A Day alone in Havana

I love to travel. I am a great traveler. I can go with the flow and if adventure is offered, Im grabbing it by the hand and jumping on the back of its 4 wheeler to ride around the island.

I am not a great travel agent. In my personal life, details get fuzzy and I make impulsive decisions before checking the facts. Usually this ends up with a great story where only I am affected. Sometimes it affects others. Like my beautiful mother.

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This incredible woman, who puts up with way more than she should because she raised an independent daughter, wanted to go to Cuba. And so I flew her down (because I’m the world’s best daughter) and she would fly back with me. However, because details allude me, I not only bought her return ticket on a different airline, but it would also be 8 HOURS after I had left the country…

I tried everything I could to get her on the same flight or change mine, but nothing worked. So, facing the worst (or best if it was me) situation, my mother would be stuck in Havana alone for a day. It is the safest place, but if you don’t know a place, you can be somewhat wary.

So this is a post about being in a place alone where you don’t speak the language and how its totally possible because people are actually way nicer than we believe.

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She went with us for a substantially large breakfast before we headed to the airport. Then, her day alone started.

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Like anyone else who is going into a new city, she made sure to download an offline map (because there is next to no wifi anywhere in Cuba) and made her way from the Air BNB to explore the city that was all hers now.

Like most people, she had ideas on what she wanted to see and do.

We tried to look for this elusive market, but we weren’t sure how to find it. So, she would have to discover it for herself.

An open air market.

And when you have an opportunity to travel around on your schedule, you tend to get see the little gifts that you’ve waited for. Traveling alone will always offer some fantastic surprises.

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“I wasn’t nervous once I got there. The people are far too nice to be nervous around. I knew I didn’t speak any Spanish and I thought that ordering food would be difficult.

When I was reading the map app I was nervous. But when I was there I didn’t mind being there by myself. I was able to completely sink into the local culture and it was almost impossible to be nervous.”

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Luckily, my mother is pretty competent even when she is completely out of her element.

But with a smile and patience, she was able to have this wonderful little meal and explore a part of Havana that even I did not get to see.

And while I tried a mojito at every restaurant I went to, my mother (Alyse) branched out and tried a cerveza, or a local beer!

*A mom tip would be “its very important to travel with someone who does speak the language. I was able to get to places, but if I didn’t like the chicken I would have no way to say that. Fortunately I loved everything!”*

 

I asked my Mom the most important question; Would you go back to Cuba?

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“I would go back in an instant. Even if I went alone, I would still go. But if I could change anything, I would want to travel with someone who spoke the language. I mean, I could get around and be immersed in the culture, but it was all kind of superficial if I don’t understand the language.”

When you go to a new world, see everything. Find a coffee shop that becomes your favorite. Learn a couple of the phrases to get you around and enjoy every minute of it. Some people wait their whole life to live, don’t be like that. Go!

 

Before I left my mom in Old Havana, these are the phrases I made sure she knew:

Donde estas le bano - where is the bathroom
Una botella de agua - a bottle of water (only drink bottled water!)
llevame a El aeroporte - take me to the airport

 

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On behalf of the most beautiful woman I know, I will say go to Cuba. It’s a most wonderful adventure to have.

A Pirates Life for Me

Every city around the world has that one thing that they are famous for. For New York, its broadway. For Chicago, its their wind (or comedy shows). For Philadelphia its their cheesesteaks, and their direct attachment to America’s history.

But for Tampa, its Gasparilla.

It loosely looks like New Orleans Mardi Gras, but with swash buckling pirates invading the town.  The whole town shows up dressed as pirates towing their red wagons decorated as Pirate ships and have their hands ready to catch as many bead necklaces as humanly possible.

The parade is based off of the life of Spanish pirate Jose Gaspar, who as the legend says was a naval officer in Spain before he ran away to piracy in the late 1700s. As it goes, Jose Gaspar traveled along Florida’s coast and dropped his treasure around the peninsula before nearly being captured by the East India Trading company that was hunting pirates.

In every legend, Jose Gaspar is captured but takes his own life shouting:

Gasparilla dies by his own hand, not the enemy’s!

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Now, there is a parade which honors his invasion into Tampa that is celebrated every year. This Gasparilla Parade is one of the biggest turn outs for the city of South Tampa. Everyone lines the streets of Bayshore and eagerly waits for parade floats of different pirate crews make their way downtown, as they have every year since 1901.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThis adorable tradition also includes a pirate crew taking their boat (float) downtown to kidnap the local mayor at the time until he gives them the key to the city. If you have never been to an invasion, it is absolutely a sight.

You will follow the pirate crew of Gaspar around downtown until they land in the center of a park (which has already been set up for the skit) and either side with the pirates, which is encouraged, or with the mayor.

Each year the skit is played out a little differently, but each year the Pirates ask for the key and the Mayor at the time (this year Bob Buckhorn) says no.

Then a battle is waged or the Mayor is kidnapped until the invasion a few days later.

The invasion is when anyone and everyone who has a boat will sail together into the bay following the Gasparilla ship through the water. This is Tampa’s big event and among the other events that take place with the Gasparilla season; the parade is the most attended.

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This is Tampa’s big event and among the other events that take place with the Gasparilla season;

the Gasparilla parade is the most attended.

And, because I am allowed to give my biased opinion, its the most fun!

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People will build crazy large and intense floats to throw out beads and coins, and anything that could be considered pirate treasure and the goal is to catch it. Because who doesn’t want treasure?img_6020

If you are ever in Tampa around Gasparilla time, make sure you dress up like a pirate and head to the parade. You’ll fit in immediately.

So, go to Tampa. Its an incredible little city that has sports teams galore, amazing restaurants that are home grown, but most important; you’re gonna find pirates. And you might even meet the Mayor.

Be prepared if you go to the Gasparilla parade (and not the childrens parade) it is adult. Basically its an excuse to get drunk with your friends and collect the most pirate booty you can. If you're not about that life, you've been warned.