Author: Elisa Evans
Date of Trip: May 2016
My mom and I decided to plan a very special trip to discover our heritage, and share an adventure very few Americans have been able to experience. In May we flew to Miami and boarded the Adonia for a 7 day cruise to Cuba, the only 2nd cruise from America to Cuba, where we would explore the cities of Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. My maternal grandfather was born in Cuba and immigrated to America when he was 14 years old. He worked hard at odd jobs, learned the English, and put himself through school to become a successful pharmacist – he achieved the American dream.
Growing up, I was curious about my grandfather’s birthplace, an island that we could not visit and his family we could not connect with physically. He didn’t talk about his childhood in Cuba so I knew very little, but this trip with my mom would give me the opportunity to see, taste, hear and feel what my grandfather experienced growing up, and help me understand the spirit of the Cuban people.
Before we even set foot on the island, I knew from various media stories, that Cubans take pride in their automobiles. I was looking forward to seeing the American cars from the 50’s and 60’s, and I was not disappointed, it was like travelling back in time! These big, beautiful and stylish vehicles were on display like you would see at a car show, only these cars are used as taxis to transport tourists. The vibrant colors and large car frames were strange to see, but I understood the connection and pride of ownership the Cubans feel toward an American made vehicle – even if the car is non-operational.
As the ship pulled into the 1st port of Havana, we were warmly greeted by a crowd of Cubans waving and honking their car horns – what a sight! They were especially friendly in greeting us as we walked the streets, and talked in broken English about how they wanted us to take a ride in their car/taxi or take their picture. It was hot and steamy, just like Miami, but we didn’t want to miss a minute of our tour. We purchased from a street cart a coconut that the vendor chopped open right in front of us – the coconut water was cool and tasty, very refreshing!
We were able to eat at 2 of the “Paladars” the Cuban government authorizes to serve homemade food to travelers. One of them, La Fontana, established in 1995, was a beautiful open courtyard with a fire-pit grill that cooked our meal. We had shrimp, lobster tail, pork and chicken, along with black beans and rice, salad and fried plantains. Of course we had to have a mojito and a glass of sangria – What a meal!
The group of Americans we traveled with, were anxious to see Cuba, some of them had once honeymooned in Cuba, and wanted to come back and relive their memories. Others were military men who had served at Guantanamo Bay, and shared their stories with us at dinner.
At our 2nd port, we experienced the beautiful voices of the International Award winning Cienfuegos Choral group, who sang in Spanish, but the sound of music is universal, and we thoroughly enjoyed their performance.
At our 3rd port, Santiago de Cuba, we got a police escorted bus tour of the city and the fort of Santiago, which sped us through the congested traffic like a hot knife through butter. We ate at another paladar called Brasilla, which is family -style platters served to us filled with pork, shrimp and chicken, along with the beans and rice. They also served us flan and fruit salad for dessert – very yummy!
We experienced a jazz band with an accompanying dance school performance that got us all up and shaking/clapping to the music – it was true Cuban street music that filled us with joy!
We were able to purchase hand-made leather purses, carvings, prints, jewelry, and the desirable Cuban cigars and rum. You are allowed to bring back $100 of cigars and rum, and any other “craft or artwork” is not necessary to declare.
We felt very satisfied and lucky to be able to experience this trip to Cuba on a luxurious cruise ship, without the hassles of bad hotel rooms, no hot water, and bad service. This is definitely the way to see Cuba, for now – until better infrastructure and hotels are built.
Everyone had a wonderful time, not one complaint was heard, and we made quite a few friends onboard, which we plan to keep in touch with!