Within hours of the news that the U.S. government was normalizing relations with Cuba, I clicked open the first of several emails I’d ultimately get from American travel companies. Each of these messages informed me that though the island is not yet open to public tourism from the U.S., their organization is licensed to take visitors to Cuba and, in the words of one such email, offer them “the opportunity to see Cuba as it is now, and before any potential policy changes inevitably change the experience.” I mean, I guess it made sense. The emails were informative, timely, and were responding to demand, but they still felt a little ... gross.
My conflicting feelings on the subject actually started to spin in earlier in the day, as I tried—and failed—to answer umpteen questions from friends and family all to the tune of “Are you glad you got to see it before this happened?” Yes? No? Honestly, I don’t know…
I travel for perspective, and this closed off, time warp of an island gave me that in heaps. It made me think about what I have, (and don’t have), what I need (and don’t need), how I live my life, how that life fits into the world around me … I could go on, endlessly. So am I grateful for my trip to Cuba? Not one shred of a doubt: I don’t think I’m overstating to say that it was life changing.
But at the same time, I sort of have difficulty with the implication that opening Cuba up will somehow “ruin" the experience. Cause lemme tell you, much of Cuba is already in ruins. Sure the music is awesome, Havana is vibrant, the people are friendly and resourceful… but stand on any street corner and you see an awful lot of decay. Buildings are crumbling, infrastructure feels spotty and at times inexistent, and Cubans line up diligently at ration stores for a truly humble amount of provisions.
So there you go. I am glad I got to see what I saw, listen to what I heard, feel what I felt. But would I rush out the door just to see it now “before potential policy changes inevitably change the experience”? I’m not so sure. If seeing Cuba a few years down the road, sans ’57 Chevys, Revolution billboards, and the shadow of intrigue that hangs over it now, means that it’s because Cubans have access to global markets, a voice in their own elections, and a more open society …. well, what an even more powerful travel experience that would be. And I wouldn’t wish to rewind for anything in the world.