I finally made it to Cuba — nearly 60 years after first trying. It was Christmas Vacation during my senior year at Brooklyn College. Five members of Knight House – the poor folks version of a live at home fraternity at my commuter college –decided to visit Havana. Our motives were not entirely pure. Yes, we wanted to see the old City of Havana and its cultural gems. But we had also wanted to participate in its notorious nightlife. We were 20 years old and seeking post-adolescent adventures of the sort we couldn’t experience back in Brooklyn.
We never made it. When we got to the Miami airport for the half-hour, $50 flight, we were greeted by a State Department Travel advisory. It seems like another young man – just a dozen years older than we were – was also trying to get to Havana. He had been trying for several years and finally – on the very day we were departing Miami for Havana — Fidel Castro and his revolutionary army were at the outskirts of the city
Disappointed, we returned to Miami Beach where we had to be satisfied with Jai Alai and crowded beaches. Years later I learned that members of a rival house plan, undeterred by a mere “advisory,” had taken the flight to Havana and partaken of its vices – vices which were soon to end, or be driven underground by Castro’s revolution.
The disappointed young man who didn’t make it to Cuba in 1958 is now an old man, with different tastes and tamer vices, such as an occasional cigar and a Cuba Libra drink. Among my passions now are art and music, and Cuba excels at both. So my wife and I, with three other couples, set out on an age-appropriate adventure as part of a “people-to-people” cultural group. Travelers still need an acceptable “justification” to visit the long-boycotted destination. Mere tourism or the love of beaches won’t do. It has to be cultural, religious, educational or some other broad category of virtuous pursuit. You still can’t go there for the reasons we had in mind back when Castro had kept us involuntarily virtuous.
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