I was born in Havana, Cuba. Before the revolution, my father was a Canadian diplomat there. My family moved to the next post, Capetown, South Africa when I was six months old. I have always wanted to return. Alberta winter, edition 2011, made sunny climes seem very seductive. So, on a life’s-too-short-and-it’s-too-cold-here impulse, I asked my good friend Birthe: “Want to go to Cuba?”
February 7th found me in front of a Cuban passport control officer, trying to explain how it could be that I had no visa or Cuban passport if I was born there. Five superiors to my original baffled contact, five repetitions of my story in my limited Spanish and 45 minutes later, I was waved through and officially entered the land of my birth.
The first three days of the itinerary: Havana, Hotel Mercure Sevilla. This storied old hotel’s location put us in Old Havana: La Habana Vieja, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and within easy walking distance of all the mandatory sights. With only breakfast included and no scheduled activities, we were free to explore, experiment and wander at will. Old Havana is fascinating: fully-restored building facades hide crumbling piles of rubble behind; a construction site laddered with scaffolding houses families; music everywhere; beggars – very, very polite and low-key, but still beggars – are very prevalent. The city hums and hustles with life, as cities around the world do.
The move to the all-inclusive-put-the-band-on my-wrist-&-abandon-all-responsibility resort at Veradero could not have been a more stark contrast to the city life we had experienced.
So it occurred to me: this is a teaching/learning moment. In Havana we had roamed about, discovering and interacting. Each experience pointed to new directions, raised questions and launched us on the next adventure. The (small) risks we took reaped rewards and disappointments. We had a guide book but it didn’t tell us where we should go, it just laid out an array of choices. It was very satisfying. At Veradero we were cocooned. Everything was arranged, organized and scheduled. It was very nice, very easy… but after three days, boring. School can be like that, don’t you think?