So I’ve been trying this whole mindfulness meditation thing lately. And its been working out pretty well. I’ve established a pretty standard morning routine, which I am totally not a morning person to be clear. But it seems that mornings have become increasingly easier. I can process my thoughts. During one session, I could very clearly hear a voice say “You have everything that you need”. Hearing that released like, this blanket of calm. We spend so much of our lives searching for, wanting more, that we don’t really acknowledge what we have. I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts and the guest said something that resonated with me.
“When you appreciate what you have, those things begin to appreciate”. I’m not saying that appreciating the warmth of your blanket on a cold winter day will increase the amount of blankets you own. But appreciating the one you have will have a positive influence on your perception of its value. Value truly is perception based.
I take all of my most recent life experiences as lessons in gratitude. Every day that I wake up, I’m grateful. I’ve been trying to keep a running list of the things I’m most grateful for. Putting it all on paper really makes it seem like I have so much, which is exactly the point. A few of my most recent faves:
Living in the City
Most people see it as a headache with all of the noise, the traffic etc. But I like to think that during my brief time here so far, it has truly helped me to expand my horizons even more. It has helped me to move beyond a lot of the limits I had placed on myself. And honestly, there’s so much underestimated beauty here.
The best feeling is waking up, setting my intention for the day and having a nice cup of coffee while wading through my thoughts. Its always a plus when I’m able to do so while the sun rises.
Instant mood booster.
Do you have your own special way of expressing gratitude?
As I type this, a steady stream of sirens can be heard outside my window, coupled with the ongoing conversations and honking horns from the Metro rail below. And after a full month in my new studio, I have to say, its actually kind of growing on me.
I’ve always had this idea in my head that I could never afford to live in the city and I had pretty much convinced myself that I wouldn’t like it either. I’ve never lived in the city in my entire thirty-one years of living. It’s either been the hood or the burbs. But there’s a first time for everything, right?
What Made Me Do It?
I just wanted to try something different. Das it.
I feel like this year, the Universe and I developed a budding relationship. I began to trust it more. I let my guard down. Thoughts and feelings that I never would’ve thought to act on, I did it this year. Maybe its because this is the year that I experienced one of my worst bouts of depression. I mean ugly cries, days without eating, no sleep. I lost ten pounds in a little over a week. I was functionally depressed because I mean, I still had to go to work. The beginning of the year started on a high as I waltzed right into the Thirty Club. From Cartagena to Cuba to Spain, I was on top of the world. Inspired and energetic. And then Life was like “you’re having way too much fun kid…here, hold my beer”. It knocked me on my ass so hard late summer. Plus, I was working in a place that wasn’t a good fit. The days dragged on, so much so that I had lost track of what day it was on a consistent basis.
In the midst of another non-stop, anxiety-driven ugly cry session, I heard a voice say “Life happens. But at the end of the day, you still gotta live bish”. Its crazy how amidst all the emotional clutter and static, I was able to hear that voice. Maybe therapy was finally starting to pay off? You know that saying “God doesn’t always give you what you want. But he sure will give you what you need”? Well, I needed a swift kick in the ass.
Manifest Your Motherf***in Yes
On a whim, I went on a bookstore binge and purchased Jen Sincero’s “You Are a Badass”. It literally saved me. Journaling my positive affirmations on a daily basis. Trying to fix myself, wishing and hoping for the slightest bit of relief. It’s like that hustler college student I was at twenty, working three jobs and getting shit done by any means necessary. She pushed through. The more I did these things, I wasn’t even focused on the brokeness I had been feeling for the last three years. Shit just started to happen, ya know? And now, well, Universe is basically bae.
Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth- Pema Chödrön
Shit is just clear now. And honest. Laughter. Unspeakable Joy. Truth. Hope. AND my new job is awesome and exactly what I’ve been praying for (Name it and CLAIM it boo!). I officially realized that no matter what happens, Life still has to be lived. You have to become one with it as it ebbs and flows. Its like this constant restructuring of the way you think, the way you feel. But almost always for the better. Am I always the picture perfect vision of sunshine and rainbows? Haha, catch me before 8 am, pre-coffee and find out.
It almost sounds too good to be true, huh? You may be thinking “Yea, I know… just start reciting quotes and positive shit and all will be well?…ok girl”. But real is real. That’s literally all it takes. You gotta start somewhere.
I’m not going to “New Year, New Me” you guys to death. I’m always going be the same Latricia. Still goofy af. Still sarcastic af. Still dramatic AF. Still down to earth. Just a little bit more hip to this game called Life.
