Embracing Contradiction in Cuba – Part Three

We returned to Havana for our last night to find that the casa we had previously stayed in was full.

Havana street

So we began traipsing around the streets of Havana Viejo looking for a room. After checking out a few that just didn’t feel right, I found myself standing in front of a door with a small, printed sign that read ‘La Terrazza.’

I pressed the buzzer, then heard a voice from above.

A woman was leaning out over the third floor balcony, dangling a key from a piece of black wool and instructing me to catch it.

She dropped the key.

I didn’t catch it.

I picked it up of the grimy street, inserted it into the lock and let myself in, while shouting to Tyrhone (who was a across the street looking at another place) that I was going up.

Two flights of stairs later, I found myself in the home of Christina and her daughter, also named Christina. They were having guests over so another woman, an older man and a young boy of about two years of age were all squeezed into the small living room.

They greeted me warmly and the older Christina led me up another flight of stairs to the room they rent out to visitors.

‘The terrace’ the place was named after was tiled in a colorful mosaic and the room was more like a small apartment, complete with a kitchen, dining area and bathroom. All spotlessly clean and extremely private, I agreed to take the room on the spot.

LaTerrazza Havana

Kitchen La terrazza

Christina broke out into a wide grin, her pride for the lovely casita beaming through cigarette stained teeth. She went into the cocina, retrieved the bottle of rum stashed in the fridge and tucked it under her arm with one swift movement, then lead me back to the living room to take down our passport details.

By this stage Tyrhone had found his way up to the room and was happily ensconced in icy cold air conditioning while I finalized the formalities.

I sat at the dining room table while the young Christina copied our passport details into her ledger and the old Christina busied herself in the kitchen (perhaps looking for another place to hide the rum).

Then she yelled out that she was making coffee and did I want want one, to which I responded with a definitive, “Si, por favor!”

She soon placed an espresso sized cup of strong Cuban brew in my hands, which rattled in a tiny saucer.

I took a sip and felt the caffeine and sugar move through me with a jolt. It was deliciously strong and way too sweet, but the gesture made me feel so good. It was the first time someone had offered me something that didn’t have a price tag on it. Of course, we were renting their room for the night, but there was something about the Christinas that made me feel like they were very different to the people we’d met so far.

While our previous four nights had involved having meals, drinks, tours and transport shoved down our throats, old Christina didn’t even cook dinner for guests and directed us to the local tienda instead of offering us things to buy.

She did, however, make Tyrhone one of her ‘famous’ coffees and watched with glee as he took his first ‘hit.’

That afternoon, when we returned from a long walk around the artisan market, Christina was taking in her laundry which was strung up outside our casita.

When we commented on how pretty the terrace was and what a good job they had done on it, she proceeded to give us a tour of her potted plant garden – detailing the medicinal herbs and plants she grows and uses for day to day ailments like joint pain and indigestion.

We then had a conversation about the Cuban medical system, her family and life in general.

It turned out that Christina was quite the character and had plenty to say about Cuban life, tourism and even the annoying touts. She said she didn’t want to be like that – only talking to people for money, and that it was friendship she valued most.

That night we had dinner at our favorite restaurant again – Habana 61 – which, as luck, or fate or Divine freaking design would have it, was two doors down from ‘La Terrazza.’

habana 61

La Terrazza is accessed by the black door on the left…

We feasted on lobster and freshly baked bread and laughed about the experiences of the last five days.

We both admitted that while Havana had initially rubbed us the wrong way, we would be sad to leave the following day.

The contradiction of Cuba was that it was really difficult, but it’s abrasiveness had softened us toward it rather than hardened us.

Cuba Christina

The next morning, young Christina rang for a cab to take us to the airport. A brand new, registered taxi with air conditioning arrived to transport us, and I had to laugh at the range of experiences during our short stay.

The trip had reinforced something which is becoming more clear as I get older, which is: it’s all good.

‘Good’ experiences, ‘bad’ experiences, challenges, joys – it’s all serving us to be more open and more alive.

Even though I don’t enjoy continually coming up against myself – my ego, my judgement, my insecurity, my fear – it has served me enormously to put myself out there in order to learn and grow.

