When it comes to traveling, we want the full, authentic experience – like a local.
I’ve learned to be uncomfortable and be happy about it, especially when I’m traveling. At times I will sacrifice the comfort of an air-conditioned mini-van for an incredible walking tour in 42C heat to experience the Habana of the local Habanians! By the way, as a point of reference, Habana is how the Cubans refer to their capital city, which we know as Havana.
Traveling on your own makes you more resilient to change. Even when you are part of a small tour group that agreed on walking in the heat you always have two options: complain about the heat, return to the mini bus and miss the experience of connecting with the locales or walk into the most incredible neighbourhood, step back to Colonial Havana and find yourself in a casa particular enjoying a sumptuous Cuban lunch.
You have to be resilient in order to attract such golden opportunities as the one I had in May.
When I first stepped off the plane at Juan Gualberto Gomez International Airport in Varadero, Cuba, I felt both the liberating, yet terrifying feeling sweeping over me as I realized that I’m in a new country and completely alone. No friends, no companion to take care of my every need and especially no one to speak fluent Spanish. What I can count on is that I always meet the most amazing people – truly amazing! Carlos, my “singing tour guide extraordinaire” that made the most uncomfortable experience in Habana into a truly unforgettable solo journey. It was a beautiful discovery to know that you are wiser, savvier and more confident that I could have ever given myself credit for!
One of the most exquisite places that Carlos introduced our small tour group to was in Havana’s working class neighbourhood – the Cayo Hueso Quarter. Out of the way of all the touristy places and among the homes and businesses was an incredible street called Callejon de Hamel. The murals covering the walls of this street have a distinct African and Cuban flavour. The brilliant colours, the various images of African gods and “Abakua” devils were painted by a Cuban native named Salvador Gonzalez. This little alley way was filled with residents selling locally made handicrafts and the aroma of a home-cooked lunch drew you into the many small food stalls. While we were walking down the alley, we could hear a band playing rhumba music. I couldn’t help myself as my feet and body were swaying to the music…you are just moved! What more could you ask for? Music, food and an out of the way gem! This was exactly how I wanted to experience Habana – in the not-so-touristy places.
If this was the first few hours of my 2 day trip to Habana, I knew I was going to be in for a very memorable time. Now I know why I love to explore not just the “have to see” touristy places but most of all the “close to the locales” gems like the Callejon de Hamel.
“We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything”.
~ Jonah Lehrer