Fresh off the excitement of finishing my first semester of graduate school, I decided to take a break from the books, cold weather, and CPA prep courses and travel to Cuba with my brother.
Wait – that Cuba? Yes, that Cuba. Visiting Cuba has always been a dream of mine. My grandmother immigrated to the United States from Cuba before the Castro regime took over in the early 1950s. Due to obvious political conflicts between the U.S. and Cuba, the U.S. government restricts U.S. citizens from traveling to Cuba unless they meet one of 12 OFAC requirements. No one in my family has ever been there, and my grandmother has not visited since she left 65+ years ago. When the opportunity to travel to Cuba arose for my brother and me in November, we jumped right on it.
To get to Cuba, we took a small cruise ship that left from Miami. Cuba is only about 330 miles off the coast of Miami. Upon arrival, I felt as if I stepped back time time. The first thing you notice is the old cars. They are everywhere! Due to economic sanctions, it is nearly impossible for Cubans to get new cars or new car parts. Because of this, they make sure to keep their cars from the 1950s in top shape and even make their own parts for repairs.
My brother and I rented a gorgeous 1955 Eldorado for three hours and drove all over Havana (we had a driver) to see the sights before deciding which ones we would explore more. Driving around, you will not see anything that you would in America: no fast food chains, major billboards, bright lights, or department stores. Communist propaganda is everywhere around the city. Even the U.S. embassy was closed. The only American reference we saw was the capital building in Havana, El Capitolio, which was modeled after the White House.
Day-to-day life is drastically different too. Many Cubans do not have cell phones or internet access. One Cuban we talked to said they got access to Google the week before we arrived (early December). For example, Cubans have to go to the “Black Market” to watch American TV shows we see every day, such as South Park or Game of Thrones. The vast majority of people in Cuba make $10 a month, with doctors being the highest paid at $50 a month. Education and healthcare are free for all and you can take advantage of these services as much as you want. A tour guide we had showed us her “Ration Book” that she has to take to get her bread and rice from the government.
My trip to Cuba was eye opening and made me feel very blessed to have been born in the United States. Everyone we talked to was extremely friendly. I’m very grateful to be able to visit and share my experience!