May your 2018 be filled with a shit ton of boozie brunches, dope concerts, spine tingling vibes and bountiful blessings.
This year I couldn’t have picked a better way to spend my birthday. I hopped on a flight with the intention of stuffing my face and loving on my niece and nephews. That’s always fun and usually by the third day, I’m exhausted. But it’s worth it. I also did a little research and realized we were in close proximity to the Paso Robles wine region. Now y’all know I love my wine!
We had limited time but I was successful in convincing my big sis to day trip with me for some tastings and just an all out girls trip. And we had a blast. Our first stop was LeVigne Winery in Paso Robles.
The grounds of this place were gorgeous. It’s also kid and pet friendly. My niece had her fare share of fancy fruit punch soda.
Also, she had a blast taking pictures with Aunt Trici.
But everywhere we turned, we were surrounded by bold and beautiful splashes of color. Having a glass of wine on the patio was the perfect way to end our visit to LeVigne.
For our next adventure, we trotted off to Jack Creek Farms in nearby Templeton. I wanted my niece to have some fun of her own. I had read online that they allow you to pick fruits from the orchard.
Once again, the colors y’all…
It’s like your brain goes through a range of emotions being surrounded by so much beauty. And I’m so glad I got to share this with my sister and niece. I’ve been to Napa/Sonoma a few times, but I think Paso Robles may be my new favorite.
After countless YouTube vids and hours spent day dreaming, I finally found my way to Palma de Mallorca. I couldn’t have picked a better city to explore. The island of Mallorca is located in the Mediterranean sea and is the biggest of the neighboring islands of Ibiza and Menorca. Together, they make up the Balearic Island chain. Palma is the capital city of the island of Mallorca. I wanted a somewhat beach vacation that wasn’t slammed with tourists, so I decided to go around May, just before tourist season hit. Sunny skies and fresh prawns awaited me. Oh yes, and wine. There was LOTS of wine.
It was truly like a breath of fresh air. I live in Houston, where you’re a stones throw from refineries that dominate the air you breathe. So it was nice to be in a place where my allergies weren’t constantly on level ten. The streets were clean, the people care free. The constant interchangeable use of Spanish and Catalan peaked my curiosity to its highest level, as both languages were beautifully spoken. Also the Spanish I’m used to here in Texas is completely different from the Spanish spoken in Spain, so that was definitely an adjustment. I mean there was something that catered to every sense humanly possible to have. The bright colors of the homes and shops in the Commercial District, the smells of fresh espresso at the local coffee shop, and the taste of fresh gelato. I couldn’t get enough of this place.
Getting to Palma was pretty easy considering that flying anywhere right now is relatively reasonably priced. We opted for a flight deal out of Miami on Iberia. Miami is a hub for Iberia Airlines so there were a variety of flights to choose from. To get to Miami from Houston, I just booked a cheap roundtrip with American for less than $100. But every now and then you can catch a deal to Palma from Houston for less than $550 without splitting legs like I did. It came out to around the same price still. If you’re really feeling creative and want to add a stop, there are lots of reasonably priced options popping up to Barcelona. Palma is literally like a 45 minute plane ride from Barcelona, often times, for less than $100 roundtrip. The key to reasonably priced flights is flexibility.
There are tons of affordable lodging options around the island. We opted for an Air BnB in Old Town Palma and it was perfect. Four nights ran us about $317 total. A caveat to Old Town Palma lodging: Be prepared for stairs as most places didn’t have elevators. We found that our apartment was perfect for walking everywhere. You are close to lots of restaurants as well as the various bus lines that take you all over the island. From our apartment, it was a 30 minute walk to the marina and 15 minute walk to the Plaça d’Espanya ( where the bus route for the beach was located). If all inclusive are your thing, you may want to look into lodging in Cala Major along a decent stretch of beach. Since this is the closest beach to the city center, be prepared for the crowds.
It wasn’t hard at all to find things to do. There were plenty of excursions to choose from. From beach bumming to sailing as well as wine tasting at one of the island’s oldest bodegas. And the best part of the wine tasting besides the wine, was being chauffeured around in a Porsche! We also went sight seeing around the marina, where we stumbled across the Cathedral de Mallorca. I don’t think I’ve ever had my breath taken away by something as stunningly beautiful as this church.
There was a heavy and obvious Mediterranean influence on the cuisine. But for the most part, Italian restaurants were plentiful. And delicious. Its crazy that we ate so much but I didn’t feel sluggish at any point. I don’t know if its the way they process their food in Europe but the freshness was unmatched. I had everything from Italian to South African to traditional Spanish dishes.
