Maybe George Mallory had it right. “Because it’s there,” he is famously reported to have answered. The question being, of course, why climb Everest? My neighbor’s question was, “Why travel to Cuba?”
She’d walked into our place as I began to sort the mound of stuff on the dining table, scratching checkmarks on my travel packing list and setting aside items to leave behind. Did we really need enough toilet paper to last 3 weeks? I’d need to practice TP thrift before we left for Havana if I was going to fit that into my pack and still have room for clothes, a journal, pens and books. There were a few months until the trip and maybe it was crazy to pack this soon, but I was just so damn thrilled about this first trip to Cuba that planning and packing helped to direct the anticipation into something constructive and rewarding. “Because it’s there?” I offered, turning to George for his simplistic, but accurate retort.
Most people who knew that Brian and I were heading for Cuba were delighted about it, some were mildly fearful for us, others blasé because, I think, they believe they know Cuba (without seeing it for themselves) and because (in the USA at least) Cuba has always been there. Because it’s there seemed a thin answer for my mounting enthusiasm.
Because its people are like the neighbors who live on the other side of a privacy fence: invisible and mysterious, but you’ve heard they know how to throw a party.
So I tried again; searched for an answer befitting this latest adventure. I considered what I’d read about Cuba: Havana Vieja’s centuries-old exquisite, crumbling remains (a UNESCO World Heritage site), the cult of Che Guevara, and El Morro.
Musical styles like trova and son, Hemingway’s haunts, and the sensual sweep of the Malecón along Cuba’s coast.
La esquina caliente (the hot corner) for baseball fanatics, the Bay of Pigs, and “la Perla del Sur” Cienfuegos (another UNESCO site).
Vibrant art, Trinidad de Cuba, and the Valle de los Ingenios (more UNESCO World Heritage sites).
Mojitos! Rum! Cuban coffee and classic cars!
Why travel to Cuba?
Because Cuba has dangled there, off the Florida Keys, like a shark-shaped pendant; out of reach during my entire American lifetime, but right there—90 miles or so—practically in sight.
Because its people are like neighbors living on the other side of a privacy fence: invisible and mysterious, but you’ve heard they know how to throw a party.
Because I could almost smell the fresh lime mojitos, the lechon asado, the sweat coming off the mambo dancers.
Because mambo means “conversation with the gods” in Kikongo, the Central African language of slaves taken into bondage in Cuba.
Because all of those years living and working in the Caribbean, we never had the chance to point our sailboat west and explore Cuba’s bays. We’d stowed nautical charts of Cuban waters beneath our mattress aboard Black Angel, like an offering to the spirits of the sea who reached up through the pillows into our dreams.
Why travel to Cuba?
The better question (and I think George Mallory would agree) is, ¿Por que no?