Thursday, 3 May 2012

Cuban reflections

We had one heck of a family holiday this year. After years of no holidays and one attempt at 'glamping' in a teepee it was time to hit the long-haul. We consider ourselves pretty well-seasoned travellers but travelling with kids is different, for a start it costs four times as much as it would if it was just me, my backpack and my Rough Guide. So price has definitely put us off in the past, but as the experience has proved, worth it in spades.

We took the kids out of school, packed far too much and set off for Havana amidst snow storms and French air strikes, but finally descended, apprehensive and exhausted 14 hours later. The tropical warmth met us off the aeroplane along with the smell of cigars (I know, the biggest cliché but true!). The thrill of being somewhere really foreign was what I needed, to escape the routine, experience the freedom, dive into the unknown and the faintly scary. We queued and had our photo's taken at the strict airport controls, tired children needing the loo, too hot, too hungry and the fun had begun. The drive into Havana had my heart thudding and my head a spin with relief, nerves and a lack of Spanish verbs - what had we done taking our precious children into such an unfamiliar place? Zigzagging through the traffic as only you do in developing countries, past bars dimly lit with the little electricity available, 1950's American cars chugged slowly beside us as clichéd as the cigars, beautiful - choking thick black smoke, carrying Cubans to their destination. A huge neon Che Guevara greeted us into the city, alongside his lesser known compadre Camilo Cienfuegos...Hasta la victoria siempre...blimey, it was some taxi journey into the capital.

We had two and a half weeks of adventure. A taster and a tester of perhaps a bigger trip in the future, consisting of so many highlights and so few lowlights that my memory has conveniently blocked them out or otherwise turned them into the excitement of the journey.  Travelling independently with a car, bread rolls stolen from breakfast and a Buena Vista Social Club CD we all embraced the landscape, the cowboys and heavy oxen ploughing the fields in slow motion, the families we stayed with and their adorable hospitality. We were challenged with hikes through tobacco fields, blow outs on an off-the-beaten-track road, unidentifiable food and the lack of it, poisonous jellyfish, near drowning big kid, frogs in the bathroom and thrilling coco taxi rides. We were stunned with fresh water pools, sharing a mojito with the locals, the ladies both crinkly and nubile shrieking " Que linda!" at the girls, meaning "How sweet!" - the children loved impersonating their Latin American accents. We swam in the Caribbean, wondered the hot and dusty streets of Trinidad dotted with candy-sweet coloured houses of a long time past colonial era, travelled by speed boat, motor boat, catamaran all without life jackets. We took risks, we had thrills albeit perhaps a lot smaller than we used to in our hedonistic twenty-something days.

And the kids? Well they just came with us. What did they like about Cuba? They liked the ice cream, the swimming pools and 'Charlie and Lola' in Spanish - they especially liked the 'keep-on-telly' on the aeroplane as TV is strictly limited at home. They played colouring in with Cuban kids, a universal language, shared dolls and lego. No they didn't gawp at the incredible scenery and marvel at the blueness of the sea, they accepted it just as they would any new experience, and being only 3 and 6, everyday has new experiences. With the love, protectiveness of parents, regular amounts of food and a bedtime story they adapted to life on the road and uncertainty.

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