencing the strength and spirit of the Cuban people, eating heaping piles of savory rice and black beans for almost every meal, dancing to reggaeton and sipping on sweet Cuba Libres (Rum and Coke mixed drinks!), swimming in brilliant turquoise oceans, feeling the beat deep in your chest of the pulsing music and sound that comes from every corner – Cuba took me by surprise and I fell in love.
It is a beautiful place – at times, hauntingly so. I felt at home in the narrow streets of Old Havana. I lived for the smells of street food, the sounds of the bustling city life, dodging out of the way of the constantly whizzing-by-like-it’s-the-Autobahn vintage Chevrolets, and the warmth of the Cuban people that greeted me at every turn.
The buildings are amazing, and they are decorated with Che Guevara murals and revolutionary quotes. Much of the beautiful colonial architecture lining the world-famous walkway along Havana’s shores, the Malecón, has been gorgeously restored.
However, there is another, more crumbling side to the infrastructure there in Cuba – but it is a side that seemed to connect with me in a very personal way. I found myself imagining the stories of all who had walked through those chipped doors, stood on those balconies seemingly perched by a few bricks. It was a constant adventure to learn the city.
That being said, I came to love it with all my heart. I was in Havana on a study abroad trip. After classes, at night, I would climb into a maquina (the taxis of Cuba – vintage Chevrolets, Fords, driving at the speed of light!) to go explore the city.
Flash forward about fifteen minutes of a fun, blurred taxi ride, and I was scooped out of a taxi at the Malecón walkway, ocean waves spraying over the sea wall and welcoming me to the city’s nightly party.
The Malecón pulses with sound and people after nightfall – it becomes a living, breathing entity that could very well sum up the spirit of Cuba. Young and old, all gather here to meet, greet, drink, and socialize. It is a beautiful party, night after night, requiring no RSVP or invitation, but welcoming all with open arms and a rebel spirit.
After the Malecón nights, I would go salsa dancing. Salsa is a way of life in Cuba. I am absolutely hopeless at dancing. After several soul-crushing middle school dance experiences, I gave up my dreams of being a gorgeous ballerina. However, I have a few moves now, I’m proud to say, thanks to the efforts of all my new friends in Cuba.
If there is anything I know for certain, it is this: when life hands you something good, you take it. This was my experience in Cuba. I was presented with a constantly moving, beautifully chaotic, yet peaceful life there, and it was something worth having.
I plan to return to beautiful Havana soon, to learn more about the amazing and strong people of Cuba and to continue my happily ever after there, all with a mojito in one hand and a genuine, true smile on my face.