~ a recount of our most recent retreat to Cuba ~
Are you on?
No, Are you?
No, but I was for like 30 seconds.
Really! Okay, I’m going to go by the router and see if I can get anything.
Says 16 American YFBP’ers in their hotel in Havana, Cuba.
A 45 minute flight from US soil and you feel like you are a million miles away. In fact, it’s probably the most “off the grid” of all of the YFBP retreats. Not really in the “meditate for hours, silent all day” way, but in the, “there is no chance that you are connecting with basically anyone off this island so you might as well accept it" way.
On arrival we suggest saving yourself the anxiety of the minimal band width hotel servers and shutting it down for the week. It is a yoga retreat after all.
Every day-to-day luxury that we are so accustomed to has now become something that you have to have a plan B for.
But all of the talk about what Cuba “doesn’t have” is just surface level Cuba and doesn’t hold a candle to the depth of what it does offer. In fact it’s part of the beauty. What we see as missing, they use as an opportunity to feel fortunate for all that they have.
Here inlies the responsibility of the tourist in Cuba. To get beneath the stereotypes of what we assume we’ll find there and politely ask and allow the locals to show you their side.
24 hours, 2 yoga classes and likely 10-15 Cuba Libre’s in, everyone is speaking in broken Spanish, breaking off to wander down mystery streets that are too intriguing to pass by, content with their diet of rice and beans and eager for whatever comes next.
The only talk of wifi is when someone actually manages to successfully post something on instagram. Or Katelin manages to get enough of a signal for a video of her baby to come through. Which is then passed around the entire bus.
The trip itinerary is packed. We move from one thing to the next but in true Cuban character there is a relaxed nature to it. They want you to take your time and enjoy.
Why pack so much in? To get through that surface layer. To get into what’s really going on there. To meet the people. To see how happy they are in a place so vastly different from the normal we all live.
Waiting for our table at our favorite paladar, San Cristobol, a few of us had a chat with the host. He has been working there at night for many years. During the day he works in the hospital in Havana as a psychologist. He told us that in the 20 years he has been working in that hospital he has never diagonsed someone with depression. Nor has he ever seen anyone brought in with a gun shot wound.
It’s just so easy to make assumptions about something we know so little about. About a place we have only learned about from one side.
One might assume that YFBP jumped on the Cuba bandwagon after relations had shifted with the US. Makes sense. However, we had been working on these trips for about 6 months prior to that. Our interest always being in digging deep into the places not everyone is going to.
We continue to work with our incredible third party organization. They issue each traveler a valid visa. (Yes, you still need a visa to enter Cuba). They allow for us to get into the best hotels and paladars (privately owned restaurants). They have relationships with Cuban artists who in turn invite us into their studios and explain in detail their work.
They secure a local art gallery to host our daily yoga classes.
They open so many doors for us since they themselves have been nurturing a relationship with this island for the past 10 years.
Of course there is no YFBP trip without a visit to the ocean. It’s basically a spiritual practice for us. So we do one local and one in the furthest reaches of the island we can find. Playas del Este and Cayo Jutia.
The group thirsty for both visits and totally game for the 4 hour ride to Cayo Jutia. This was broken up with an overnight visit to a little town called, Vinales. We all stayed in private family run homes of the Vinales community. They cooked meals for us and made us coffee in the morning. They were beautiful and hospitable and each of us pulled out of that town feeling like we had had a genuine experience of Cuban family home life. One I think we all went there looking to have.
We spent our last full day in Cayo Jutia. A perfect little beach on the other side of the mountains, at the end of a long dirt road.
Calm turquoise waters. Good food. Great drinks. And a great live band. We had a happy crew.
Our group was full (well fed, yes) but full in the sense of being complete. Though we still had a few more things to see and experience, that beach acted as the ceremony. We laughed, played, swam and kissed the ground. The amount of gratitude was palpable and contagious.
That’s the beauty of Cuba. Each and every visit warrants immense gratitude whether it be the dance academy, Hemingway’s house, the tobacco farm or the beach. Each is it’s own beautifully different and full experience.
We have been floored by the hospitality and warmth of the Cuban people. We feel extraordinarily proud to be able to continue to offer this trip to the YFBP community.