It's been a few weeks - alright, months - but Travel Bug Tuesday is back! I love this opportunity (and motivation) to dig through my photo archives and reminisce.
After meeting the tour group in Havana, we traveled to Trinidad.
Cobblestone streets, horses and carts, vintage cars, constant music and a UNESCO heritage listed city centre. It was wonderful.
Welcome to Trinidad. Welcome to Cuba.
I find cemeteries fascinating. There is so much tradition and ceremony associated with how we honour the dead. So much care and attention to detail.
On my last day in Cuba, I walked to the Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón (Cristobal Cemetery) in Havana. So glad I made the effort to get there - it was beautiful.
My travel tip for today: Don't forget to look up.
There are so many wonderful details that occur above our line of sight. Architectural lines and curves. Decorated ceilings. Ornate columns and light fittings.
When traveling take a moment to enjoy this different perspective. Just don't try and walk at the same time. :)
A church, Macau
A different church, Macau
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Public Library, New York
Library of Congress, Washington DC
In Cuba most of our accomodation was in Casa Particulars, which are people's homes. So we could be certain we were returning to the right home, we took photos of the facade as we left. Aside from having them as a reference if required, it meant we stopped for a moment and noticed what the home looked like which helped us remember.
Tip: Consider taking a photo of places you want to find again.
Last year I began a (intended to be) regular feature called Travel Bug Tuesday. I was pretty excited about the idea and think I came up with some interesting posts, such as Toileting and the 'I Can't Believe I'm Actually Here!' Moment. However, since December when I returned from my latest travels, when I had new stories and thoughts to share, I have managed only one TBT post. And that was at the urging of my Mum.
I blame Cuba.
Despite spending 3 weeks in Cuba I have barely posted anything about it. (What I have posted is here.) Sure, internet was more expensive there and slower and harder to find, but that isn’t the real reason. And it certainly doesn’t explain my silence since.
I just don’t know where to start.
When we travel we notice the differences to our previous experience, from home. I don't mean compare everything and find it wanting - no one wants to be the person who goes around saying 'It's better at home' – but differences in sight, sound, taste and smell is what captures our attention and, hopefully, delights us.
I’m reminded of a scene from the movie Love Actually. Three American girls are sitting in a bar with Colin, getting him to repeat words with his English accent, laughing and copying him. 'Bottle.' 'Bottle.' 'Straw'. 'Straw.' 'Table.' 'Ta..oh, it's the same.' (Gotta love youtube. Movie clip is here.) Difference is interesting and good. The girls were disappointed when Colin pronounced the word the same. To experience difference is why we travel.
Arriving in San Francisco, I posted about walking down the street and feeling like I had stepped into a TV show. The smell of hotdogs, the police car, the accents…. These were all things different from at home. But in Cuba it seemed like everywhere I looked, everything was different. The moment we stepped off the airplane people lit up cigars. You just don't get that at home. To be there and experience it felt fantastic but to put it down on paper or post felt like an impossible task.
I have an email that I wrote just before I left India in 2008 that I think really describes my impressions of India. (It's going to post in next TBT.) And talk about an overwhelming country! But with Cuba I don’t think I have been able to do that. I haven’t been able to capture the sense of the country.
However, I've started trying. I created this list throughout my travels there.
Things that seemed particularly Cuban
· Cristol and Bucanero beer
· Toilets without seats
· No toilet paper or running water in public bathrooms
· Seeing people carry cakes. They would be just walking down the street, carrying them on a plate, uncovered. Cubans like cakes!
· Mojitos, Cuba Libres, daiquiris and pina coladas.
· Ernest Hemingway
· Coffee flavoured crème caramel or birthday cake for breakfast.
· The song Guantanamero by Buena Fe’ which kept running through my head.
· Hissing at someone to attract their attention.
· Honking when you overtake someone on the road, be they bicycle, truck, horse and cart, whatever.
· People on the side of the road, waiting for a lift.
· Signs with CDR, Che, and Revolution on buildings.
· 26 julio flags.
· Sweet but strong black coffee that is very smooth.
· Omelettes, fruit – papaya, grapefruit juice, coffee, bread, cheese for breakfast.
· Mixed salads of avocado and cabbage, cucumber, tomato, beans all neatly arranged on the plate
· Rum – lots & lots of rum.
· Everyone knowing how to salsa.
· Music, seeming always to be heard somewhere.
· Options of seafood, pork or chicken.
· Men playing dominos, maybe chess, on card tables on the street.
· School uniforms with very short shorts with little flaps to look like skirts.
· Bicycle taxis.
· People asking for pens.
· Colours everywhere – clothing and buildings.
· Roof-top terraces.
· Repairing shoes, clothes, motorbikes and car. Just making things last.
