Wonder: 19 (Cuban) seconds for a photo

The duo who took my photo in 19 (Cuban) seconds

“Get an old-fashioned photo!” the young man called to me in Parque Central in Old Havana.

“How long does it take to develop?” I asked.

“19 seconds.”

I should have known better. Everything in Cuba takes a long time. Every. Little. Thing. No one is in a hurry to do anything or go anywhere. In Cuba, even time takes time. People say it’s frozen in time in the 1950s. I’d go back much further than that.

What I didn’t realize is that we weren’t paying for a photo. We were paying for the experience of having the photo taken. An old man and a young man had a ramshackle camera, the likes of which I’d never seen. Jerry rigged from old parts gathered from discarded items (reduce, recycle, reuse, again and again and again is a way of life in Cuba), we watched in wonder over the 19 minutes, not the 19 seconds it took to snap and develop the photo. The show was worth every penny if the 2 bucks we paid, and then some.

This was always the way all over Cuba. You don’t pay for goods, you pay for the experience you gain and the time of the people you meet gathering the goods. You invest in the people and their ingenuity. Once you make that mental leap, waiting isn’t an inconvenience nor a chore in Cuba. It’s an honor, a gift, and a pleasure.


Wonder: Alex, the Beyoncé of Ice Cream in Havana

Alex, the Beyonce of Ice Cream in Havana
Alex, the Beyoncé of Ice Cream in Havana

On a crowded corner of Plaza Vieja in Old Havana, you’ll find the best ice cream you’ve ever had. Coco Glace is nothing more than coconut milk, coconut water, and pieces of coconut served in a half coconut shell and it’s incredible. I devoured it with my new friends on our last day in Cuba under a brutal sun and sky-high humidity.

Alex, the maker of Coco Glace, is pleased to tell you that he loves Madonna and Beyoncé, hates Taylor Swift, loves America, hates Chris Brown, loves being gay, and will see you on Broadway as soon as he sells enough Coco Glace to get himself out of Cuba. He calls himself the Beyoncé of ice cream, and in my humble opinion he isn’t exaggerating. Coco Glace is incredible. I’ve been dreaming about it ever since eating that first marvelous spoonful.

Cuba was full of simple pleasures like Coco Glace. Nothing there is extravagant, but it’s honest, pure, and real. There are no additives – in the food, in the people, or in their way of life. There are no pretenses. People and things are exactly what they appear to be, and in this day and age that is a triumph.

After finishing my ice cream, I made my way back to Alex and told him how amazing his ice cream is.

“Mami, ju don’t know how happy you just made me,” said Alex. I love ju. I love America. I’ll see you there soon! Look for me. Tell Beyoncé!” I just smiled and said I would. So Beyoncé, consider yourself told that you have a Cuban compatriot who puts on a show for all his customers and he is fabulous.

I hope someday I’m strolling down the Great White Way and that I look up and see Alex’s joyful smile and unapologetic moxie plastered all over a giant marquee. And I hope Coco Glace is one of the many things we exchange with our Cuban neighbors. Maybe Beyoncé could make both those dreams come true.


Wonder: Going to Cuba

People have asked me what I’ll be doing in Cuba next month. I just got the rundown of my itinerary. I can hardly believe that this is really happening! I’ll be taking pictures and sharing stories while I’m there (provided I can access wi-fi), and I’m hoping I can convince many of you to travel to Cuba, too! I’m so grateful to Yolo Travel, a local D.C. business, for organizing everything!

Arriving in Miami a day early to enjoy one of my favorite U.S. cities! The flightto Havana leaves very early the next morning so I’ll be relaxing and resting up for the week ahead.

Day 1: Arrive in Havana early in the morning via charter flight. Spend the day and evening exploring Old Havana with dinner at a private restaurant. Then exploring the nightlife that the city has to offer.

Day 2: History tour of Old Havana. Visit to the fishing village Jaimanitas and the home of artist Jose Fuster, who has turned most of his home and most of the surrounding neighborhood into a work of art with mosaic tiles.

Then we’ll take a 4-hour drive to the scenic village of Vinales. Caving, hiking, and exploring the many agriculturally-rich fields are all on tap. Vinales is known for its local music scene so I’ll make sure to check that out!

Day 3: Tour of an organic farm in Vinales and meeting local farmers in the area. We’ll also learn the art of cuban cigar making from an expert cigar maker. In the afternoon, we’ll take a traditional Cuban cooking class with local chefs using all local ingredients.

Day 4: Drive to Cienfuego to tour that city and then make a visit to the Bay of Pigs. We’ll check out the museum there and then go snorkeling.

Day 5: We’re off to the colonial city of Trinidad, the best preserved city in Cuba. We will be able to sit with and learn from the caretaker of the Afro-Cuban temple to Yamaya. Trinidad is known to have the biggest live music scene and we’ll be exploring that along with taking salsa dance lessons.

Day 6: Hike to waterfalls outside of Trinidad in the Valley of Sugarmills – the perfect white sand beaches I’ve been dreaming about in Cuba for so long! Options to go snorkeling, scuba diving, and horseback riding. Then it’s back to Trinidad to relax and explore. That night we’ll have a bonfire on the beach and a meal prepared by local chefs in Trinidad.

Day 7: We’ll visit Manaca-Iznaga plantation in the Valle de los Ingenios where we will learn more about Cuba’s slave trade. Then we head to Santa Clara to learn about the life of Ernesto Ché Guevara, one of the most famous Cuban Revolutionaries. We’ll have lunch at a small family farm near Santa Clara and head back to Havana to enjoy a fun evening in the city.

Day 8: We have all day and night to explore Havana and take in everything that the city has to offer.

Day 9: We have breakfast and say goodbye to our guides and drivers before heading back to the U.S.