Top 5 Lessons I Learned in Cuba

Not as bad as it looks - Pipe was being laid down in the street

Not as bad as it looks - Pipe was being laid down in the street

I was slightly unprepared for Cuba. I mean, I wasn't entirely caught off guard by some of the inconveniences but I could've been better prepared. Let's face it though: There are MANY guides, articles, and webinars about Cuba out there right now. In typical ME fashion, I didn't do too much research before I left. It is too easy to become inundated with information overload (not to mention conflicting information as well!). I took the little bit I already knew and learned along the way. 

I chose to learn by experience. 

Lesson #1: Patience. I worry a lot. It's part of my genetic makeup. I can't help it most of the time. I was worried about exchanging my money once I got to Cuba. Was there going to be a line at the airport? If I can't do it at the airport where will I go? What if my taxi won't accept my American dollars? I realized I didn't have to exchange my money at the airport (or even ALL of it, for that matter). 

Cuba is so laid back that you can ask your taxi driver to stop at "el banco" (the bank) or a hotel to exchange your change. Don't convert all of your money at one time, do it in increments. If the bank is closed you can always hit up a hotel. If you're in Havana, Habana Libre is a good one to go to. 

Lesson #2: Expect the Unexpected. After picking up our bus tickets to Varadero, I had asked about the Malecon (a seawall along the exterior of Havana). Our Airbnb hostess, Marta, immediately gave us change to board an arriving city bus. My friend and I hopped on not knowing where the hell we were going! On the ride downtown, I saw a lady holding a rabbit, a very young girl holding hands with a much older grown man and people of all colors, shapes and sizes. Through the little bit of Spanish that I knew, my friend and I were able to patch words together and communicate with a woman who had got on with her 3 little boys. She told us the best place to get off in Centro Habana. God bless her heart. 

Lesson #3: Don't let color fool you! It can be slightly overwhelming being in a city where you don't speak the language (thank God for my junior high school and college Spanish classes!). I made the mistake of looking at "color" to gauge who I thought might speak English. In the airport I asked a gentleman (whom I thought was Caucasian) about baggage claim. He didn't speak English. Another time, I thought I had spotted an American black couple. They too, didn't speak English. I really learned to keep my preconceived American-observations to myself and assume that EVERYONE speaks Spanish. I should've done this beforehand but GET THE APP: SpanishDict, this will help immensely. 

Lesson #4: Keep a "Paper Kit". Many of the things we take for granted in the States are hard to come by in Cuba. Paper sources being one of them. Keep a kit filled with tissues, napkins, wipes and toilet paper if possible. Many of the public restrooms do not have toilet paper in the stalls. I almost got caught out there. 

Lesson #5: The internet can wait (but it IS there if you absolutely need it). Most of us are dependent on our phones and social media. I'll admit there were times I wanted to see what was going on with Instagram (Snapchat doesn't work and Facebook rarely worked). I wanted to check-in back home by sending texts to my loved ones too. If you must, you can get a wifi card. Wifi cards will run you anywhere from $1.50 to $5 (CUC) for an hour of data. These cards can be purchased at the airport, tourist shops or hotels (Habana Libre sells them for $5 p/hour, Blau Varadero sold them for $1.50 p/hour). 

I had an amazing time in Cuba and will definitely be returning. I love the culture, the food, the music and the people. My Airbnb hostess and her husband are now considered mi familia en Cuba

Planning a trip can be a lot, especially to Cuba. With the abundance of information on the 'net you might still have specific questions needing answers. C+C is offering readers the chance to have 5 questions about Cuba answered for only $5 (plus a little gift thrown in). Click here to learn more. 

The Love: St. Lucia, A Wedding Story

If you've been keeping up you already know that I have a serious love affair with St. Lucia. My hubby is from there and I consider myself an "honorary" Lucian. I experienced my first taste of local living there and will be heading back this summer so that my little one can get his feet wet in the sparkling waters of his other homeland (and experience the same local life). 

In September 2011 though, my love and I were there to tie the knot. We spent a good two weeks prior to the wedding on the island pampering ourselves (I needed to be a nice shade of bubblin' brown sugar for my wedding photos!). This would be my dream wedding.

On the day of the wedding I remember walking to the gazebo from the golf cart (that picked me up from my room) and looking out at the ocean on the horizon, the beach off in the distance and the lush greenery surrounding it all and thinking how perfect everything was. I couldn't have been happier; it was my wedding day and I was getting married to the love of my life in the tropics. 

