I’ve taken many memorable vacations over the course of my lifetime. Each vacation I’ve taken has left me with fond memories, new friends, and a new outlook on my surroundings.
One recent vacation, in particular, left me with more than I could ever imagine from a simple week-long trip. I didn’t have to travel very far to this destination; in fact, I technically didn’t even have to leave the continent. A short bus ride to the airport and a 4-hour flight was all I needed to get to one of the most unique, diverse places in this hemisphere.
My reasons for going to Cuba were very clear; Beautiful beaches, unique culture, low crime rate and, of course, the city of Havana. I also wanted to experience a place that hadn’t been “Americanized” like a lot of the other Caribbean Islands. Since I was traveling alone, I erred on the side of caution and booked an all-inclusive beach resort vacation package. This seemed like the best way to approach my first trip to a new country alone.
I arrived in Varadero very late on a Friday night and had the eye-opening experience of seeing first hand what travelers do while vacationing at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean which included screaming, cursing, and excessive drinking. This partying continued throughout the entire week, with new arrivals by the bus load each day. I tried to join in on the partying my second night there but quickly realized that what I really wanted to do was see and experience the real Cuba.
My first morning in Varadero, I decided that I had no interest in following some made-up, pre-thought out itinerary that took place entirely on the resort. I have to hand it to them though because the resort employees did a very good job at ensuring there were enough organized and pre-planned activities so that visitors wouldn’t want or need to leave the resort. I was even told by several tour organizers who tried to sell me organized (and expensive) excursions that it was simply too dangerous to venture off the resort on my own. Brainwashing and fear-mongering are two things that do not and never will work on me; not only did I leave the resort on my own every day, I also mingled with and made friends with many of the locals and there were no attempts to pickpocket me, murder me, rob me or maim me in any way. In fact, the Cuban people were among the nicest people I have ever met.
When I travel to another country, I want to meet the people who live there and learn more about how they live and do things. While the other guests at my resort were mingling with one another and only seeking out others from home, I was getting to know the groundskeepers, coffee servers, housekeepers and bartenders. I learned a lot about the Cuban way of life just from chatting with these people during my morning coffee or evening nightcap in the common area.