Wandering: Solo Travels Through Cuba
Brittany Murphy is back to share her soul-changing solo travels through South America. This time, she has journeyed to an island off the coast of Florida...a place called Cuba.
Even flying in over the crystal Caribbean and its rainbow reefs, I felt it. The land from above was among the most beautiful I had seen and the Ocean sneaking into round bays dotted with trees, fields of produce creating patchwork patterns across the landscape, and Havana. Havana, rising from the flat plains along the coast line.
From the second I stepped off the plane and the Cuban heat swept over me, I was in lust with this place.
My driver was a little late, leaving time for the usual anxieties to kick in. I was alone, in Cuba, with no phone, no Casa address and very little CUC (the tourist dollar). When he did show, "Brittany" sign in hand, he picked me from the crowd.
We drove into Havana with classic Americana songs blasting out the windows and I soaked it in. The buildings were brighter than what I had seen in Mexico, and the gutters painted in matching hues. Cars as old as time itself chugged along the highway, adding to the rainbow chaos.
Cuba is all legs and muscles and everyone seems wildly aware of themselves, their sexuality, their beauty. We spent 12 days there across three key tourist hits in Havana, the Vinales and Trinidad (the City, the country, the beach). On the night I arrived the noise was unreal. Not cars, but people.
Three men played marbles with a boy a few doors down,"Senorita! Hola senorita! Hola!" they cried at me as I giggled and walked away. I turned, and a tall man in a red shirt waved. I waved back and laughed again. Women sat in groups with hair rollers in, gossiping of the day's affairs. Children played. Men carried on with their business.
When I found the restaurant I had spied on the drive in to Old Havana, I ordered a dish I had never seen before Cuba Roja a lamb bathed in red wine and mint tea. It was soft, and tender, and the best thing I had eaten in a month. I was the only one in the restaurant and ate until my body couldn't fit another bite.
My driver said he was a university economics graduate. Most that you meet are highly educated like this, seemingly with no path to take. We met taxi drivers who were agricultural engineers. I've heard of doctors working as drivers, too. Communism stifles poverty to an extent, but does it hinder progress and personal ambition? I keep wondering if the music I was hearing was pre-approved by someone somewhere. They asked me what books I would be bringing in when I arrived. Funnily enough, I imagine Havana to be a place that inspires novels.
We spent our first few nights in Cuba restaurant hopping, dancing rumba and drinking one too many mohitos. Afterwards, thirsty for a taste of the Cuban countryside, we hopped in a speeding cab to the Vinales.Rolling hills, red earth, horse-drawn carts and a warm hug met us at the door to our next Casa. Arianne, the woman of the house, made us feel like we had found a new home. For three days we rode horses through tobacco fields, tasted traditional coffee, swam in clear lakes and gave in to the slow, seductive lifestyle of central Cuba.
Beachside bliss awaited us next in Trinidad, a colonial city home to humidity, the clearest beach water I have ever seen and, of course, Casa Musica.
This piece took me a lot longer to write than I had initially expected. And I have to question why. Why is it so hard to write about a place that was so inspiring?
Beautiful landscapes, stunning people, an old-world charm, Cuba has everything a girl could want for a two-week getaway. But, even when chatting to other travellers, the only word I can muster up to describe the experience post-trip is: interesting.
Politically, the country is one that will leave you asking questions. Socially, it will astound. Supermarkets are hard to find and rum is cheaper than water. Wi-Fi access is expensive and metred by the hour. Houses crumble. Drivers fix their own cars by the road as men riding bareback on horses gallop past. It's conflicting to its core, but beautiful nonetheless. An unforgettable experience.
On our final night in Havana, thunderstorm bearing down on us, I was reminded of the jaw-dropping beauty and the City I had fallen in love with.
Havana in the rain is a picture for the poets. Deserved of fine print and prose. It's a scene out of a literary classic, and one my eyes read with an unquenchable thirst.
Yellow beams of light cast shadows in the street, bike wheels splash puddles on the pavement. From the rooftop, a Latin beat can fly past but not linger. Dominoes click, dogs bark, women in hair rollers sit in porch-doors. And I sat atop it all in a Casa built an age ago, soaking in it.
A quiet few moments for myself amid the chaos, the schedules, the traffic, the movement, the questions. Taxis prowled looking for hurried stragglers but they won't find most, dry undercover in doorways and clubs. Men in military uniforms huddled with beggars. Two young ones will bump shoulders for the first time and smile. A piano rang out across the sky and lightning quickly followed. But that's all really, and it was enough. 9.30pm on a Friday and Old Havana spoke in hushed tones. The humidity breaks and sleep comes easy, as the thunder rolls on closer. I couldn't help feeling a bit sad as we flew away. But, Guatemala was calling.