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Friday, January 07, 2005

Cuba is Calling

So I've got plans to go on a language study trip to a Spanish speaking country. Somewhere where it's nice and warm, a place with interesting history, culture, beautiful landscapes, warm and friendly people.

Cuba - amazing natural beauty... 

With Spanish as a hobby you have a million choices since there are 23 countries that have Spanish as their official language. I just did some research on the web and came up with the following countries:

Andorra, Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Gibraltar, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela.

So for an aficionado of Spanish, the travel opportunities are virtually limitless, given the number of Spanish speaking places one could travel to. So how to choose? Well, I also have a bit of an interest in sociology and political history and I thought of all the places I could possibly go to, Cuba has a special ring to it.

Havana, Cuba, at dusk.

Why Cuba? First of all, Cuba is a beautiful place, a jewel in the Caribbean Sea with a great climate and diverse landscapes. Cuba has fabulous music and outstanding historic architecture. We have probably all seen images of classic cars from the 1950s against the backdrop of colonial Havana. Despite all their hardships, the people are reputedly warm and friendly.

But last, but not least, Cuba is unique. In a world that is so dominated by globalization and marketing, Cuba is the only place that has retained a vastly different political system and in some ways it has virtually remained stuck in time for the last 40+ years. And this will change very quickly once Fidel Castro is gone.

I am certainly no Communist, but coming from Europe, I grew up in a socialist country, so I can probably relate to some of the things they have tried to do in Cuba. And from a sociological point of view, it's going to be interesting to see a society that is so different from our commercialized consumer society that we live in today. I could almost liken it to entering a different universe, a universe of central planning and dictatorial political decision-making, a country where scarcity and a lack of common everyday goods is the norm, where people have learned how to be creative and how to make do with what they have. Certainly not the culture of abundance and consumption that we are used to.

Astounding architecture.

In August of 1989 I had a chance to visit East and West Berlin, at a truly historical moment, just 3 months before the wall came down. Beyond doubt this was one of the most interesting personal experiences I have had in my entire life. Walking through West Berlin, with all its glitzy stores and neon advertising, and then crossing Checkpoint Charlie to get to the grey, austere and crumbling Eastern part of Berlin; seeing the wall, seeing the monuments, the Brandenburg Gate, 2 halves of a city divided by history, was one of the most fascinating experiences I ever had. I fully realize that it must have been horrible for both parts of this country/this city to be divided for several decades, and the events leading up to this division were absolutely horrific. But I am glad I got to witness a piece of history before it disappeared forever.

Coming face to face with history can truly give you goosebumps. I want to visit Cuba in its present state, just because of its uniqueness, all of which I am sure will change very quickly once Castro is no more. So of all the places I could conceivably go to, I am choosing Cuba, a beautiful scenic Caribbean island, but also a unique time capsule, a sociological abnormality, a place that is going to vanish and undergo huge transformations very quickly, possibly in the near future.

So Cuba, here I come....

Interesting and useful books about Cuba:


Related articles:
Hispanophilia - Read about my love for Spanish language and culture
Here is practial information for booking a language study trip
For practical travel information check out my travel guide to Spain.

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