Serial procrastination and chronic sloth syndrome (yes that’s a thing) have made me a subpar planner.  It doesn’t matter where I’m going or how much time I have in advance…if I can wing it, then wing it I shall. Ya, wing it…wing it reaaaal good.

And then one day my boyfriend decided it was time to live out his life long dream of visiting Cuba. Cuba you say? The lovely little country a stone’s throw away with strict U.S. travel policies?  I played it cool as a cucumber but deep down I knew what this meant…it meant research and typing and printing and organizing and binders and excel spreadsheets….EXCEL SPREADSHEETS. My right-sided brain began to twitch. The U.S. required we organize a full time itinerary of educational interactions and activities. Sooooo…plan every minute of every day for the entirety of our trip? I got this!!! (I don’t got this)

Three months later I stood with aplomb in the heart of Havana—trusty binder in hand. But I’m telling you, no amount of planning, probing or recommendations could have prepared me for the whirlwind love affair that would befall my heart and this city. 

The streets were unpolished jewels lined with crumbling Spanish colonial architecture. The air was heavy with humidity and nostalgia, colors melting from the walls.  Smiles were weathered as I watched passersby; some in a hurry as they dipped and dodged through traffic while others leaned in silence in crooked doorways. It’s a scene that stole my heart and broke it all at once.

Victims of circumstance, the Cuban people have grown into some of the most resourceful, resilient, ingenious beings. They are downright mad-scientist-MacGyver-masterminds. I saw Frankenstein cars running on boat engines, grills made from the bases of metal chairs, paper recycled from cigar wrappings and boxes welded to bikes to form squeaky pedicabs (many of which we hired to explore the city).

Helena and Luis—a young couple and aspiring musicians—were gracious enough to show us their home and explain the realities of living in Cuba. They talked about the struggles of gaining exposure for their music with no access to the Internet and little funds. Helena (who learned English by watching American movies) showed me a book that was resting on the ledge of her 6" x 12" window. It was called “Con Nuestros Propios Esfuerzos” which translates to “With Our Own Efforts” and was issued in 1992 to teach citizens how to reuse and repair common objects. Among the pages was a recipe on how to turn grapefruit rinds into “steaks” by marinating and sautéing them with lemon juice, garlic, and onions. While Cuba has made many strides since 1992, it is conversations like this that remind me of the importance of gratitude, fortitude and outreach.

So if you find yourself in Cuba then of course you should rent a vintage convertible and drink a mojito at the Floridita; it will make you grin like a 1950s movie star. But take a step deeper. Appreciate the time away from your phone, talk with artists and business owners, eat in nondescript restaurants. Shop for tattered books and walk up the hauntingly beautiful staircase at La Guarida. I promise you will not be disappointed and you will never be the same.

The images below were taken by mi amor during a few life changing days in Old Havana.