Last week I reached a huge personal milestone and visited my 40th country – Cuba!
I spent three days in Havana, touring the historic sights and glorious architecture of La Habana Vieja, soaking up the folklore of famous former guests at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, and driving around the city in classic cars from the 1950’s.
I walked beside the Gulf of Mexico on the Malecón, witnessed a religious chicken sacrifice in the Havana Forest, drank a daiquiri at La Floridita, a favorite hang out of Hemingway’s, and enjoyed my fair share of mojitos.
But mostly I spent my time in Cuba in the streets, walking around and talking to as many people as I could. And what I found is that the people of Cuba truly are incredible, in a way I have never experienced before.
In all my travels I have never felt so cared for as a tourist by the locals as in Cuba. I received a few catcalls, yes, but mostly I received smiles, kind comments about the United States and California, and help.
Nearly every time I asked for directions, the people would not tell me where to go, but walk me to my destination, no creepiness involved. The people of Havana helped me find restaurants and accommodations, cigars and rum. The people of Havana spent time with me, hearing about my life and telling me about their own, teaching me about their history and sharing their feelings and predictions about Cuba’s future.
Every once and a while in my travels I experience a destination that fills me with a sense of zen – I get so absorbed by all I’m seeing, learning and feeling that the rest of the world seems to disappear, if but for a few days. This is how I felt in Cuba. The past few places I’ve been haven’t quite enveloped me this way so it was only fitting that country 40 would remind me of why I fell in love with travel in the first place. The people touched me deeply and I learned so much.
To have made it to 40 countries is an amazing feat for me. For so many years I ached to see the world, and it seemed these dreams would never come to fruition. An opportunity to move to Europe finally came knocking, and for the past two and a half years I’ve felt as if I’ve been on my own personal Amazing Race, living overseas in Spain and Costa Rica, dedicating most of my resources to traveling and seeing how far I can get, how much of the world I can see.
I would like to clarify that celebrating reaching my milestone of visiting 40 countries does not make me a checklist traveler.
He wrote: “Traveling is not a competition… checking off countries before a certain age is hilarious! Experience the culture!”
Personally I think his words were more of a reaction to my rebuff of some of his advances than a dig at my personal travel style (because how you can accuse someone who has spent a year living and working in Spain, and now the same in Costa Rica is beyond me), but still, his words left their mark.
I don’t believe in traveling just to check places off a list, but for me, travel is a competition I have with myself. Our time on this Earth is limited and my finances are even more limited, and I want to push myself to visit as many places as I can while I can. And while I’m in these places I strive to also experience them as fully as I can.
I prefer to sum up my friend Michelle’s much more supportive remark about my travel style: “you, Lauren, can see a lot in three days.”
I know that quality means more than quantity when it comes to travel. I would never judge anyone based on the number of countries they have been to (though I would judge you if you went to a historical hotel in Havana and asked the receptionist if the pizza on the menu is fresh or frozen. My response would be “why are you trying to eat pizza in Cuba?”).
Cuba touched me deeply. I have so much to write about and share with you and will be posting more in the coming weeks here on Something In Her Ramblings.
Thanks to all my readers for your support as I’ve trekked to 40 countries and counting!