Palma de Mallorca is definitely a place you don’t want to miss. As soon as you step foot off of the plane, you’ll instantly notice the relaxed, care free vibes. You’ll be greeted by warm and friendly people. And the bright and beautiful colors will gather you up and take your senses for a ride. Seriously, book your trip already!
Some of the Trip Highlights
Fave Restaurant: Bosa Nova in the Commercial District; delicious Italian!
Fave Tour: Bodegas Ribas with Mallorcan Wine Tours; ask for the private tour with Miriam. She was AMAZING!
Live Music: Saratoga Blue Jazz, Mondays at 8:30 pm
Life has a way of showing us exactly who’s boss, which can partially explain my absence from blogging. The other part is my full on ability to let laziness and procrastination take over my free time (being honest and admitting is always the first step, right?). I’ve had so many moments of ” You need to write” followed by “but look at our bed, its so lonely and cozy at the same time”. Any who, my bad.
I’m just at a point now where I can’t get any lower and no one can judge me any more harshly than I’ve already judged myself.
Even in the midst of the blogging silence I still managed to take a few trips, and although they will be a day late and a dollar short, I intend to post about them. But right now, I want to reflect a little on just how insanely screwy and beautiful life can really be. Because my life is nowhere near perfect and I’ve fucked up a time or two. Or three ( who doesn’t?). But my life is also ridiculously beautiful, although I’ve only recently realized its true beauty because I decided to stop dwelling on the mistakes I’ve made and the things that were and are still beyond my control. I’m just at a point now where I can’t get any lower and no one can judge me any more harshly than I’ve already judged myself.
Peace, love and happiness are my ultimate goals. I want to feel them at all times. Anxiety and depression have had their way with me since I was 8 years old. Since my mom died, I’ve been in and out of therapy the last 20 years or so. There’s no time table in dealing with grief and the byproducts that result from it. There just comes a point in life where you surrender. Not giving in to the negativity surrounding your life per se, but more so relinquishing control and trusting in God, the universe, a higher power or whatever you fancy.
I’m sitting here now, typing this with the deepest thoughts of my mother on my mind as well as the tiny, yet courageous person I was prior to her death. I’ll never forget the day I learned to ride a bike. I was sick and tired of being teased for still having training wheels on. I was probably the only 2nd grader who still had them. But truth be told, I was terrified of taking them off. Whenever my mother would bring up the idea, I would always picture myself riding down the street and teetering to one side and completely falling off. I hated pain and taking the training wheels off meant I was sure to wind up busting my ass with a gnarly bruise or scrape to show for it. So for months, I put it off. Then one day my mom said ” it’s time to learn to ride your bike”. We started about noon on a Saturday. I was jumpy and anxious. My dad had taken the trainers off earlier, so it was all or nothing. The first few laps in the drive way, she was right next to me, helping me keep my balance. I felt safe and comfortable. I slowly started to tell myself that maybe I could do it. Then she tried to let go and I freaked all the way out. We did this back and forth for about another two hours or so before she said ” well mama needs to rest for a bit. We can try again tomorrow, ok?”. But then I thought back to how the other kids would continue making fun of me and I got mad and even more frustrated. I told her “No. I’m gonna keep practicing”. So she nodded and walked back into the house.
The tears were flowing at this point ( because I’m THAT dramatic). The first time I fell, I scraped my knee up pretty good. And then I got even more frustrated because I fell several more times after that. It was quickly approaching dinner time at this point and my butt hurt from sitting on the seat so long. Then my mom walks out with a look of worry. “Alright baby, I’m proud of you but there’s always tomorrow, ok? It’s time to wash up for dinner” (The next summer would prove to me that there is not always tomorrow, as my mother passed away the first week of third grade). I was determined to ride that damn bike before the sun went down. I took off one more time out of the drive way and down the street. “Holy shit! I’m balancing!”. My mother was in the background yelling ” You got it baby, you got it!”. I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything as joyful as that. I rode back into the driveway and high-fived my mom. The next day, you couldn’t tell me shit. I rode and had stop sign races with the best of them. But I fought like hell for the opportunity to do so.
I’ll fight like hell for my happiness, no matter how many bumps or scrapes I get in the process.
Its so funny how we psych ourselves out of doing things. I put off dealing with so many painful bruises from my past, including poor decisions and judgements I placed on myself. The thought of inflicting more pain on myself by dealing with my past is what scared me the most, so I pushed it off and it snowballed into a path of even more fucked up decisions. But now, I’m tired of them replaying in my mind. Just like I was tired of being teased for using training wheels. And right now, I’ll fight like hell for my happiness, no matter how many bumps or scrapes I get in the process.