Travel isn’t meant to be comfortable and neither, I believe, is life. No-one seeks to be uncomfortable and have their prejudices, ideas and beliefs thrown up to be examined, but it is actually necessary in order to evolve.

Some people who read my previous posts about our trip have said, “I wanted to go to Cuba, but now I’m not so sure.”

So I’ll say it again – the purpose of life or travel or any endeavor is not comfort. One of my yoga teachers says, ‘Life needs pressure – to transform the lump of coal into a diamond’.

We all seek comfort – it’s the ego’s survival instinct – but the paradox is that there is really no security in comfort. Life is dynamic, moving, evolving; never stuck or solid.

My judgements about Cuba weren’t actually about Cuba – they were about me.

Habana life

When I began to accept the things I didn’t ‘like,’ they didn’t seem as prevalent. The same process applies to the things about myself which I deem ‘bad’ or unacceptable.

Life is always offering me opportunities to let go of my old ideas about who I am and it’s one of the reasons I travel – not to escape from life but to evoke experiences that encourage my evolution.

And while it is scary, uncomfortable and confronting at times (joyful, exhilarating and blissful at others) I seriously wouldn’t have it any other way.

Malecon havana

Thank you, Cuba!

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Embracing Contradiction in Cuba – Part Three — 10 Comments

  1. Life needs pressure… quite a thought and you’re so very right. Having everything easy all the time not only makes one a very boring person, but also will never allow your life to be enriched by everything else it has to offer. So glad your final time in Havana was so lovely.
    Rhonda recently posted..Someday I will…..My Profile

    • Yes, and travel certainly lends a helping hand in the pressure department!!! Thankfully, it balances it out with joy, freedom, excitement and exhilaration! xxx

  2. Sarah, so glad the trip turned around for you guys! Sometimes our initial impressions of a place are so different than the ones we have when we’re saying goodbye to it. Travel is never easy and for me it’s the best teacher of life lessons leading to personal growth. I love the line “My judgements about Cuba weren’t actually about Cuba- they were about me.”

    Great post!
    Kristine recently posted..Why I Loved BangladeshMy Profile

  3. I think we learn the most when we’re outside of our comfort zone, or at least I try to learn from the experience. Sometimes though, I’m just way too far out of the zone and struggle to find my way back, but I can look back and know that I survived. That which doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger. I try to remember that, but it ain’t always easy! 😉

    When we walked the Camino, most of the innkeeper’s registered us in the same way, just took our passport number and swiped our credit card (if they took it) and called it a day. So quick and simple.

    I’m glad you left Cuba on a high note, feeling good from the experience and having learned a bit too.
    Patti recently posted..Redefining Retirement ~My Profile

    • Hi Patti!!! Oh yes, I have certainly been ‘out there’ on many occasions too! And while I don’t enjoy it at the time, I always learn something important XXX

  4. Interesting thoughts here. I’ve pondered about certain places that I’ve been, and wondered whether the problem was the place, or me. I will definitely say that there are aspects of places I have been that disappointed me or turned me right off – like Murghab in Tajikistan, a muddy, misty, isolated village built out of concrete slabs and abandoned shipping containers.

    I questioned myself whether I disliked it because of what I actually wanted to see, or whether it was downright bad. In the end I decided that while Murghab wasn’t attractive, it was more my decision whether I liked it or not – because I’ve been to many “unattractive” places which I’ve loved.

    Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.

    By the way, Christina looks and sounds lovely (as I’m sure her daughter is too), and you, lady, are looking stunning!! Apparently Cuba suits you after all!!
    Tim UrbanDuniya recently posted..Nocturn: ChennaiMy Profile

    • Hehe, well it takes a lot to love a muddy, isolated village of shipping containers, but if anyone can, Tim, it’s you!!! :-) That made me smile. It’s definitely a combination of inner and outer, don’t you think? Thanks so much Tim!!!

    • Well you were right on the money, Karyn! Both Christinas were so lovely, but the older lady was just such a character and a hoot that she really did make the trip for us. It really did feel like we were meant to find her and the finish the trip on a high at La Terrazza. Thank you my dear, I hope your travels are treating you well. There is always a setting in period, so be kind to yourself and enjoy the ride xxx