· Potholes and deeper holes that aren’t marked or cordoned off.
· Computers from the early 90s and dot matrix printers
· No Coca-Cola, Sprite or Fanta
· The man in the grocery shop buying one single roll or toilet paper
· Casa particular signs
· Rocking chairs
· Beautiful buildings in a state of disrepair
· Brightly coloured concrete balustrades
· Hard mattresses and flat pillows
· Sheets that don’t get tucked in
· Hot water and water pressure seem like a trade-off. You can have one or the other but not both
· 1950s style nurses uniforms, complete with little cap
· Having to hand over ID to use the internet
· Train tracks but no trains
· Absolute lack of change everywhere
· Lukewarm coffee
· Coffee served in thermos
This is just some of my 'different' that I noticed in Cuba.
Travel Bug Tuesday: sharing my search for those incredible ‘I can’t believe I’m actually here!’ moments.
There are few factors that will have more impact on your experience traveling that this, and it's something we often don't really stop and consider - who you travel with.
Where you go, what you see, how active you are, if you are late to bed or early to rise, what you eat, your impressions, how you deal with the ups and downs, whether you never want the trip to end or are grateful to get back to real life - your travel companions (or lack of) have an immense impact on all this and more.
I have traveled on my own, with my parents and sister, with just my parents, with just my Mum, with a female friend, with a male friend, with a group of friends, on a tour, with a friend on a tour, on a school trip. All these different traveling companions have had different implications and consequences, both big and small. I don't think one option is necessarily better than another - just different.
As I am writing this I am away at the beach for a few days with my Mum. It's the 5th time just the two of us have headed to the beach in what has become an annual tradition. This morning we slept in, got sucked into watching the movie The Shipping News on TV and didn't actually leave the hotel room until after midday. I'm certain that if my Dad had come with us that wouldn't have happened. He would have been itching to get out the door hours earlier. What you do, how you interact, pretty much everything is influenced by who you travel with.
I know that for most people, who you travel with isn't really a choice. So, I suggest you stop and think about this traveling companion (or lack of if you're heading off alone). Think about the implications and expectations. Think about the factors you can change and those you can't. Think about how you are compatible and how you differ. Think about the big issues of budget and destination, organised tour or independent, planning ahead or winging it, experienced traveler or newbie. Think about all the smaller stuff too.
Then sit down with them and talk about it openly and honestly. Discuss your expectations. Compromise, negotiate, reassess. Even if you're planning to travel with someone you live with because there is no heading off to work when you're traveling. You will probably be together constantly. It is way better to have this conversation around your kitchen table than after arguments and frustrations halfway around the world.
For my recent trip I headed off alone. I had been considering traveling to the US, including visiting Disneyland and a roadtrip along Route 66, for over a year. Various friends, even my Mum and sister, were interested in coming but were unwilling or unable to commit due to other priorities. So, I reaccessed. Disneyland and a roadtrip wouldn't be fun on my own but I was also interested in Cuba, which I'd do on a tour anyway. A new plan was born.
Joining a tour, and the travel companions that can provide, is a bit of a leap of faith. You never know who or what you are going to get. Although you haven't met these travel companions before they are still going to have a massive impact on your travel experience. They certainly did for me in Cuba.
I was in the immigration queue at Havana airport when the person behind me noticed the Australian passport in my hand and asked if I was doing an Intrepid tour. That person was Aly.
While I was focusing on which joining hotel Aly was going to (hesitant about catching a taxi on my own), she sensibly asked which tour I was doing. Same one. Aly commented that it would be funny if we were roommates - I thought it would be funnier if we weren't. Sure enough, I'd managed to meet my Cuban roommate before even officially entering the country.
I was incredibly grateful for this a short time later as a customs lady took my passport and disappeared. It turned out I had simply been selected for a random secondary check but as I don't speak Spanish there was a while when I wasn't certain what was going on or what I was meant to be doing. Having your passport disappear isn't a pleasant experience. Although I would have managed on my own, it was wonderful to have Aly waiting by my side. After a bit of a wait and answering a few questions (including how big my camera was?!) all was fine and we headed off to the hotel.
I consider myself really lucky in getting Aly as my roommate. We got on incredibly well - maybe it has something to do with sharing the same birthday! I don't think we really spent any time apart at all until Day 10 or so of the tour. That is a big ask of any travel companions, let alone ones who have just met. Together we went sightseeing, climbed towers, shopped,lunched, chatted, took photos, pointed out things and discussed our observations. Aly had a very big impact on my experiences in Cuba. Lucky for me it was a good one.
Travel Bug Tuesday: sharing my search for those incredible ‘I can’t believe I’m actually here!’ moments.