You ever sit back and evaluate your life? I mean really sit and reflect on how far you’ve come? You remember that one thing that finally pushed you out of your comfort zone and sparked a change of pace for your growth? I can remember feeling like I needed something more out of the life I was living. I was merely existing, too scared to take a leap or give in to whatever crazy idea I had floating around in my head. Too scared of the possible outcomes of acting on something that I genuinely wanted to do. I placed limits on myself where there shouldn’t have been any.
I went the majority of my life feeling like the person that I truly wanted to be wasn’t realistic. I couldn’t be adventurous with student loans. I couldn’t be inquisitive about exploring other parts of the world when I had a career to plan. I was responsible Latricia, who always made the most informed and logical decisions because I over analyzed everything. And then one day something happened. I stopped giving a f@$k. That one thing that pushed me out of my comfort zone? A plane ticket to Northern California. Travel is my thing. It keeps me sane and happy. Without it, I’m a grump.
“I guess travel is so important to me because it gave me a voice I didn’t know I had.”
My path has not been easy ( I don’t think I know anyone who has had an easy path, honestly). But being able to travel has made it easier to balance, to center myself. I guess travel is so important to me because it gave me a voice I didn’t know I had. It made me more self aware. It made me less fearful. I gained a whole new outlook on life when I was in one of my darkest places. Meeting new people. Discovering new places. Immersing myself into a culture. Its all helped to shape me into the woman that I currently am. I’ve always been pretty self sufficient, but having to rely solely on myself and my ability to adapt to new things at a rapid pace in a completely foreign country has made me realize that I’m pretty f*$king fierce.
I’ve learned that I enjoy my time alone more than anything else in this world. I stand firmer in my decisions to do things alone. And I’ve seen the fear of being alone slowly start to dissolve over the years since I ventured off onto my first solo trip. And yet on the contrary, travel has also turned me into somewhat of an extrovert. Me, the girl who would have instant anxiety attacks when walking through crowds of people in the student union on the way to class in college (social anxiety disorder is a bitch).
Some may say that its not that deep. That life would go on without being able to take trips as freely as I want. And that is true. But man, would it suck (for me at least). Its like not being able to do the one thing that you’re passionate about. Life is all about finding your passions, exploring them and cultivating them. Life without passion is like sleep walking. I honestly am at a point now where I don’t know what I would do if I were not able to travel and explore. My ability to travel always come to mind when considering job offers. It comes into play when I plan out my yearly goals and when completing my personal budget.
“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”
– Miriam Beard
There’s like this secret bond that I develop with every place I visit. For the duration of my trip, the destination knows my fears, my worries, my stressors and anything else that may cause me grief. I begin to get comfortable enough to where none of those things even matter anymore. All that matters is the moment with which I am in. This goes back to what I said earlier about being centered. I don’t have the usual distractions that Im used to at home and this new place requires all of my attention. And when its time to go back home, I take a little bit of each place with me. These little bits serve as reminders. Reminding me that I took a chance on life and chose to actually live it, full force.
Havana was amazing. A very vibrant atmosphere to fulfill all of your adventure needs. But there are quite a few things that need to be considered. While doing research for my trip, I found it extremely difficult to find specific information. Once you got passed the fluff of the gazillion blogs out there, I was starting to realize the lack of important “need to know” information available. Basically, I REALLY had to dig to find it. Hopefully, me posting what all I found out will make it easier for you.
First things first. Let’s get those expectations in order, shall we? Cuba is NOT the Dominican Republic. It is NOT Puerto Rico. It is NOT like any other Caribbean island out there. You have to understand that not everything is as plentiful and readily available there like you would find elsewhere. If you’re the type that likes to be catered to or have everything lined out for you, don’t go. No, seriously. And knowing basic phrases in Spanish will make your life that much easier.
Authorized Categories for Travel into Cuba
Keep in mind that tourism in Cuba is still prohibited. You have to fall into one of the 12 categories of authorized travel set by the US government in order to book a plane ticket. Most airlines have a message that automatically pops up and asks you this when booking travel anywhere in Cuba online. As long as you fall under one of the 12 categories, you don’t need prior approval from the government. It is based on good faith. They include:
Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
People to people interactions
Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
Support for the Cuban people
Private foundations or research institutes
Exportation and importation of information materials
Special export transactions
So which one did I select? Educational activities. The people to people clause allows for you to make individual trips to Cuba by planning your own schedule of activities, without having to go through a private company ( which used to be the only way to go under the educational category and needed prior approval from the government). Be sure to keep a detailed itinerary listing all the things you did. It has to be enough to cover a full day, so maybe 3-4 activities. Its suggested that you keep itineraries for your records for at least 5 years. Also keep in mind that you want activities that center around interaction with the Cuban people. I find it extremely difficult to go to Cuba and not have an educational, people to people type of experience.
