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My little piece of Havana

CUBA | Friday, 15 May 2015 | Views [170] | Scholarship Entry

No matter where I travel, I find little pockets of loveliness. Asking me to choose one is like Sophie's Choice. I've fallen for Malaysia's deserted aquamarine coastline and colonial cities. I'm a sucker for Japan's cultural juxtaposition. I'm head over heels for Rio's tropical and jagged beauty. And I'm bowled over by New Orleans' party spirit.

However, Cuba was the most incredible assault on the senses. Fidel Castro was getting on, but still in good health. I went expecting the 1950s Chevys and salsa dancing and I got a whole lot more.

We landed in Havana. I likened it to Elizabeth Taylor in its faded, yet glamorous beauty. Its opulent colonial architecture was verging on derelict. However, this added to its charm and, in my eyes at least, its character and allure. The temptress of a city was being constantly beaten by the Caribbean Sea at the Malecon. Lovers and children were darting in and out of the waves that crashed against the promenade.

Walking through Havana, I resembled a snake being charmed by the salsa music blaring from every tenement building, hypnotised by residents dancing in the streets to Latino beats. Each townhouse boasted sweeping staircases, elegant balconies, imposing sculpted doors and patterned tiled floors – a nod to its affluent past, but filled with families making $25 a month.

You could eat the best home-cooked seafood in someone’s living room, as they opened their homes to offer something unique to tourists. It was a revelation not having a McDonald's on every corner or being able to nip out for a new outfit for going to see Buena Vista Social Club. But you made do and you had the best time.

Still in the enchanting afterglow of Havana, we headed towards to the tourist trap of Varadero. Its stretches of golden beaches married to the crystal Caribbean waters. Varadero lacked the soul that the rest of Cuba had in abundance. Gone were the bohemian art districts and Spanish architecture. However, getting to Varadero was beautiful. Trekking through valleys filled with banana plants, dotted with quaint villages, like Santa Clara.

This paradise island has everything, from rolling, tropical countryside, pretty villages to buzzing cities and idyllic coastlines. Add its fascinating history from native civilisation and Spanish colonisation to American exploitation and revolutionary spirit and you've pretty much have the perfect package. It's the perfect escape from globalisation and a reminder that not all that glitters is gold.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship

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