by Miguel Ramirez
As I wake up from a nap, I look around my room and don't know what bed I am sleeping in. The high ceiling in the room, the trim around the wall bases, the A/C wall unit nor the colonial furniture are familiar to me. As I approach the wood window shutter, I ask myself, am I dreaming? I open it and notice all the old 1950's American cars and clothes hanging on balconies. I hear music. Was I able to turn back time by dreaming? I try using my smart phone to get a hold of my wife, but it does not work. I am puzzled. I finally remember I am in Cuba!
This type of thing has happened to me in many other countries, not because of drinking and partying, but because my mind and body gets used to my daily routine and surroundings. As an experienced traveler, I have now traveled to 40 countries. Not only was Cuba my 36th country, but I have returned twice now to what is known as the Key of the Caribbean. As an American, I traveled to this country under a professional research license, which is one of the 13 licenses that one is permitted to use to travel to Cuba. Travel agencies also commonly use cultural research licenses as a means of entry.
You may be wondering why I choose to go to Cuba in the first place. I go because it is different—a place that Americans could not go to until now. The first time I landed at the international airport in Havana, I thought it would be busy and hectic, but instead I was met with warm hospitality by locals who had and a sense of calmness about them.
As I visit any country, my mind expects what I am used to every day, such as access to the internet or being able to use my smart phone. In Cuba, it is also important to make sure to bring enough cash for the duration of the trip, as American credit cards do not work there.
Inconveniences were soon forgotten walking through Old Havana to see the baroque, neoclassical and colonial buildings, some dating back to the 1500s, in this United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) site. The more recent and colorful art deco architecture was also inspiring.
In my opinion, what makes architecture and the life of a city come alive are the people and the visitors. The friendly spirit of the locals, the history, the art on its streets, its 1950's hotels, the vintage American vehicles, the heat that goes through your body from the tropical climate, and the music makes Cuba a place where you just want to say “cha cha cha“ and enjoy life for a while in a bygone era.