Here comes the fun part! I only say this because there is a wealth of conflicting information out there on this topic and it will literally make your head spin.
The Cuban government requires a visa for entry into the country. As a U.S. Citizen, you will need to apply for what the Cuban government refers to as a tourist card ( I know, weird because tourism is prohibited by our government… but hey, thats what the visa is called). Here’s where it can get confusing. There are multiple ways to obtain a visa. It all just depends on a) your level of patience in playing the waiting game and b) how much you are willing to spend. There are 3 ways in which you can obtain a visa:
From the Cuban Consular office in Washington D.C.
Cost: $50 for Visa + $20 if request made by mail= $70
Must be paid with money orders, one for each fee
Legible copy of valid passport and stamped self addressed envelope are required.
Embassy of Cuba (Ref: Tourist Visa), 2630 16th St NW Washington DC 20009
I couldn’t get an exact estimate of processing time, but I would allow for 4 weeks. Government processes aren’t known for being the fastest. Also, you can get the process going in person, but it will still take a few days for you to actually receive the visa. Its not necessarily same day pick up.
2.From a Third Party
There are a number of third party companies that can help obtain a visa for you. The most common one I heard about was Cuba Visa Services , which is who I used. I prefer convenience over everything. And with convenience often comes a premium. It was a seamless process though. You fill out the form online and pay the fee.
Cost: $50 for Visa + $35 processing fee+ $25 shipping via FedEx= $110.
I received it 4 days later after I submitted my order
3. Through the Airline
Now this one can vary a lot because prices and processes are not uniform across airlines. For instance, Southwest charges $50 while Spirit charges $100. Also, some airlines send you an email about 30 days out from your trip directing you to a third party they have contracted to provide the visa service. Others let you buy the visa over the phone and let you pick up at the check in counter. Or purchase the visa same day at the check in counter. Bottom line… if you’re going the airline route, CALL the airline and verify directly with them.
If you opt for a non-US carrier, you may be able to purchase the visa on a layover. For example, I flew Aeromexico with a layover in Mexico City. Some of the ladies I went with purchased their visas on our layover at the customer service desk for a whopping $20 (this is by far the cheapest option). I believe it is the same flying Copa Airlines with a layover in Panama City for around the same price. One note of caution in going this route: Make sure you have a long enough layover where you can comfortably do this. We were on a 2 hour layover in Mexico City and had plenty of time to spare. However, it wasn’t a busy time when we arrived so customs and immigration were a breeze. I’ve been on a layover in Mexico City with immigration lines double wrapped around the corner and the entire process took an hour. So just be mindful of connection times.
It is important that you fill the visa out correctly or you will have to purchase a new one!
Travel Medical Insurance
Cuba requires all U.S. citizens entering the country to have travel medical insurance. Most U.S. medical insurance policies through your employer will not cover Cuba. Also, some travel insurance policies won’t either. I purchased basic travel insurance through the airline, then purchased medical insurance through another 3rd party for like $12. InsureMyTrip is an excellent resource for comparing policies (select the “medical coverage only” option when doing comparisons). Also, you can purchase insurance at the Havana airport but its more expensive than getting it before you go. Some people will say that they weren’t asked about insurance when they arrived at the airport. When I arrived at the Havana airport, I was definitely asked to show proof of it. So its always better to be safe than sorry.
Lodging depends on your level of comfort as well as your budget. We chose an Air BnB in the neighborhood of Vedado. We paid $366 for 4 nights in an apartment that slept 6. I would highly recommend you use the “Instant Book” option with Air BnB. There were quite a few instances of hosts canceling requests extremely close to travel dates. While Instant Book isn’t a guarantee your reservation won’t be cancelled, the likelihood of that happening is slim. Air BnB is still fairly new to Cuba, so there are still a few kinks to work out. You also have the option of staying in a Casa Particular. A simple google search will yield plenty of mediums for booking. You can sometimes book one when you land in some cases. They are literally everywhere throughout the city. They are distinguished by a particular sign, which sort of resembles an anchor. Of course, there is always the option of a hotel. But given the influx of American tourism, the costs have increased. Like I said, lodging depends on your level of comfort as well as your budget. I will say that most of the people I know who traveled to Havana went the Air BnB/ Casa route.
