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Cuba Libre

Cuba - By Preston Shurley

Cuba is authentic.  It’s authentically beautiful, sad, amazing, inspiring, historic and powerful all at once.   That is the best way to describe this incredible country.  I’ve never been to another country that holds on to it’s tradition and culture so brilliantly.  The most incredible part is that Havana is only a 45 minute flight from Miami, but it seems like you travel back in time 50 years.  I think Lonely Planet described Havana better than I ever could have:

“Habana is a one-off. Sitting pretty as the Caribbean’s largest and most vivacious city, its romantic atmosphere and infectious energy are the stuff of legend. Where else do you find vintage American cars running off Russian Lada engines, ration shops juxtaposed against gleaming colonial palaces, and revolutionary sloganeering drowned out by all-night parties?”

Outside the UN

Cuba is a place that has been on my bucket list for quite some time.  I was only able to go because of some very pioneering UGA grads and friends that founded a non-profit that does leadership trips across the globe.  They arranged for special visas from the US State Department.  As one of the inaugural ADDO Ambassadors to Cuba we laid the foundation for programs working with local Cuban children who are fighting the battle against cancer, down syndrome and HIV/AIDS.  As ambassadors we also had the opportunity to meet with the United Nations Development Programme.  Our group collaborated with officials from the UN about Cuban development in the future and sustainability for the Caribbean’s largest island.

After all the diplomatic meetings and programs we spent most of our time crisscrossing the island touring famous sites and checking out some of the world’s most pristine beaches.  One of Cuba’s biggest supporters over the years was Ernest Hemingway.  He wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Old Man and the Sea at his estate outside of Havana.  The house has a tropical charm that is hard to find anywhere else.  It’s easy to see how it could inspire great works of art.

Buena Vista Social Club

My single favorite night of the trip had to be a concert from the world renowned Buena Vista Social Club at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.  The walls of the hotel are lined with pictures of famous guests from years past ranging from Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Winston Churchill to the likes of Robert de Niro, Arnold Swarchenegger, and Mohamed Ali.  The rum was flowing, cigars burning and the big band blasted the night away as professional dancers kept the crowd in awe with their island moves.

Cuba is an absolutely incredible place that remains untouched from American consumerism.  It will be interesting to see how the potential lift of the embargo in future affects its economy, people, and culture.  Regardless I am definitely glad that I got the opportunity to check it out before any radical changes takes place.  The authentic Cuba will live in my heart and mind for years to come.

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