Today, I am closer to Miami than I have been in nearly a year, however, I have never felt further away. 24 hours into my three-week stay in Cuba, I don’t feel anymore adjusted than I did upon my arrival yesterday. I feel confused, frustrated, isolated and lost. Also, intrigued, excited and curious. And again, confused. Everything is new here.
Costa Rica is a country where you could get by being an American. You could spend weeks in the country without exchanging a single U.S. Dollar. You didn’t speak Spanish? No problem. There, being an American seemed normal. Walking down the streets of Nosara wearing a Twins hat, my one piece of clothing from home that really represented where I was from and the city that I had been trying for years to leave behind, I would have countless people walk up to me point out our shared roots.
In Cuba, it’s not like that. In Cuba, nothing is American. The currency makes no sense, the Spanish is so uniquely accented that it is nearly comprehensible to my novice ear. At least the streets make sense. Here, unlike Costa Rica, they have something that resembles addresses which makes navigating so much easier. If it was any harder, I would probably never make it home as there would be little point in asking for directions because I likely wouldn’t understand them anyways.
This is what I signed up for. When I announced that this would be a part of my itinerary I received several ‘are you crazy?! and at least one “you’re going to get arrested” reactions. Being here now, I realize that, yes, maybe I am crazy but no, I am not going to get arrested. Entering the country, despite all words of caution on internet blogs, is not all that difficult. I received no reaction to my passport while going through immigration even though I had been piecing together Spanish phrases in my mind to explain my entering the country. In fact, in the end, it was more difficult to get into Costa Rica than it was Cuba. Who would have thought.
Made it to Cuba!
It will get better, in that I am confident. Last year, I travelled to Spain on a similar, last-minute, ‘what are you thinking?!’ trip. My knowledge of Spanish was nearly non-existent but I left, three weeks later, fluidly conversational with a new appreciation for the culture.
This will be hard. I came to the realization on the eve of my departure for this mysterious, isolated country that this will likely be the hardest part of my trip. Communication outside of the island will be incredibly difficult (even more so because my phone refuses to accept a Cuban SIM card), I will be speaking solely Spanish and the currency is just about as confusing as it gets. I can do it though. I know it. With each challenge, there will be a lesson, and those are the kinds of lessons that you can’t learn unless you are doing something crazy (like traveling alone as a young woman to a communist country that barely speaks any English with little to no connection to the outside world).