My obsession with getting to Cuba starts with my Aunt Suzanne, who unexpectedly died in the summer of 2015, which was very hard for everyone in the family. But of course, it was the hardest for her husband, Mike; they had been married for 40 plus years. We all saw how a part of him died the day Suzanne died.
After Suzanne passed, Mike became more obsessed with traveling. I think the depression of losing his one true love drove him to want to do some very ambitious travel. He wasn’t well – he was sick for well over a decade, a heart transplant led to lung cancer for the 63-year-old nonsmoker. He probably should not have traveled internationally at all, so it took us all for a surprise when he told everyone we would be doing a family trip to Cuba the Christmas after Suzanne died. He wanted to do it before he died. A newly-opened country to the US does not sound like the best place for a man struggling to beat cancer. But that was Mike.
I’m not sure if my Dad talked him out of it or if Mike just forgot about it or what exactly happened, but I know the conversation about Cuba stopped after Christmas. Mike passed away that June. Four days after my Uncle Mark (his brother and roommate) died. Yes, that is correct. We lost two uncles/brothers in the span of four days. I wouldn’t say I was extremely close with either one of them, mostly because they were far across the country. But both of them were amazingly kind and loving people. I admired them very much. And I loved them deeply. When they died, I silently went into a deep depression.
At first, it was the pain of seeing my Dad in so much pain. Other than my brother and me, Mike and Mark were his only living immediate family. His parents have both died. The fourth brother David, passed away in an accident in 2005. His brothers were his best friends. Seeing my Dad lose everyone made me want to scream. It was so incredibly painful. My Dad’s great at keeping it together, but I knew how much he was suffering. And probably still is.
When I got home from the joint funeral, and for the rest of the summer, anytime I got home from the bar or had a couple of glasses of wine in my apartment, I would sob in my bed. For hours. Sometimes, I’d drunk dial my brother and cry to him about how much I missed them. But other than that, I never told anyone how much I was hurting. If you don’t understand this next statement, I don’t blame you, but it’s all I can do to explain the dark place I was in at the time – I had a survivor’s guilt. I didn’t think I deserved to live while the two best men I knew died in their early sixties. I hated it. At the time, I wasn’t proud of anything I’d done. I wasn’t suicidal, but I just felt like the world would have been better with Mike and Mark than with me.
I know that’s not logical thinking, and I eventually healed. I still miss them, but I stopped that survivor’s guilt thinking. I did want to feel closer to them though and I thought the best way was to do what they always wanted to do – go to Cuba.
A little less than a year after Mike passed, I went to Cuba – alone and having done little research. Only for about 72 hours and about 20 additional hours of travel. I walked around the city for eight to 12 hours a day. It’s the most beautiful place in the world. A lot of the city is in ruin, too. But I think it adds to the beauty. It looks like a magical kingdom, with life sucked out of it. It’s hauntingly beautiful.
The people were so kind. Surprisingly, everyone I spoke with loved Americans. When I walked around early in the morning, the streets smelled of men’s cologne.
Havana is a magical place.
I didn’t do enough museums, tours, etc. because I was too nervous about the language barrier and not having enough cash. But f*ck it. I did the best I could. It was worth it. 100%. I’d love to go back and spend more time and do the right things.
This was only my second trip alone. My first solo trip I just read on the beach in a sleepy fishing village in Nicaragua. But in Havana there is so much to do and see, and I wish I did more. I wish I went to the beach or the Museum of the Revolution or some of the tours. Unfortunately, I had a lot of anxiety there. I was too scared to ask for directions or help. But I left that trip with so much confidence, and I went on the next trip much more able to navigate big city travel alone.
I didn’t wait for the perfect trip, where I was there for 10 days, practiced Spanish, and planned every day’s itinerary. I saw a small window of opportunity and just went for it. Even if I missed a bunch of stuff while I was there. I don’t have all the best advice on what to do there, but I think walking around Havana for hours aimlessly is the best. It’s so beautiful. You’ll see things there you won’t see anywhere else. The smells and sounds are once in a lifetime. It’s all breathtaking.
On the cab ride from the airport to my AirBNB, I started to weep. I cried because I never thought I’d get here. I cried because this place used to be forbidden. I cried because it was so beautiful. I cried because I was grateful to be there. And I cried thinking of Mike and Mark. How they weren’t there. How much I miss them. How proud they would be of me, traveling to Cuba alone.
Author: Stephanie DeLacy
Author Bio: Stephanie is a coach and blogger, passionate about inspiring mindfulness, connection & authenticity. She can often be found traveling the globe or at her home in Cleveland with her dog, Daphne and two cats, Olive and Pizza Baby. Follow her on Instagram @alifeenroute.
Link to social media or website: http://www.alifeenroute.com