{Travel Tuesday} Cuba: Write and Remember

 

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I wish I had written about Cuba when I traveled to the island in 2018. I was only there for a day with my best friend on a cruise stop. It was the hottest day of the cruise, that I recall well. Sweat dripping into my eyes despite the smiles for the camera. But of all of our stops that gorgeous cruise trip, our one day in Cuba was my favorite. The problem is, as I flipped through old photos, I can’t remember everything that made the day so special.

Hence, why this is such an important post. What I do remember I will try to detail out here, and pray for another visit one day in the future that lasts longer than just a few hours.

Timeless is the first word that comes to mind, when thinking of walking the streets of Havana that hot morning. There was something quiet and timeless in the old cruiser cars, the signs that hung above shops on the streets, and the architecture run down by the salty air, but kept “nice” with a colorful coat of paint.

Rum, Cigars, and Coffee, oh my! The best part of learning about Cuba was a rum, cigar, and coffee tasting in an old bar where we got a mini dance and music lesson. The three biggest exports of the island, rum, cigars, and coffee (along with fish which we learned later on our tour that day), were cheap and good. We learned of the different grades of Cuban cigars– our guide told us to never buy the most expensive cigars offered because at the end of the day, whatever options are layed out, it’s still a cigar from Cuba. Romeo and Juliette is the brand we tried, not the most expensive, but still as pure as they come. I remember Tiffany, my best friend on the trip too, being able to light her cigar with ease, smoking like she’d done it 1,000 times. I on the other hand struggled with the simple task.  As we learned, the correct way to light a Cuban cigar is with a little strip of cedar, that allows the cigar to burn, without contaminating the flavor. My strip of cedar was burning too fast before I ever really got the cigar lit, and burnt my fingers instead. I did get a small a taste of flavor for a couple of moments, enough to feel like a true tourist.

As for coffee and rum, the rum was CHEAP and a handle of the same rum in the USA would have been $20-30 depending on tax! In Cuba, I chose not to take the opportunity to get a bottle for just $5. Taught me a little bit of the price markup and taxes that make some imported goods so expensive. And the coffee tasted sweet, not bitter. Fresh Cuban coffee, having not sat on a shelf for weeks or months before brewing, probably allowed for the flavors of the bean to stand out. I thoroughly enjoyed that bit of the flavors that day.

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Life in Cuba, our guide had lived her whole life where everything from cooking oil to meat was rationed by family size. She said her family (parents and a sibling) only got 7 oz of oil per month, which is not quite a cup. Imagine spilling that on your floor one day by accident, or using too much in the pan than necessary… It’s hard to think you can’t just go to the cupboard for more, but have to wait till the following month to get what you need.

As the country is growing to attract more tourists, they have programs that allow people to go to Hotel and Restaurant service school. A way to have a guaranteed career in the Travel and Tourist Biz if they don’t want to continue their education after high school. Handfuls of 20 year-old (ish) men and women walked in their uniforms, and when I asked the guide about if school was still in session, though it was the middle of July, she informed me that training to work in a restaurant or hotel is the thing to do after high school. That and like her, becoming a tour guide.

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And finally, I thought it was fascinating that Hemmingway spent so much time in Cuba fishing, writing, and living. We stopped in the hotel he used to stay and live at when he was on the island, and even saw him shaking the hand in an old photo with Fidel Castro. It was in Cuba that he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, the work that turned him into a household name.

I suppose I remember quite a bit considering our cruise ship was docked for a total of 7 hours, before moving on to Cozumel, MX. The beauty of writing is it forces you, me, to remember with words in a way much different than passively flipping through photos, and I am so grateful to have all of the memories of that day.

{Travel Tuesday} Morocco: A Dream Here and Gone

 

ⓉⓇⒶⓋⒺⓁ 𝒯 𝓊 ℯ 𝓈 𝒹 𝒶 𝓎 : One of the best trips of my life was the two weeks I spent in Morocco for Christmas and New Years last year. Studying and living in Madrid, Spain, I wasn’t about to spend the time and money going back to the USA when the goal of my year abroad was to travel, see, and go to as many other places as possible. And this trip was super special because there were a total of 8 women from all over who made the trip, most of whom I knew from church back home in the USA. Such a God thing, because it was too crazy good of a trip to not be set up by the One above.