PLEASE keep in mind that you can not use your credit/debit cards in Cuba. They will not work. Which means you need to pay for everything in cash. Which also means you need to budget your trip accordingly. I would say you would do fine on $100 per day. Whatever that total comes to, add another $200-300 to that just to be safe. I brought $1,000 total. I only spent half in 4 days. About $250 on food, $80-100 on transportation, $40 on our group activity with the remainder on miscellaneous items ( Cigars aren’t cheap! Budget accordingly).
I would advise you to exchange your USD to Euros first, then exchange the Euros to CUC when you arrive in Havana. Why? Because there is an extra 10% fee tacked on to the 3% conversion fee for USD due to the embargo. So basically:
For every $100 you exchange you get back 87 CUC. The conversion rate is 1 USD= 1 CUC
460 Euros got me 466 CUC
I didn’t exchange the other $500 I had. I never exchange the full amount of cash I bring because of the fees associated with selling and buying currency. Don’t want to lose money on the cash you don’t use.
Other Miscellaneous “Need to Know” Tips
Wifi is limited. Be prepared to be disconnected. You can buy a wifi card from some of the hotels. I bought mine from the Melia-Cohiba hotel. $10 for 1 hour. But the hotel was like 4 blocks from our apartment. Whenever you see a gathering of people on their phones, its a wifi spot.
Taxi rides from the airport should run you about $30. Negotiate prices and agree on them before you get in.
Bring LOTS of sanitizer and wet wipes. Sometimes there was no soap, running water or toilet paper in the restrooms at the places we were at.
Bottled water ONLY.
Trips to the beach in an official taxi (the yellow ones) will run you $50 round trip. You can try your negotiation skills with a local taxi though. Most definitely will come out cheaper.
If you have a sensitive stomach, start taking those probiotics!
Pack your allergy meds. The exhaust from the cars had mine going haywire at first.
When giving addresses for your casa/Air BnB to taxi drivers, make sure to include the street, intersection and house number. For example:
6 calzada y 5, 115 means between 6th and 5th streets, number 115. Air BnB doesn’t always have the addresses accurately posted.
Google Translate is an awesome tool for the not so fluent Spanish speaker. But it translates English to proper Spanish. Some of the phrases you put in might not translate as smoothly to the everyday Spanish that Cubans use. So try to ask basic, yes or no questions.
I would strongly advise you to do carry-on only. Wait times from baggage claim can be at least 2 hours in most cases. They simply don’t have the personnel to handle the influx of tourism. Save yourself the trouble. If you’re buying cigars and alcohol, check it on the way back.
If there is anything you would like to know that I may have left out, or you have a specific question, please feel free to contact me! Happy planning!
There’s always this child-like fascination with “forbidden” things. Why is it bad? Why can’t we go? Some of the questions I found myself asking about Cuba since 5th grade social studies. It’s been drilled into our heads that Cuba was a no- go zone. I used to always wonder why, aside from the politics behind it of course. It usually makes something that much more interesting when you tell people its taboo. Which is why I jumped at the chance of buying a ticket to Havana. I had been preparing for this the last few years or so, ever since it was announced that Obama was considering easing the limitations on visiting. I was ready for yet another adventure.The preparation for such a trip was more work than I had ever done for any other trip (more on that in a later post) but it was totally worth it.
Fresh Off the Plane
We landed in Havana around 2:00 pm on a Thursday. I was anxious and excited. I felt like I was finally granted access into a secret club. The anticipation was so built up, it was spilling over. I had read all the blogs and posts about the customs and immigrations process, so I had somewhat hyped myself up a bit. There was absolutely no need for worry as the entire process was seamless. I handed over all my documentation to the agent and after about 10 minutes, all was well. The next stop was for currency. What a time suck! We were in line a good hour and some change. Annoying, yes. But I had also read that waiting for extended periods of time was the norm in Cuba, as everything moved at a much slower pace. This was the first instance where my privileged was checked, and rightfully so. I needed this dose of reality to get me prepared for the humbling that was underway.
Havana, the Tainted Beauty
Havana is gritty. I won’t sugar coat it because I feel it would do you a great disservice. Often times, this is either overlooked in a heavily romanticized depiction of what seems to be a unicorn. When the reality is it’s raw. Its unkempt. The fumes from the exhaust of the old classic cars knocks you square in the face. The stench from the trash along the streets can send you into a dizzy spell. But even still, Havana is unique in her abilities to still captivate your attention and hold your imagination hostage, flaws and all. If you allow her to.
