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Here’s What I Learned from My Trip to Cuba

Experiential travel is essential for Africans too. Here's how my trip to Cuba changed me.

My heart was pounding faster than normal as I stepped out of the plane from Cuba to Miami: emotions everywhere, mainly sad ones. The reality of coming back to the hustle and bustle of civilization, after spending a week in a country where I felt away from the world, brought so much nostalgia.  Funny to mention that I was so ready to return home from the pre-modernized Cuban lifestyle while there, but as soon as I got a glimpse of home, I wanted to run back to the feeling of wholesomeness and clarity I experienced from the lack of communication with the outside world while solo traveling in Cuba. 

 


Havana Housing Near Park Central by Monisola Baruwa

Here I observed the daily life of everyday Cubans: sitting outside their apartments talking and looking at people walking the streets and of course the Vintage cars. This building is very close to Park Central.

 

During my first few days in Cuba, a resounding shock that Internet was not readily available–even though I had been notified of this–made me very restless.  Halfway through the third day though, I was totally basking in the bliss of actually enjoying my trip: connecting with the Cuban locals and experiencing life as a Cuban. Within 6 days, I traveled to 4 cities within Cuba – Havana, Vinales, Trinidad and Cienfuegos. Although I would recommend to stay longer if you want to explore and experience Cuba or visit two cities at a time for a shorter stay.

A lot of black Cubans are descendants from Angola or Nigeria, so they took bits of our culture with them.

 

I was very nervous navigating the country solo, but somehow I had the confidence that there is no way I’d die or get hurt doing something I love. God simply wouldn’t let that happen to me. So I enjoyed the safe environments of Cuba as I traveled via public transport and trusted the locals for directions to the other cities. My host, Dora, in the Casa Particulares as they’re fondly called was very helpful in connecting me with her neighbors and people in the other cities.  I found that we Nigerians had a lot in common with Cubans, especially the Yoruba culture. A lot of black Cubans are descendants from Angola or Nigeria, so they took bits of our culture with them.  Being in Cuba felt as though I was put in a time machine and transported back to over 60 years ago. The “classic”, “vintage” cars and taxis, preserved old colonial buildings, colorful slums in the city center of Havana, the taxi horses, and everything you can think of from pre-modern times beautifully make up the country of Cuba. Making it not only a tourist haven but also a country rich in history, culture and singularity.

 
 

Monisola Baruwa in Cienfuegos Cuba

I traveled Cuba with only a backpack. Photo taken in front of a school captured by another Tourist couple.

 

The tiny historical city of Trinidad is like no other; its cobblestone roads and tiny buildings geographically placed in the beautiful warm temperatures of Latin America makes it a den for European tourists. Although Trinidad is too small for a city girl like me, its pequena size made me feel big, exploring majority of the city in a day. This trip taught me to trust others.  Having that Nigerian mindset, it can be hard to trust people in “local” settings because of fear of getting duped.  When I landed in Cienfuegos with no idea on how to get back to Havana, I had to follow my gut, trusting this guy who found me a taxi collectivo, their shared taxi, back to Havana. I was very nervous but he kept telling me to relax; eventually I had no option but to trust that he had good intentions.

The Cubans are all about community and love.

 

This trip taught me a lot. Specifically one that I feel Africans, especially Nigerians, can adopt. To love one another; love your own people. The Cubans are all about community and love. People kept wondering if I was okay when they didn’t hear from me for days. Indeed I was! I was learning the art of love from the way the locals cared for one another and me, when they felt I was a part of their community.

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Vinales-Cuba-by-Monisola-Baruwa

“Mural de la Prehistoria” (background) in the village town of Vinales. Man in sombrero and his cow.

Monisola Baruwa

Moni Baruwa is the founder of CountlessMiles, a travel start-up that aims to transform the culture of travel in Africa by curating for its clients unique destination experiences within and outside the continent.

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