Connecting With Cuba

by Jackson Ellett
A Chevy cruises past the Capitolio building in Cuba

Everyone has moments of fantasy — those times when you close your eyes and you’re somewhere else, or maybe someone else.

The dusty corners, complications, and frustrations of life melt away, and you become something else. Regardless of how great your life is, everyone experiences this. The young mom closes her eyes and is transported to a tropical island, where chiseled, tan men fan her and feed her perfect sugary fruits. A middle-aged man drives down the interstate to the company he’s been CEO of for 18 years and is transported to an open stretch in the Arizona desert, speeding toward the sunset with music blaring and nowhere to go, nothing to be, and no one to impress. We all have a magical, fantastic, even spiritual side that longs to get out of the rut of life and simply “be.”

Then we wake up from the dream. We go back to work, reply to another dozen emails, plan the next business trip, and get dressed for the next gala. The dream gets pushed to the back. Life takes over. But what if things were different? What if there was a place where the dream is in front, and the mundane necessities of life get pushed to the back to be handled if there’s time?

Welcome to Cuba.

You are surrounded by a majestic blend of colonial archi­tecture and Spanish Cuban style, cozy gourmet restaurants, street musicians, and the best Mojitos you’ll ever drink. The day is filled with sights and sounds, and the nightlife is alive. But the best part about Cuba: its people.

Lindsay Webster, a longtime Spartanburg resident, art lov­er, photographer, and classic car enthusiast, has traveled to Cuba many times and describes the people as free, happy and ready to talk, eat, drink, and dance.

“I’ve never been in a culture where people want to speak so deeply and intellectually with so little hesitation,” she said.

Webster added, “More than Paris, London, the south of France, a ski holiday in Europe or any Caribbean vacation you’ve ever taken, traveling to Cuba gives you an opportunity to connect with people in a way you maybe never had on a vacation before.”

Both young and old people in Cuba enjoy playing dominoes

People … beautiful, sexy people with a zest for life, a love for relationships, and no sense of time or deadlines, are every­where you go. Stunning artworks, many very intimate, draw your eyes and heart. When Webster asked a local Cuban why their artwork seemed so romantically driven, he answered, “Because sex is one of the few things that we have that is still free.”

Many Cubans have little to nothing in terms of material wealth. And yet many are content. Even those who need the most help seem ready to drop their plans to be avail­able.

In terms of helping others, if your flavor of travel tends toward humanitarian aid and helping people, opportuni­ties abound. Socialist facilities for the aged and infirm are a good place to start. Bring a bag of lollipops, dominoes and a deck of cards and listen to the incredible stories of old Cuba.

On one of her trips, Webster decided to spend time taking photos of people and printing them out on a small, wireless printer to give to them.

“With these two things, I asked schools and maternity homes, centers for the aged and dance academies alike if I could come in and shoot people’s portraits and print them on the spot for them. Many subjects had not had their pic­ture taken … and approached with nervousness the idea of putting on lipstick and pouting for the camera,” she said. “After shooting pictures of an elementary school class, the teachers and lunch lady laughed hysterically at the pros­pect of being the subject of photos themselves, but were thrilled to have some to take home to their children.”

Don’t let the humble exterior fool you, though. In this country of struggle and poverty, there are also five star ho­tels, exclusive restaurants and clubs, rooftop spas for pam­pering, and high-end art galleries for those who prefer a more first-class experience.

No matter your taste, there are a few things Webster recommends for your travels in Cuba. Though great group tours are available in many sizes and shapes, the best way to experience the island nation is with a small group of friends, planning your itinerary for yourselves.

“Setting your own trip and pace means that you will be able to pick the things that are really important to you,” she suggested. Be flexible and ready to embrace the time-free culture you’re going to join. For once, live in each moment.

In a place where poverty leads people to place less em­phasis on deadlines and plans and more on sex, music and enjoying each other, it’s hard to think of what the quickly industrializing landscape of Cuba might bring – and what it might change. Take your opportunity now. Throw cau­tion to the wind. Soak up all that its rich social culture has to offer. It’s a dream from which you may find you don’t want to wake.

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