The most perfect day 

The most perfect day 

I was probably the most easy-going bride. All I really wanted was a nice day and for folks to enjoy themselves. I wasn't worried about the particulars; the cake, the tablecloths, centerpieces - none of it! (I remember the wedding coordinator asking me when did I want to cut the cake and I said, "I don't know, when do you people usually do it?" Ha!) I really didn't care about that stuff. My husband and I really just wanted to make sure the music was on point (which they actually messed up; they played the wrong song for our first dance) and that our guests enjoyed themselves. 

It was truly a great day; time really flew! It felt like the shortest day of my life and I didn't want it to end. We had planned to go out and party after the reception but our poor feet told us otherwise which was just fine. Staying in and reading our guestbook and opening up our cards made the evening even more special. Our loved ones had so many beautiful and insightful gems to share with us which we still cherish to this day. 



The Love: St. Lucia

Beyond the award winning views of the pitons, beautiful beaches and lush countryside, St. Lucia means so much more to me than what aesthetically meets the eye. The love of my life is from there and we have a child who also has the beat of St. Lucia running rampantly through his veins. A real true soca baby.

I met my husband on MySpace (remember that?) in 2006. After emailing and chatting for about a month we finally met around our birthdays (mine is August 28th and his is August 30th). From August 31st on, life was never the same for either one of us as we quickly became inseparable.  

Fast forward to 2008. I spent my first Christmas holiday in the islands living locally. We stayed at a family member's quaint and cozy home in the village he grew up in. There was no AC, no hot water, the roosters woke me up at the crack of dawn and I could hear waves crashing somewhere off in the distance. I never felt more at home.

We spent Christmas Day walking along the beach. Coming from the big city this was a new experience for me and I absolutely LOVED it. The beach on Christmas?! Life couldn't get any better!  

We stayed through to New Year's Eve and attended a party at one of the all inclusive resorts nearby. We watched fireworks by the pool at midnight. I was in heaven.

After two years of dating exclusively I knew then in that moment he was definitely the ONE.  

I've been back to St. Lucia countless times since that first visit in '08 and each time I go back I seem to fall deeper and deeper in love with this man who I now call my husband.

Some sun and sand will make everything all right. I'm telling you! 

My Time: Cancun, Mexico

Around some time in 2006, my sister-friends and I (same group I traveled to Nassau with) planned a trip to Cancun. This trip was designed to be the ultimate girlfriend getaway. This getaway was very hard to plan because we needed to find a time when all seven females would be available to travel. When we finally were able to find the time, the next hurdle was in accommodating everyone’s budget. It’s really hard for us to get together now (many of us have since gotten engaged, married and/or gave birth) so I’m not sure what the problem was back then and why it took so long for us to get it together.

The countdown for this trip was serious. I was in the BEST shape ever; I had been hitting the gym pretty hard (and consistent) for about a year and watching my carb intake. The main reason: we had planned to do a professional photo shoot.

Fast forward to the day of our long awaited vacation. We arrive on time to JFK and board our flight. We were all so excited. Our flight was slightly delayed and we had a connecting flight in Miami. I remember us literally running through the Miami International Airport to get to our gate. It seemed like we had ran a few miles and when we got there the boarding agent was just about to close the gate. We had made it.

We get to Cancun safely. All of us are going through customs getting our passports stamped when we notice one of our girls is taking longer than usual to get through the system. She tells us they won’t allow her in the country using her Jamaican passport. They wanted to see her green card. She didn’t have her green card.

The situation had begun to get a little tense because my friend said she has always been able to travel using her passport. The Mexican authorities weren’t having it. I remember another one of my friends arguing with one of the agents and him threatening to have her arrested. Mind you, this was around the time Locked Up Abroad first started airing on the National Geographic channel. I remember thinking “this can’t be happening… We’re going to be a Locked Up Abroad story!”, we were able to get my angry friend away from the man to cool off.

Things were still tense though.

They took my friend to a small room. One of those secret hidden rooms that they take people accused of smuggling contraband. The customs agent asked if there was a way she could access her green card. She was able to call her then-boyfriend who had a key to her apartment. He was able to get the green card and fax it to the agents in Mexico. The agents were able to look up her status in the system, plus they now had a faxed copy of her green card. However, this still wasn’t acceptable. The big boss in charge said they needed the actual hard copy of the green card.

We landed around 10pm.

It was after midnight and we were still in the airport. No more flights were coming in and all of the workers had gone home.

Lights were off.

Except in that tiny room.

I’d never seen an empty airport in my life, but I did there in Cancun.

There was nothing left for us to do. The agent had advised us that our friend would be sent back to the states on the first flight out at 7am the next morning.

We felt horrible that we had to leave her alone with a guard in an airport in Mexico. We were able to keep tabs on her though and found that she was able to leave on an earlier 6am flight.

Our trip continued as planned but we weren’t able to truly enjoy ourselves after that incident. My friend has never went to back to Mexico and doesn’t plan to.