“You are going to love Trinidad.” I looked down at the text I received on my phone and my heart dropped and guilt started to creep through my body. I had spent the past three days in Viñales, a small tobacco farming town in some of the most unique and beautiful mountains I had ever seen, and was supposed to move to Trinidad, a small colonial town on the other side of the island, tomorrow. I had been all ready to go until I went on a run this afternoon, which I couldn’t complete because I was too distracted by the mountains. I had to get back into that valley. Slowly, it became clear, I wasn’t ready to leave.
Mariesa, a Minnesotan living part time in Havana with her Cuban husband who I coincidentally ran into the week before, had just called me to check in about my travel plans. She had been kind enough to help arrange a Casa in Trinidad and wanted to make sure everything was good to go. I explained to her my thoughts over a broken cell connection and her reaction was hesitant. “It’s not really fair to the Casa to change…” she said. Then, the phone call dropped and she followed up with a text attempting to reassure me that I would love the new town. Immediately, I changed my mind. I had to go to Trinidad, I couldn’t let the other family down, I needed to stick to my original plan, I’m only here once, I might as well see as much as I can. The voice inside my head and my needs weren’t important, I had to accommodate others and couldn’t let anyone down. I took Mariesa’s voice and made it my own, completely disconnecting from myself and the mountains, which were so clearly calling my name.
I was told I would love Havana too. Multiple times. A high school classmate of mine had spent a year studying there and completely fallen in love with the city. She assured me, frequently, before arriving, that I would love it too. Completely naïve and daunted by the mysterious communist island on which I was going to spend three weeks, I took all of her advice as I planned my travels. As a result, I learned several valuable lessons that will stick with me for the rest of my life. The biggest takeaway, though, was that that was her experience, it didn’t have to be mine. Truth be told, I didn’t love Havana, not even close. Though it was recommended to spend the majority of time in the city and a few days out in the provinces, in retrospect, I could have spent three days in Havana and two weeks here in Viñales. I didn’t know that before but then again, I hadn’t been listening to my own voice.
This was an opportunity to change and to actually listen to myself rather than ignoring my desires to accommodate something or someone completely outside of myself. As that feeling started to creep back into my head, I realized I needed a third party voice to help settle the dispute in my head. So at 9:00 p.m., I ran through the dark streets of Viñales to the one street corner in the town with WIFI. I logged on to the ETESCA system and crossed my fingers that my dad would be somewhere near his phone. Thankfully he was and he ‘listened’ as I sent him whatsapp message after whatsapp message explaining my situation. He never told me what to do or gave any sort of advice, the amazing parent that he is, he only asked questions. Finally, he said “Maybe the mountains want to talk to you”. Even before he said it, I knew it was true.
I had to stay. There was some strong force that I couldn’t explain pulling me back into the valley. I couldn’t ignore my voice. Not this time.
I ran back through the streets, the only ones in Cuba where I actually felt safe, and knocked on the door of my Casa. “Puedo passer una noche mas aquí?” I asked. “Me encanta su casa y las montañas y no quiero salir manaña.” Their faces lit up, as did my heart, and they shook their head affirmatively. They called to cancel my Collectivo (shared taxi) to Trinidad in the morning and reschedule it for the following day. To probably nobody’s surprise but mine, I did the same thing the next night and made the final decision to skip Trinidad altogether.
Havana didn’t enchant me, not even close, but this place was magic. The town, the people, the landscape, the atmosphere. Everything was magic. I’ve done it a million times in my life but slowly I’m starting to realize, no matter what anyone says, you can’t ignore magic.
One of my favorite experiences in Viñales – swimming in a natural lake in the middle of a cave!