Anywhoo, part of me thinks that girl trips are THE BEST. Two weeks spent laughing ourselves to sleep amidst no judgment with the amount of selfies we took because we were all doing it. Plus the magic of traveling by bus from city to city eating loads of tagine, getting treated to mint tea at every turn, and learning the history Morocco, such as Fez boasting the first university of the world, now used as a mosque.

This trip We rang in New Years under the desert stars as bright and long as the eye could see. We rode camels that we got to name and discovered that Algeria and Morocco share the desert with each other. We went to a hammam and laughed as we deep cleaned ourselves in the weekly Moroccan ritual together.

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Here is the thing, my Morocco trip was there for a moment and then gone forever. I have the photos and videos to help me remember. I’ll forever be grateful for the flashes of dusty landscape and seeing a leather tannery. The trip was both an answer to prayer and a promise to myself that the good things that come to us should not be taken advantage of and dismissed, but instead seized, rung out and used up, every last drop. I could cry and complain that those good times are done and the trip is over. Or I could realize that it was a gift and more good gifts, different gifts are yet to come from God above.

I will NEVER get today back. I will never get last weekend back. I will never get my trip to Morocco back. But I can seize the moment, day, season I’m in now ringing it out to dry for all the good that’s in front of me, knowing that God is leading me down wonderful paths to places I only dream of now, set up by Him, just like my Moroccan trip.

A dream here and gone– don’t take advantage of where you are at, instead find the good, and soak it all up. In another day, week, month, or year, it will all be gone and you’ll be in a new place in life with just the memories.

 

{Travel Tuesday} New York, New York

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Travel doesn’t have to be far across the seas. Sometimes it means visiting an overwhelming city just four hours from you. Though not far from my home, New York’s big city vibes, rushing working people, and gawking tourists might as well be another country. Nothing. No where. Is like New York City. And with the amazing city that NY, NY is, I think people forget that New York state has mountains to ski, woods, farms, lakes, and even Amish!

My first trip to New York city was for an 8th grade choir trip to see Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. At the time I had a disposable camera that I still have photos from in a little scrapbook. How times have changed– yet New York proper with its Times Square,  lights, noise, people, and busyness never has.

A few years later in high school, I joined a group of students from my church to do a Thanksgiving food giveaway for the homeless. Inviting people to join us, we invited people of every kind to eat a hot meal which we gave and served with smiles and joy. I never knew that a pair of socks, or new jacket could mean so much as we handed those out to the people we came across as well.

Then, there was the first time I drove through the city in college. My big brother was in the passenger seat next to me, coaching me how to navigate driving amongst the oceans of people and anxiety producing honks from cars lined up behind if I didn’t move fast enough. A few times I’ve made actual day trips to the city just to run errands like dropping someone off at JFK or needing a foreign consulate office. NYC a hub of all kinds is never a first choice for a day trip– but I’ve made the drive with no other choice.

The most enjoyable NYC trip was an actual business trip, spending a week at a time for two weeks at big hotels in the city. You know, the fancy kinds with doormen, elevators that act like spaceships with their speeds, and food I didn’t even know how to pronounce on the menu. Those two weeks with the basketball team I worked with were a taste of how famous and business people live every day flying in and out of the city on other’s money.

From Times Square to China town, riding in the train from Jersey, getting lost by myself in the financial district one night after midnight on my way back to Brooklyn, discovering the Christmas trees and hotel from Home Alone, and kissing my boyfriend in Central Park the very last trip I took, I truly have memories to spare of my trips to NY. I cherish each visit, though I am never sad to leave the smoggy, overwhelming place. New York– a place of wonder, lights, the best of Broadway, homelessness to be tackled, cockroaches to be killed, and food and drinks that always looks like it should be in a magazine all in one bright package.

 

{Travel Tuesday} Jamaica: They Have BMW’s Too

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I have one of the coolest, down to earth, kind, generous, LOVING boyfriends. We met unexpectedly on the last night of a Royal Caribbean cruise a little over a year ago… My best friend and I took a girls week and Kevin was with his family. From the night we met, through the months of us talking, to his traveling to see me in my home state of Pennsylvania so he could take me out, and eventually me caving to his asking me so many times to be his girlfriend… I realized how many presumptions and assumptions I had about his country.

