Time Travel to Cuba

A father takes his college-bound daughter to Cuba, learning a poignant and timely life lesson from its people.

TIME OUT The writer and his daughter in Havana. Photograph by Fariba Tiffany

 

There was once a time when time stood still for me, before life took off like a rocket that burned days, weeks and years as fuel. Eighteen years ago, on a drizzly morning in Hawaii, my daughter, Sanam, was placed in my arms, and time stopped.

Flash-forward a second later, and we’re planning our final trip as a nuclear family. Sanam is headed to Oberlin College, and we’ve rationalized a summer trip to Cuba. It seemed a destination where the clock had stopped—an end point and a starting point all wrapped in one. It held the promise of being a symbolic segue for mom, dad and daughter.

What is written here is not a travelogue, though the sound advice is to go now. Already construction cranes are being hoisted, and the streets of Old Havana are being re-bricked. The lack of Starbucks, McDonald’s and KFC suggests urban purity. But the purse strings of investors are loosening. Tick, tock.

We experienced certain trepidation in crossing over to a police state communist country, but that fear quickly vanished when we saw our first Cuban smile. That first one came fast; then they were abundant and incessant. We found the Cuban people to be warm, intelligent and welcoming. Though they are poor, they are not desperate. They seem to have balanced poverty with ingenuity. What they lack in possessions is compensated with heart, joy and resonant culture. The Cubans, in a word, are magnanimous.

Cuba is not for the faint at heart.   If one is not prepared for noxious fumes belching from cars, sparse accommodations, a discomfiting lack of toilet paper, zero mobile coverage and slow, spotty internet, a visit could be stressful.

STREET SCAPES Top to bottom: Near the Mercado; Old Havana; The Grand Teatro. Middle photo by Fariba Tiffany

 

 

 

 

COMMUNAL SPACES Locals gathered at the Plaza Vieja; Below: one of the many charming cafes in Havana

 

Otherwise, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, it’s a pirate’s life for thee. And yo ho ho it was, even for a teenager traveling with four adults. At first glance, it seemed a recipe for a train wreck. Instead, it turned out to be an eye-opening look into the soul of a resilient people; a sensual feast that causes a conscious traveler to peer into themselves and appreciate every dichotomy that separates us from them. The place is the razor’s edge of the comfort zone, and it rewards with a deep and often estranged insight … the notion that people are people everywhere. Period.  

Yes, the vintage cars are astonishing and ubiquitous as are the rum, cigars and colonial architecture. But that is all frosting. The real cake comes in the form of human connection.  

That connection made my time with my daughter even more intoxicating. The molasses moments shared at the base of Jose Marti’s statue in Parque Centro, floating in the pristine water at Playa Santa Maria, playing cards at the Hotel Inglaterra and dancing the rumba at a local Egrem brought me as close to stopping the clock as is humanly possible. But as we all know, clock-stopping is not humanly possible.

So one makes do. