Home is where the Heart is….

surrounded by water in beautiful Northern Michigan

Do you agree with this? Or do you think home is where you lay your hat? Very different view points of course and neither is bad or wrong, it is just a difference in feelings. My “home” is neither where I was born, (Jersey girl here!) nor where I lay my hat; but rather the childhood home I grew up in. I live down the road from that spot now, and consider my own physical house my home of course, but it is a different town than where I learned how to drive or ride a bike or grow into the fiercely stubborn, independent and vertically gifted woman that I am today. I have developed a love for travel, but always am relieved when I get to go home. I live in a beautiful town, surrounded by water and beaches and hiking trails and wine country. We are the cherry capitol of the world and have amazing orchards of fruit and fields of corn and strawberries. We are a small town feel with big town opportunities. Did I mention we are completely surrounded by water? I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and this is why as much as I love to see other places, I always love to come home.

Have you taken the time to explore your own town? Really play tourist? You should. I’m sure there are hidden treasures and adventures around every corner that maybe have been over looked simply because they are always there and available. My husband and I make a point of always trying to find a new restaurant and a new place to take out of town friends. It keeps life interesting. It also lets you enjoy exactly where you are, and that contentment is wonderful. I also like my own home specifically because it is custom made for my tall frame. Have you had your counter tops raised? I highly recommend it! Doing dishes is so much easier when your not hunched over. (My shower head is taller too!) I live in the home of the National Cherry Festival, the Film festival, the Sleeping Bear Dunes and some of the worlds best vineyards and winery’s. I live where there is kayaking, canoeing, hiking, biking, running, beaching, boating and any outdoor activity you could imagine. Where our summers are warm, our fall is bursting with color , our winters are cold and snowy and our spring is a breath of fresh air. I live where there is no natural disasters. I live in Gods’ country where the air is the cleanest in the world. Although I have wanderlust, I will always come home.

How to fit, in Cuba

my lanky self on the rocky beach in Havana Cuba

Recently I took a week long trip to Cuba with my very average size husband. I had my reservations going to a Latin country. Not for what you might think, but for the size of things. I have been to Mexico several times and everything, EVERYTHING is made for short people. Yes, I know the Mexican people are shorter than the average American, but I always feel so cramped and squished when I go there. So I was a little nervous about paying good money to be uncomfortable. However, Cuba has been on my bucket list for many, many years and I was determined to go and see and experience.

I was pleasantly surprised! I guess my brain was not computing that “old” (read 50’s style) was built taller and bigger than todays standards. (yay!) Let us back track for a minute and look at WHY I actually wanted to go….. the old cars, the old buildings, the fantastic music, the delicious food, the beautiful people of all colors and sizes (who knew?) the fact that it has been closed off to America for so long and really just had the pause button pushed peeked my curiosity. I also wanted to see if the awful history had been over thrown (for real) and if the people were in fact, free.

So, now you know my reasons for going, lets explore what I found and how I fell more in love with Cuban music and the vibrant people and lovely sunshine….alas and why I more than likely will not be going back.

First, because I am an American citizen I have strict rules placed on me for traveling to Cuba. It costs more. It is restricted more. You can not (really) use a credit card. period. it is cash only, cash is king, cash a do da day all the way with everything. I was lucky enough to book an airbnb that I could prepay from the USA and use my credit card. However, it does take some planning to make sure you have enough cash with you because there are no banks to help you, no atm machines to help, no cash advance on the card, you are SOL so to speak. Also (apparently I did not research enough) as the exchange rate (when I was there) was 100 American dollars equals 80 Cuban pesos, so you are loosing 20% right from the get go. (this threw me off ) The prices all listed in Cuban pesos (ummm of course) were comparable to the prices here in the states. (but catch that conversion rate) So, shopping in a foreign land with foreign currency is kind of like being in a casino with fake money, you just spend it. So for example, you go to eat lunch and the bill of $24 is really like $30 US dollars… after a week it adds up. I don’t know about you, but when I am on vacation I like to enjoy myself and splurge a little… so now the $50 dinner for two is really $63 US dollars, multiply that by 5 nights and you have $315 spent just on DINNER! SO, ok, live and learn. If you go to Cuba take some extra cash and be ready to spend it.

WITH THAT BEING SAID, the food was FANTASTIC! Not a tortilla in site (much to the dismay of my Mexican husband) but there was bread at every meal, black beans were prevalent, the fresh pineapple juice was the best I have ever had in my life, the black rice was delicious, the fresh fruit made me literally change my entire diet when I got home to eat more of it, and the Cuban coffee was knock you out strong. All in all I could eat Cuban food everyday of my life and be good.

The music, aahhhh the music! ( I already love the Latin mix of island, African rhythm ) I loved the music, it was everywhere, blaring from every car, every window, every restaurant had a live band and people danced! People danced in the restaurant, in the street, in the hallways, on the sidewalks, in their seats…. everywhere! It was energizing. It was happy. It was intoxicating. We visited the famous Floridian (where Hemingway spent many years) and it had a wonderful live band and we bought a cd to bring home. It was a wonderful experience and the musicians are so talented!

I liked Old Habana more than the “new” part simply for the people. The buildings were beautiful in both places. The buildings all over are being restored and many have barricades around so you can’t entire, but to see the beauty of the tall windows and huge door frames was awe inspiring to me. The renovated buildings were so alive with bright colors and life, the old buildings were history and had stories in the walls. The churches were extravagant and ornate and you could feel the strong faith carried in the history and traditions and rituals. The horse drawn carriage ride is a must do, make sure you get a carriage with no top for optimal picture taking opportunity. It costs about $30 pesos per hour or if you prefer you can take a city tour in a vintage car. ( price is about the same) The cars are SO cool to look at and they are the daily drivers of many. They are the taxis and lined up waiting for passengers so you can get plenty of pictures at your leisure. I spent two days in the city and enjoyed every minute of it. ( I was tired from walking 10 hours a day) There is a flea market building right on the waters edge and I bought a nice beach bag and a beautiful silk scarf. However, two days was enough for me.

HUGE NOTE to you tall girls, the cars were bigger than the standard ones today. The doorways were bigger than the standard ones of today. The windows were large and lovely, the walking paths were wide, the steps were wide, the carriages were good sized. The people were even a little taller than the average Latino person. The clothes, alas, did not work for me (at 6’4″ its tough) BUT they would work for a proportioned 5’10” or 6′ gal. I give it the tall friendly thumbs up. #teamtall (NOTE* I still got stares and questions and people wanting pictures with the tall white lady, but it was not AS bad as normal… so there’s that.) Also, on the way home we got upgraded to first class on a HUGE plane with PLENTY of room for long legs. It was the kind for international travel and the seats folded down and we got a 3 course meal and my long legs could actually extend and be comfortable as I napped. Thank you to American Airlines for being awesome.

The other days on our vacation were reserved for the beach! When we booked the airbnb, we opted for close to the beach (rather than close to the city, we just took a taxi for the 2 city days) and for us it was the right choice. We could walk to two different beaches and stroll to a little store and explore at our leisure. It also allowed us to return to the airbnb anytime we wanted to rest or enjoy the pool there. One beach was not really for swimming, it was one big rock, but it was great to see and smell the fresh salty air and just explore. The other beach however was great for swimming. It had a sandy beach with a little restaurant right there to deliver as many Cuba Libres (similar to rum and coke) as you needed. It was family friendly and safe. This was great to unwind and really relax (especially after walking so much in the city) The weather was perfect, a sunny 90 degrees with a light breeze. I didn’t notice any bugs during the day, (huge bonus for me)

A few little details, be sure to leave ample time in the airport. The airport is SOOOOO slow it was ridiculous. You will need to purchase a visa before you go and I have found they are the cheapest and fastest if purchased right at the gate in the Miami airport before boarding the plane. It is $50 CASH per person. (yes you can order ahead but the shipping ends up costing you more than the purchase price in the airport) Be prepared to fend off cigar sellers, they are everywhere and fairly pushy. Yes, I know Cuba is famous for their cigars, but come on man, it gets a little redundant. Also, fun fact, Cuba has very little to no crime ( due to such stiff penalties nobody breaks the law) and drugs are just not a problem. The people are free, to an extent. There are rations. Food rations, alcohol rations…….. to leave Cuba is very difficult according to the people I talked to, you are restricted on how much money you can make, ( again according to whom I talked to) Land is VERY expensive, and with the whole island being on pause for so long the standards of living are just simply not the same. (I did NOT like having no toilet seat) I loved the people. I loved the culture. I fell in love with Cuba. and there it shall stay.

With all of this being said, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

I planned. I went. I saw. I checked off my bucket list. On to the next adventure!