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By Kashema H

I didn’t know what to expect when I landed in Cuba. When I arrived there was a driver waiting to take me to my Airbnb. On our way, we spoke about Jose Marti, one of Cuba’s national hero and literary genius. He told me about the must-see sites and various fun facts about the island, but I was more interested in people-to-people exchanges.

When we arrived there was nothing fancy about our Airbnb, it was humble, yet sufficient. My friend arrived on an earlier flight and gave me the rundown. Our host was gracious and friendly if we needed anything (iron, blow dryer, etc.) she accommodated. After I was settled, we went on our first adventure, walking along the Malecon, (the sea wall that runs on the outskirts of the Old Havana, Central Havana and Vedado) in search of one of our other friend.  We couldn’t find him but the view was amazing and we settled into a small restaurant for dinner. The food was fresh and well seasoned, which was contrary to the comments that I heard during my flight to Cuba. They even had a restaurant that resembled  Kennedy Fried Chicken and its prices, they sold chicken by the weight at the corner of  San Lazaro and San Francisco.

The Malecon
As much as I wanted the people-to-people exchange, I wanted to “fit in.” So I wore a slightly crushed t-shirt, jean shorts, and sneakers. It didn’t matter, they knew that I wasn’t Cuban. As we walked people asked,  “Americano?” “United States?”  “Oh yeah, what part?” they also made statements like “America is good, Trump is bad.” My high school Spanglish came in handy as we interacted, it got better as the days went by. Hola!

Sunset from the Malecon 
Considering el barrio, one would think it was dangerous. On the contrary, the people came and went as they pleased. We got back to our Airbnb in the wee hours almost every night. Our hostess did caution us to walk with our bags in sight, but there was never a sense of danger. The only theft came when it was time to get around, some taxi drivers wanted to overcharge us. The prices varied but a regular Taxi Colectivo, where they dropped you to your location rather than hopping out at a set point, was on average 5 CUCs. We got hip real quick to the regular prices and how to get around; plus walking was tons of fun since you could soak in more sites.

We also went on a walking tour of Old Havana. There were new and colonial buildings, but I fancied the older buildings. As I was walking down O’Reilly Street, I saw a little boy sitting on some stairs that appeared to lead to an abandoned house, but looks are deceiving in Cuba, the outside may look old, but on the inside, you never know what you’re going to find.

We took a classic car tour and went to La Cabana de Che Guevara which overlooked the city and the Caribbean Sea and made a pit stop to the Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro. The scenery was breathtaking. It was approximately twenty minutes from el barrio.  

We didn’t get to dance salsa, but I did go to a hip hop concert with Talib Kweli which allowed me to hear the sounds of Cuban hip hop. When LL Cool J’s, “Rock the Bell” came on, I started rapping along which was flaged other Americans (and Cubans as well) as to where I was from. Chicago and Brooklyn were definitely in the house that night! Kweli’s set included sounds from The Jackson 5, and the Brooklyn MC took the time to acknowledge the reggae influence of hip hop. When his DJ played Bob Marley, the entire club echoed along, like a mighty sounding choir. 

On our third night, we were entertained by a live band, a DJ, and salsa dancers while dining at hotel Sevilla with fellow black travelers, an event hosted by Up In The Air Life and Innclusive. But my favorite part was simply walking through the neighborhoods (el barrios) and interacting with the people, and I know that you will enjoy it too.  

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