Finally, Havana!

I've always had a bizarre fascination with Cuba. When I was about 5 or 6 years old, my parents moved my great-grandma's old television into my room. Little did they know what a bad idea that was. I can recall countless nights when I would stay up late watching old episodes of I Love Lucy on Nick at Nite with the volume turned down so low that my mom and dad would still think I was asleep. It was during this time that I first learned of Cuba's existence. Throughout the series, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo talk about Cuba, and even take a visit. Seeing Lucy travel to this exotic locale, I wanted to be just like her and take the journey to Cuba myself. I can recall asking my dad if we could go to Cuba and remember him explaining to me why we could not go. I became frustrated when I learned that our neighbors to the North and South, and pretty much the rest of the world (including Lucy) could go to Cuba, yet I was barred. Cuba had been the forbidden fruit for much of my parent's lifetime and certainly had been forbidden for all of mine.

Flash-forward to college, when I convinced the head of the management department at my school to let me write my own syllabus for an independent study program in Cuba, just so I could check it out. Apparently my course on the changing economic environment in Cuba and its move away from government-owned and operated businesses wasn't impressive enough, because I never did get to go. 

Flash-forward again to just last Monday when I printed the application for approved travel to Cuba that I had planned on completing before the weekend was over. It turned out that I fit into two of the twelve approved categories for legal travel from the US, and I figured I would get an easy “yes” back from the US government to travel. But while giving a tour last Thursday here in L.A., I received a text from my dad about President Obama's announcement to relax certain policies on travel to Cuba. I jumped out of my seat as the time had finally come! No long application required. 

Although tourist activities are still deemed illegal, travel to Cuba is now permitted and completely possible for US Citizens. As of last Friday, you no longer need permission to enter Cuba if you fall within one of the twelve approved categories. Moreover, the rules seem rather lax since there is no one to decide if you fit into one of the categories before you go. 

Americans have long been fascinated with our Cuban neighbors only 90 miles south of the Florida Keys. Personally, I am as excited as can be to head on down and see what we have been missing out on all of these years. The island holds a certain allure: the old cars, the Cuban cigars, and, of course, the mojitos. However, this doesn't change the fact that it is a deeply struggling country that has been paralyzed for the past 50+ years. Times are changing, however, and soon traveling as a tourist will be legal. New cars will roll in, Cuban cigars won't be so hard to come by, and the Cuban government won't own all of the hotels and restaurants (great news for Cuban entrepreneurs). However, my fear is that soon it will be another run-of-the-mill, generic dump like Cancun (sorry spring-breakers, but that’s not my kind of travel). My suggestion is to get down there before it all changes. Go learn about the country on a people-to-people educational tour. As for me, I will be getting down there as soon as possible. I cannot wait to visit, research, and report back to all of you just what life is really like down there. Luckily, a small portion of my job will be to tell you the best places for authentic Cuban food, cigars, and mojitos! I'll be taking notes from Hemingway and checking out a few of his favorite spots. I've heard he holds the record at El Floridita—16 daquari's no sugar, double rum—but don’t count on me to try and top that.

Finally, Havana. And, it is indeed one of the more beautiful cities I’ve ever seen– and I have seen a lot of them. I wasn’t prepared for this, how beautiful it would be, how relatively unspoiled by time. How over 50 years later, it looks like the Havana of dreams. Only maybe, a little shabbier.
— Anthony Bourdain

The 12 legal types of visits to Cuba without prior government permission:

  1. Family visits
  2. Official government business
  3. Journalism
  4. Professional research and meetings
  5. Educational activities
  6. Religious activities
  7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, exhibitions and athletic competitions
  8. "Support for the Cuban people"
  9. Humanitarian projects
  10. Activities of private foundations or research for educational institutes
  11. Exporting or importing information or "information materials"
  12. Travel related to some authorized export transactions

Be sure to check the US Treasury Departments website for more information.

Havana, Cuba