Headed to Cuba in January!

18 Oct

I got some good news that I was waiting on this afternoon. Though I’m still in my first semester as a grad student, I applied for a new program at American University to travel to Cuba during the winter break and study for two weeks at an intensive course at the University of Havana. I guess my years of experience and hard work have finally paid off because I was accepted and will spend two weeks this winter learning about the culture, economy and contemporary politics of Cuba. This is a great opportunity because I know that in the future things will change with Cuba, and I’m eager to get to see how things are before major tourism opens up.

I’ve already become something of an expert on the Southern Cone and the Andean countries after living in South America for three years, but my experience in the Caribbean countries is admittedly less impressive. In Central America I’ve only been to Costa Rica and because it was years ago, don’t have extremely vivid memories. I’ve been to Puerto Rico a handful of times, but as a tourist. I know that there are extreme differences between traveling somewhere as a student or worker. But mainly, the fact that I am now fluent in Spanish and can converse with people openly opens doors in so many ways. Now I hope to improve my knowledge and understanding of this region which has been off limits to many for so many decades.

It’s funny, but already a number have people have told me to be careful when I go to Cuba. I appreciate the concern, but I wonder what it’s based on. Obviously they aren’t speaking from experience, or even stories from friends who have been there. Why do some Americans (if not most) possess an image of Cuba as dangerous? Yes, they have a different form of government and ideology, and we are in theory enemies, but where is the evidence saying that I’m likely to be robbed? I know someone who was robbed in Havana, but I know many more who’ve been robbed in Quito, Guayaquil, Buenos Aires, Boston, New York, Washington, etc etc. I’ve been told that you generally don’t need to fear for your safety walking down the street in Havana, but don’t worry, I don’t try to push my luck…too much.

Maybe it’s something about having already been through a bus hijacking, but I’m not too worried about travel to certain parts of the world anymore. There was a time when I wouldn’t consider going to Bolivia, for example, but eventually I was backpacking around there on my own. Once a person has fluency in the language, they gain a great sense of empowerment and comfort. So much of fear is based on a lack of language ability. Sometimes you just need to know how to shmooze your way out of a situation.

So Travel Guy will continue to be traveling, and already the prospect of a trip ahead has me excited and anxious to get underway. Still, there are miles to go before I sleep, and though we’re halfway through the semester (yes, already), I have a million other things to work on as well. Here’s to 2012 in Cuba!

5 Responses to “Headed to Cuba in January!”

  1. Austin-Lehman Adventures October 19, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    Congratulations on your approval for visiting Cuba – even if you love the place half as much as we do, you’re going to be crazy about it.

    Good luck and all the best with success in your chosen field of study. See you in Cuba.

    As for legally visiting Cuba, it’s now a reality, a few tour operators including ourselves and National Geographic have been approved to operate tours into Cuba for Us Citizens – check out our Cuba trips page for deets: http://www.austinlehman.com/cuba-trips-107.php

    • Jon October 19, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

      Thanks for reading and commenting. That sounds pretty interesting. What kind of tourism do you do in Cuba? I used to work at a travel agency for two years in Argentina until recently returning to the United States.

      • Austin-Lehman Adventures October 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

        You’re welcome Jon.

        Our first Cuba Adventure Travel experience is one of a Cultural nature which covers an introduction to Cuba – and visits to several cultural locations – but I think the 1906 steam train visit the Valle de los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) is going to blow people away.

  2. Jon October 20, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    That sounds pretty interesting. I hope everything works out and becomes successful. I’m sure that eventually Cuba will be a very hot destination. I’ll definitely be doing some writing about my time there.

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