We were based in the neighborhood of Vedado. A few blocks from the Malecon. Quite the hipster neighborhood, by Cuban standards at least. You didn’t have to travel far across the city to appreciate the photogenic gems lying around every corner. And there were so many. So much beauty in what some would deem ugliness. So much scope for imagination. But we did manage to travel a considerable amount around the city as much as we could in the time allotted.
Because wifi is so limited here, you have no choice but to make the most of your time offline. Havana forces you to be in the moment. There was no instant posting overtime I took a picture. I think this is what makes it easy to really experience Havana. And the people! The people make the trip! From our gracious host, to our cab drivers, we were surrounded by nice people. People eager to meet us and talk to us about our lives in America.They didn’t hold back on questions. The most common question?
“How do you feel about Trump? “ My answer to that is another post for another day.
But they were just legitimately curious. My little bit of Spanish made it somewhat easy to have an open dialogue ( and Google Translate, of course). Best of all is that I felt welcomed everywhere we went. Yes, Cuba has its problems. And should you decide to venture there, you will find that not all Cubans are excited that the Americans are coming. But they will politely let you know. But you can expect to be treated with respect anyway. Which is how it should be.
It was a delight to witness everyday interactions amongst the locals. I always take great joy in doing this everywhere I travel. Old men arguing over baseball, women in hair salons gossiping, children playing in the streets. Something about it seemed so peaceful. Perhaps it reminded me of the stories my grandma used to tell, and how I would sit and paint my own visuals. It reminded me of her stories of how things used to be within the black community. The togetherness and sense of real community. Walking off the beaten path into the neighborhoods of Havana made me feel as if I was experiencing the very things my grandmother used to talk about.
There were also reminders of Fidel Castro everywhere we went as well.
Once I became accustomed to being on Cuban time, I started to enjoy myself even more. I should also add that Havana is extremely safe. Is there poverty? Yes. But I promise you, you have no reason to be fearful. Always take precautions, of course. But let Havana wow you. You’ll be glad you did.
I know you’re probably reading this and thinking ” so exactly what all did you have to do to make this trip happen?”. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. There’s such a wealth of information to tell you that it would simply make this post too long. I’ll give a detailed break down of all the processes (and paperwork) you will have in order to make the trip to Cuba. So stay tuned!
While everyone else would be eating turkey and sweet potato pie, I would be basking in the relentless humidity and endless aromas of arrepas and fresh mango. I chose to travel solo for my 30th for a specific reason. The last time that I remember my birthday falling on Thanksgiving day was when I was eight. It was also the last Thanksgiving I would spend with my mother. Thats a memory I have cherished throughout the last 22 years of my life. So I wanted 30 to be just as memorable.
If you’re like the thousands of others who binged watched Narcos (myself included), then you probably had this pre-conceived notion about Colombia. As someone who travels solo quite often, I found myself being nervous for the first time heading into Colombia. Which is odd because I booked the ticket without a second thought. Add to the fact that I was turning 30 and that came with its own insecurities. But it was the weeks leading up to the trip where my nerves started to set in. What was I all of a sudden nervous about?
Perhaps I too let all the bad press Colombia had received shape my view of what Cartagena might be like. I sort of had buyer’s remorse for a second. Yes, me. The solo traveler down to explore where ever. Then I realized “well, you’ve bought the ticket already… no turning back now!” So I braced myself for impact. I thought of every possible scenario that could happen. I was prepared. What I didn’t prepare for was how much I would end up falling in love with this beautiful place.
A Bold Yet Simple Beauty
From the moment I stepped off the plane, the humidity swaddled me like a blanket. Being from SE Texas, I’m somewhat used to humidity, but Cartagena was definitely beyond my range of expertise. Arriving to my taxi straight off the plane (team carry-on!), we head straight for my hostel in the neighborhood of San Diego. I’m instantly captivated by the hustle and bustle of this quaint Caribbean city. The ocean to my right , with a vengeful line of taxis to my left. My high school Spanish hasn’t failed me miserably in the past, so I attempt to make small talk with the driver. He is not here for it. He is only there to do his job. Or maybe he’s just annoyed with traffic. Can’t knock that. A sea of horns are blowing around me as I assume we are caught in a lunch time rush. I also observe that there are no speed limits or yield signs in what looks to be a free for all type of traffic system.
