When I think of places I do not wish to return to, Cuba comes to mind and stays. I was going to write about at least five places Ruth & I have been that we have no desire to return to, but I became fixated on Cuba. Mark Twain became far less enchanted with the Holy Land after being there. I had the same reaction to Cuba. He had little good to say about this part of the world in The Innocents Abroad, and he was glad to be on the boat returning to America after traveling extensively there.
President Barak Obama visited Fidel Castro in December, 2014, and the ban on going to Cuba as a tourist on an educational mission was lifted 2 years later. Three generations of our family including Ruth & me went to 3 cities there in January 2017. Two years later, President Donald Trump imposed heavy new restrictions on travel to Cuba. On March 20, 2020, Cuba closed its border due to the coronavirus. The next month its government suspended all international flights and has extended this ban until at least August 1 of this year. Like Twain visiting Palestine, Syria, and more in 1867, I’m glad I went to Cuba but once was enough. Twain got tired of requests for bucksheesh, steady demands for money to relieve misery or due to social corruption. We were often told to seek contact with locals, but their sorry state made this difficult and we saw many of them being questioned by authorities afterwards and were sorry we had made an effort that negatively impacted them.
Mark Twain was a dedicated traveler. He said in chapter LV of his first travel-oriented book that “The nomadic instinct is a human instinct; it was born with Adam and transmitted…and after thirty centuries of steady effort, civilization has not educated it entirely out of us yet. It has a charm which, once tasted, a man will yearn to taste again.” Amen to that. While traveling about the Holy Lands full of scholarly knowledge about them, he was often miserable. At one point he said, ” People do not talk when they are cold, and wretched, and sleepy”. A few pages later, he thinks about youthful impressions confronting reality. He says about the River Jordan, “When I was a boy I somehow got the impression…it was four thousand miles long and thirty-five miles wide. After seeing it, he realized it was only 90 miles long and incredibly crooked.
Many Cubans live in shocking misery in Cuba. One guide took us into a government facility that dispensed free, rationed goods to the population. He thought it was normal, but I found it a shocking dependency and rejoiced that at home I can go into a grocery store and buy practically anything I want. Availability of what makes a life good is why 26% of Hispanics in Florida have Cuban roots and there are more than 2 million of them living in the United States. Over half of Miami’s population is of Cuban origin.