By Oceania Cruises Guest Isabel G.

I’ve wanted to go to Cuba for a very long time and I was fortunate enough to finally sail on the Marina to Havana just this past March. Over the years I’ve met many people who have traveled to Cuba and everyone shares a different perspective.

Some say that it’s full of music and a great party, others were impressed by the architecture and the landscape, and still others were surprised by the poverty and disorganization. During my time in Havana, I was able to appreciate all of those different perspectives, but I believe I felt something different than many of my fellow travelers.

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I have spent a lifetime hearing stories of Cuba and Havana from my parents. Although my family left Cuba in the late 1950s, our heritage and traditions remained strong — so strong that my brothers, sisters, and I asked many questions over the years whenever our parents would share their memories about life on the island.

The Havana Breeze

Growing up, my mother would often speak of Havana’s ocean breeze and how it would sweep by just when you needed it most. While on my trip to Cuba, I had the opportunity to experience the heat and dust of the lanes of Old Havana. Imagine my surprise as I turned the corner of one of these narrow streets and suddenly felt the ocean breeze caress my cheek. I stopped to appreciate the moment, breathing deeply as I recalled my mother’s words.

Climbing a tall narrow staircase of a restaurant in Old Havana, I could hear my mother’s voice telling us how she did not miss those narrow staircases which made bringing the groceries up to the kitchen a challenge. She still fondly recounts the beautiful store front windows, shops, and the hustle and bustle of the streets. And while most of the stores are now empty, I could still feel the energy in the streets.

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Viñales Dreams

On our second day in Cuba, I took the shore excursion to Viñales, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. I was especially excited to see this region since this is where my parents honeymooned back in 1955. It was just as my parents had described – peaceful but impressive at the same time. The fertile landscape is dramatically interrupted by imposing rock formations. And amongst the lush green backdrop, bright orange flowering trees called Flamboyant trees bring it all to life. These were so beautiful and just like the trees in a painting that I grew up admiring as a child in my parents’ home.

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When my father was younger, he lived on a large plantation with many horses and other farm animals. Even though he is now retired and lives in a condo in the city, he yearns to have a farmhouse and a large plantation. He imagines every detail of this farm and has told me about it countless times – the plants he’ll grow, the animals he’ll raise, even the smallest detail of a horse sitting under a mango tree.

On this trip, as I wandered and explored this country that I had heard so much about, I traveled through the beautiful countryside. And you can understand why I exclaimed with joy when I saw a horse standing just under a tree, the branches not yet filled with the sweet fruit. It was one of those travel moments you struggle to describe… when the past seems to blend with the present.

While my parents can no longer travel, I was so excited to answer all of their questions as they asked me about all that I had seen. “Yes, mom. I felt the ocean breeze, experienced the narrow staircases, and strolled the lanes of Old Havana. And yes, Dad, I can now see every detail of your farm, even the horse under the mango tree.”

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