But these presumptions and assumptions only came to light as I began to get to know the man pursuing me. The man pursuing me LOVES his BMW, knows more about American football than I do (and I worked for a prominent collegiate football team), and when we are together he tries to take me out for date night every night. He’s educated. Flew planes for six years in Miami. Played soccer (football) on the same field that Usain Bolt trained for running. And! …He pays for my Netflix!! Well. I just use his because last year as a student I wasn’t trying to spend extra money on frivolous things like TV shows.

Getting to know Kevin has opened my eyes to what I thought I knew about Caribbean culture and as a third world country. You see, had I thought Jamaica needed to be rescued. Oh, I knew it was a gorgeous tropical island with great beaches and rum. But only for tourists at resorts. Locals had to deal with crime and danger at every turn. To be honest, before Kevin I hadn’t really met anyone from Jamaica and my closest encounter with the country was the missions trip my childhood church went on to save the poor country from itself. (I wasn’t allowed to go. Tells you how close I got to Jamaica before this spring).

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When I finally got to visit Kevin this past spring, my island guy introduced me to brunches and coffee shops in the mountains with views, local business shops with trendy styles, resorts with endless food buffets, impromptu ballroom and beach dancing, friends who called me “queen” and “empress”, and nights in the city complete with bottles of wine.

Like anywhere, Jamaica is full of so much to do see and experience. People are kind and fun. There are beautiful homes, churches, schools and lush scenery everywhere you turn…  Like anywhere, there is crime. Poverty. And more to be done to help others less fortunate. You don’t need to travel to a third world country to give to to those in need. You don’t need to stay in a first world country to drive a BMW. Jamaica isn’t perfect, but as I write these Travel Tuesday posts I have yet to find a perfect country in any way. And as Ziggy Marley says, “When people come to Jamaica, we don’t want them to think about the problems of Jamaica. So let them come be in their paradise.”

 

 

I’m grateful my island guy drove me all over his home country those two week this last year, taking pride in all that he showed me. He’s passionate about where he is from, and wanted me to experience the best of it when I was there. And thanks to him, Jamaica’s paradise became a little bit of mine.

{Travel Tuesday} Nice: Beautiful French Riviera

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The French Riviera though!!! The closest I’ve see to the gorgeous city of Nice in the USA is Santa Barbara, CA. You’ll just fall in love with walks along the beach, sunsets below the city, or in the hills above it, coastal views that wrap around harbors and marinas, up, down, in the city, or along the water, the beauty of the French Riviera, and today’s Travel Tuesday post in Nice will have your mouth watering.

I only spent three days there, but as a single female, traveling by myself that winter break in 2018, I felt comfortable walking and exploring both with the sun up and down. The city was pretty easy to navigate with a cell phone, but honestly the best was when I didn’t use a map and walked taking photos everywhere I went. If you have a camera you’ll hardly want to put it down, the quaint buildings, European architecture, and beach made for some of the prettiest photos. And if nothing else, I spend my time popping in and out of the cute shops after getting my fill of hills that line the coast and beach runs.

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The hills were easy to climb and DEFINITELY worth the trek up. Stairs led the way, and at one point on the beach I looked up at the hills and saw an amazing waterfall with people milling about. Once finding my way, I realized the waterfall was man made, but only added to the unique appeal of city + coast + mountains.

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Nice was a TAD expensive. I did the Air BnB thing which included breakfast, and I only bought food once a day outside of the morning toast and coffee provided, so I kept my costs down. That and I traveled after the holidays (a few days after New Years) and I think that helped me get around the tourist prices of traveling to the area. However, I treated myself to one “nice” meal (haha get it?) and though my host who recommended the restaurant said it would be okay for one person, I remember paying about 60 euros for just the food. Yikes! And the shops weren’t that far off as far as expense either… though I admit I spent most of my time in the touristy areas of Nice. Perhaps deeper into the city it would be cheaper? To me buying things wasn’t the point of my visit. My photos were enough of a souvenir and even now after going through them for months, I have too many to choose from to get printed and framed!

In all I recommend Nice 100%. Go here before Paris, please.