Fifteen minutes in and we reach the Walled City. Its stunning. The colorful buildings and walls are the first thing that jump out at me. The streets are busy and filled with people; mothers and daughters, street vendors, tourists. They all seem so relaxed with no immediate rush. I also see neighbors hanging out on the end of streets socializing . Every person I lock eyes with engages me with a smile. It was at that moment that I knew I was on to something good.
I receive the warmest welcome upon check-in at my hostel. I opted for a boutique hostel this go round because it was my birthday and not just any birthday. This was 30. I would need the peace of a private room after all the exploring I had planned to do. The hostel was situated on a busy corner, so of course I could hear all the horns and cat calls throughout the day. But strangely, I didn’t mind that at all. Mainly because I was hardly ever in the room. I stayed long enough to wash the airport germs off of me and then I was off.
One Vibrant Soul
I couldn’t help but to realize how relaxed I had become upon arrival into the Walled City. All of those anxieties and fears I felt before instantly seemed to vanish. I wanted to take this place in and explore every crack and crevice that I could within my allotted time. San Diego, in all its vibrant colors and picturesque doors, was truly a sight to see. I walked down each narrow roadway in awe of the level of detail put into the color and architecture of each structure. And I wasn’t the only one. A few tourists like myself lined the sidewalks to capture the perfect photo of a myriad of doors with plentiful flowers hanging over them. This place was a photographer’s paradise! And me and my amateur self was happy to partake.
People watching was also a joy. Watching how others interact with each other in another country is truly interesting to see. This city was definitely made for lovers. Love was all around. Young love holding hands, old love sharing an ice cream, a mother’s love making sure her kids stayed on the sidewalk and out of the street. Every corner I turned, I felt it. And it made me so happy that I was here, in this city, to experience it. And of course there were the street vendors. I can’t even knock their hustle. How they maintained to smile after tons of rejections in 85 degree weather with 100 percent humidity is beyond me.
I settle on this Cuban restaurant with a 40’s theme. Get this, there’s a pool in the middle of the joint…Even better! Me and my mojito were happy to oblige. The vibe is relaxed, and its just what I needed after nearly a day of traveling (more on that in another post). Then I hear Terror Squad’s “Lean Back” followed by what appears to be rapping in Spanish. Its a young native shooting his shot with tourists nearby. They’re recording him with their cell phones. I think to myself “By any means necessary, huh?”. I chuckle at his direct and abrupt demeanor, yet I respect it at the same time. Who knows, he might be one YouTube view away from stardom.
Did I mention the people here are so kind and generous? As I stated, my Spanish is not the best. But I found that if you were willing to try, the people were more than willing to help by correcting you in a forgiving way. I can’t tell you how many times I ran into American and British tourists who never even attempted. That annoys me just a smidgen, but thats also another post for another day.
I leave the restaurant to do some more exploring. More picture taking. Then it hit me that I was officially in the 30 club. Man, oh man! I’ve already mentally prepared myself for the plunge in my metabolism. But all is still well. And all I could think about was how much I NEEDED to sleep. I had only been up a solid 24 hours. I got another quick bite and headed back to my hostel. Upon finding out that its my birthday, one of the hosts offered me a glass of wine and asked me to join him in an evening chat. I know I needed sleep but HOW could I say no to such a friendly gesture? We sat talking about random stuff. Laughs and lots of “no ways!”. Truly a treat. Another warm welcome and friendly face that made me not want to leave this place. Not the scheming and crooked experience I had somehow talked myself into expecting. The patio area we were sitting in was open air so I could see the stars in the sky. It was the perfect ending to a long but awesome birthday. Cartagena’s plans to steal my heart were in full force. The more I relaxed, the easier it was for her to do so.
Over the last year or so, I have been trying to reconnect with my creative side. I’ve always had a knack for crafting and hand made items. There’s so much character and charm in a hand made piece, unmatched by anything you can find in a store, in my opinion. The fortune teller in New Orleans (from my previous post) said that I was trying to find my balance between my work and my creative side (Imagine that!). I realized that I’ve let my work life get in the way of my true passion for creating, so I have decided to recharge and refocus.
I’m still trying to find my footing, because you know, practice makes perfect. The whole process is therapeutic in a sense, at least for me it is. Because I get to sit and brainstorm on an idea for a design, and actually put in the work to witness the end result. I find myself constantly writing down ideas, doodling on Post- It notes. I think I may have found something that I really enjoy other than, dare I say, *gasps* traveling. Truth be told, I’ve missed this side of me, and for a while, I thought I had completely lost it. It truly is a beautiful feeling when you find something that works! So be on the look out for more crafty sightings!