When Paths Cross with Cuba

Recently, my mom and I took an all inclusive trip to Cuba. Like roughly 1 million Canadians yearly, we were looking to escape to a beautiful place we could lay beachside. It was a big change for me to be on an all inclusive after 8 months of wandering Asia, but the time with my mom was very special. With all the moving we have done and travelling I have done, it was really our first ‘vacation’ together.

Varadero is a tourist town nestled on 22KM of beautiful white sand beaches. After travelling Asia for 8 months, this long stretch of Cuban beach still held its place high (in my opinion) for most beautiful beaches in the world. The water starts as a crystal clear sea-foam green, and as you look to the horizon your eyes are met with a variety of different blues that eventually reach a gorgeous skyline of many more natural colours. Even more impressive is how clean the beaches are. To someone who has not travelled much beyond an all inclusive resort, this may seem like a no-brainer but unfortuantely plastic litters many of the worlds beaches. My mom and I spent about half an hour picking up plastic off the beach in Varadero because we wanted to do some good that day, but overall, the beaches are very well taken care of.

Beyond the beaches a trip to Cuba can be accompanied by driving in old classic cars, a trip to Havana (Havana oh na na), snorkelling, diving and lots of Spanish dancing. I took my mom snorkelling and it was her first underwater adventure (we are still waiting on our pictures, so pictures to come). That is right, 49 years old and I still got to take her on a ‘first’. This was pretty exciting for me and brought back the excitement to an activity that I have done quite a few times.

I have been to Cuba 3 times and didn’t always stick to the all inclusive, so here are some of my suggestions to make your trip a little extra: Eat food off the resort! Many people complain about Cuban food but Cubans certainly know how to cook. I am a big fan of the fried plaintain and camarones! I was invited to eat with a local family in Cardenas, wow! the food and company were fantastic. I also ate at a couple local restaurants and was never let down. The food was inexpensive and delicious. My understanding (i hope it is right) is that some shops/restaurants are locally owned while others are owned by the government. Take note of this, as you will see quite a difference in terms of price. I suggest trying the locally owned shops.

Which brings me to suggestion 2: Talk to the locals. I met a local Cuban at a gas station in Cardenas and he spoke amazing English. He explained that he was educated in languages but dropped out of school because if he finished he would of had to become an English professor. He decided that he would make more money working at a resort with his english speaking skills. This sounded crazy to me, but definitely gave me a bit more of an understanding of this man and perhaps some of the decisions Cubans have to make. He, and his family were lovely and welcoming!

Suggestion 3: Rent a scooter or car and go beyond the tourism. It can be a bit pricey but this is a sure way to see more of Cuba without a filter. The country is absolutley gorgeous and the people are very sweet. However, a drive into a town like Cardinez or even Havana without a tour guide will surely let you see some of the poverty and living conditions. While the home I visited in Cardenas was well furnished (lots of Canadian products, brought down to my friend from Canadian), this is not always the case. I was invited into an apartment in Havana from someone trying to sell me cigars and this building was difficult for me to walk through emotionally. There were no ceilings in the hallways or doors on most apartment, the building was littered with people sleeping all over the place and made of all cement. A whole other side of Cuba that we as tourists do not normally see.

Here are some photos from my most recent travels to Cuba with my mom. Enjoy!

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Wander With Love,

inconsistently.tash

Selamat Petang to Travel

Dreaming of Travel?

Have you ever sat at your desk, perhaps been on your lunch break, took a deep breathe and thought to yourself “I wish I was laying on a beach right now?” Maybe you have caught yourself browsing mindlessly through the photos of one of the many new age travel bloggers photo albums, consistently displaying exotic and wondrous places. Were you thinking to yourself “how the hell are they living this kind of life? How can they afford to travel?” Perhaps, this turned into watching videos about how to make money travel blogging, obtaining brand endorsements, etc.

These are generalizations, but without a doubt, statements and moments (maybe frequent moments) that many people identify with. I had these thoughts, and yes, I do believe there are people out there travelling and making money via social media and blogging. However, these cases are not the majority. In fact,I have not met one person in my own experience that is funding their travels in these capacities.

How are other people funding travel then?

Commonly, I hear “ I saved up”, “I work when I need to” and “I volunteer for free room and board.” As well, It cannot go without notice that many people travel in places where their money can go further. For example, as a Canadian travelling in SouthEast Asia our dollar can sometimes stretch 30 to 1 in poorer countries. For those in the European Union, money can go even further.

Though not always the case, detachment from monogamous relationships, no property owned or major commitments are often characteristics and typical situations of many of the people I have met doing long term travelling; backpacking or what not. While there are still the youngins’ doing Europe on a dime, with a dime bag to keep the party going, age does not seem to be restricted to those in their 20s anymore. I have met people ranging from about 20 to 60, and many people in their 30s. (Maybe 30s are the new 20s!)

Who have I met?

Recently, I met a couple from the Netherlands that sold everything they had and are now travelling with their sole possessions. They are “checked out” of their home country, and pay for private health and travel insurance. They move place to place as volunteers, exchanging their time and skills for room and food. They have been to multiple countries such as India, Sri Lanka, and most recently Malaysia. No strict plans for the next location, they plan as they go. They expressed to me that they feel better helping people with their labour as opposed to just making money, and of course, love seeing and learning about new places.

An older man from Estonia that I am currently volunteering with is volunteering while travelling indefinitely. He currently has no other plans, nor a significant other that I am aware of. He works hard! We have been taking down and building a new fence together at an eco-adventure camp in Malaysia and this man does not stop working. He prefers to be alone, but has a lot of character and interesting input when he does chat.

It seems to me that this new generation of travellers often creates capacity by way of more of a minimalist lifestyle. Freeing themselves from a multitude of possessions, enabling individuals with an open mind to value experience, people and beautiful moments.

Are you willing to get your hands dirty?

To date, I have only had 1 volunteer experiences as I am still early in my travels. As I mentioned, clearing bush and trees to replace a fence line for an eco-adventure camp. We also hung new eaves trough, and helped navigate campers in a cave one day. Back home, I work in education and my hands do not get dirty. Just like Muay Thai did, this was kicking my ass! My travel chum Yogi, being an arborist, was killing it and really adding value, but even Yogi was feeling challenged by the extremely hot weather conditions, and mosquitos, mosquitos, mosquitos. I ended up with some kind of bacterial eye infection and Yogi injured his back, so this cut our time volunteering in Malaysia a bit short. Nonetheless, we feel good about giving back in some way, to a country that affords us the opportunity to travel and welcomes us as tourists so graciously. (Selamat Patang!) We have also learned more about Malaysian culture by having more time to chat with locals.

So, are you…willing to live with minimal possessions? Carry your life on your back? Volunteer? Save, save, save then spend spend spend it all! Sleep on the floor in a mosquito net? Maybe live out of a van for a month?
If yes, then do it! Be creative about your trip and consider what makes you happy, as well as your current limitations. Be open minded and respectful to all cultures! You will learn so much, and experience new and amazing things everyday.

All the beautiful places in the world start with an attitude that can appreciate the uphill trek as much as the lookout point you arrive to.

Tips

When you arrive to a picturesque place, smile and take a deep breathe. Enjoy the space for what it currently has to offer, and not for the outcome or likes you may get on social media.

WorkAway is a great program that connects volunteers with hosts internationally. It is secure and has some amazing volunteer opportunities, in exchange for room and food.

Feel lucky if you speak English as a first language, as this is the common language among tourists.