After fitting in short vacations into her “normal life” for twenty-nine years, Amy has finally left her home town of New York for a life of (sometimes haphazard) travel (and apparently she’s also in search for the world’s best do-nut…let me know when you find it Amy!)
I’ve been loving Amy’s adventures on Snapchat (@wayfarersbook) lately. Last I checked she’s heading to Kiev (Ukraine) but first lets talk about her time in a certain exotic location found in The Caribbean…
Where in the world are you? What is it like?
I had the extreme privilege of going to Cuba! My aunt and I frequently travel together with a specific tour company and when they opened up a tour to Cuba, we jumped on it. Currently, the only ‘legal’ way for Americans to visit Cuba from the US is to go on a special license. We went on a people-to-people license, which meant that we were accompanied by a Cuban tour guide in addition to the company tour guide and that our days were filled with cultural experiences picked by the Cuban government. It was definitely a different way to travel! We weren’t necessarily restricted in our activities, just kept very busy! It was nice to have a local tour guide to build a relationship with – so we could ask him the difficult questions.
What is the weather like?
Not as sunny and warm as I would have liked! When the sun came out it could be really pleasant, but unfortunately it was cloudy for most of our trip. We even got poured on – twice in the same afternoon!
Where did you stay?
We stayed in three different places. First, a large hotel on the outskirts of Havana. Second, a boutique hotel right on the main square of a small town called Sancti Spiritus. And third, an all-inclusive resort on the beach of Cayo Santa Maria.
My favourite was the boutique hotel in Sancti Spiritus. It had warm yellow walls and a colonial feel, an affable bartender, and a central location. Even though the town was small, you could wander around on your own, something that was more difficult to do at the other locations.
What was your highlight?
We did a lot of sightseeing in different cities, checking out the old colonial buildings, peeping into Hemingway’s house, and driving around in classic American cars. Since we were on a people-to-people tour, we had special presentations by local artists and community leaders. I was a little sceptical of these at first, but they turned out to be super interesting! I learned that artists in Cuba work a lot with recycled materials because they have such limited access to resources. And we met a man who opened up a barber shop in his home when private businesses first became legal and has since become a driving force of change in his community, starting a free barber school, creating a playground, and in general sprucing up the neighbourhood. And it was pretty epic to turn 30 in Cuba. At dinner the wait staff brought out a cake, doused it in rum, and set it on fire!
That’ll be a 30th to remember for sure! Can you recommend any things to do or avoid?
As an American, I feel like everything in Cuba is off the beaten track! But one suggestion I have is to make sure you visit a couple of different places. I was crazy about Havana, its decaying beauty, and assumed all of Cuba was like that. But when we went through some of the countryside and smaller towns, we saw amazing examples of beautifully maintained buildings. And talk to as many Cubans as you can. I valued every single conversation I had with the Cubans I met. This is an incredibly poignant moment for their country and the more authentic conversations that can be had between visitors and locals the better!
As for things not to do, honestly, I would avoid staying at a resort. You end up isolated from the Cuban people. And yes, the beach is beautiful, but the most captivating thing about Cuba is not the beach!
Great tips! Talking to locals is always a great way to learn more about a place. What three must-have items are in your backpack right now and why?
Earplugs and an eye mask for staying at hostels. They don’t block out everything but they sure do help! I wish I carried more paperback books. My Kindle keeps running out of battery at the good parts. And, rather typically, my phone. I’ve recently delved into Snapchat and am a little obsessed. I like it not just for its social aspect but because its another way for me to document and remember my trips.
I share your Snapchat obsession! It’s addictive! And finally, what has been your favourite destination so far?
So hard to choose! I’ve been raving about Transylvania for the last two years. I went with a tour group but I think it would be totally doable as a solo trip. And while you’ve got brooding and beautiful castles there, the houses are gorgeously maintained medieval buildings in cotton candy colours! I think it’s a great destination for people who are looking for something a little bit different in Europe.