“Eres muy contenta (You are very content/happy),” was among the first words I received from a smiling stranger on the streets of Habana, Cuba. The moment I set down my little duffle bag in my six-bunkbed hostel room on Sunday evening, I decided to take a short walk around our busy neighborhood in Habana Viejo. I only had a week, so I better soak it all in.
My next few hours in this town of colorful colonial buildings was spent practicing my Costa Rican-flavored modest Spanish with the friendly Cuban gentleman who showed me his part of town, away from the pricier tourist-luring restaurants. There, he surprised me with ordering me a vegan dinner, which consisted of arroz negro, or white rice colored with black beans, garnished with raw cabbage and tomato salad beside a bed of pickles. After I filled my hungry belly, we hopped from one live-music venue to another, where I danced feverishly infatuated with the musicians’ simple yet passionate love for their art. I met other Cubanos and travellers on the dance floor, where we simply connected through the joy in the air. Darkness fell after a few more hours of dancing on the rooftop of Hotel Inglaterra, overlooking Parque Central and El Capitol. My new amigo walked me home with plans to meet again.
The next days were spent with early morning Spanish lessons with our young and professional teacher, Laritza, whom my classmates and I convinced to let us apply our new conversational skills at El Museo de Chocolate, on my last day of class. (I don’t believe she had any regrets about that.) Afternoons were spent in private salsa classes, with my last class being Afro-Cubano, upon my request. That was my favorite, as I’m so drawn to the soul of traditional African culture.
Outside of our daily curriculum, I took walks around town, meeting many more Cubanos, most of whom kindly and honestly wanted to learn about my culture and share their own. I attribute much of my meeting new friends to getting lost in the streets with no particular agenda. There was the multi-lingual archaeologist, who gave me a tour of the historic pharmacies, still being used now with modern medicine. There was Ivan, who was fascinated with chinos (his four-year-old daughter being a quarter Chinese on her mother’s side). Ivan brought me to La Casa Africa, which housed the museum and store displaying Africa’s influence on Cuban culture, and where I finally had sugarcane juice with limon. Que rico!
Outiside of Central Habana, I took an afternoon trip to the nearest beach, Mar Azul, or more specifically Villa El Coco, after salsa class with a friend, Benedicta, my classmate from Norway at the hostel. We spent three hours of sun-soaking overlooking a bright blue monochrome ocean and spent $10 on 30-minute massages, which were very percussive and invigorating, just like the music.
With another new friend from Norway, Henrietta, I took a fourish-hour bus trip to Vinales, the countryside and home of many tobacco plantations. For two days and one night, we stayed in a Casa Particular with a local family, enjoying delicious home-cooked meals, a 3-hour horseback ride to tobacco and coffee plantations surrounded by farm animals, an early morning hike to see the sunrise atop a mountain in the national park and dancing in la calle principal at the usually peaceful town’s annual carnival, which happened to take place during our visit. Again, dancing drew me to new friends, one amigo with a huge smile that threw me in the air saying with pure bliss, “A librar la energia!” (Free the energy!)
My intention for this weeklong trip was to expand my mind and heart and learn to truly be love. I’m so grateful for this travel opportunity, which I wasn’t even sure was possible until only a few days before leaving Los Angeles. Open to the flow of unconditional love as is the Universe and our essential state of being, I feel blessed to have been able to connect with so many kind beings and to see how we are all alike in so many more ways than we sometimes choose to acknowledge.
While my yoga practice remained consistent in my morning ritual and short sporadic asana (physical posture) sequences, my most rewarding practice of yoga was through connection outside of me, which only opened my greater “eyes” and heart to the depths of me, and ultimately, in the beautiful souls I met.
To see a photo album of this trip, visit me on Facebook here.
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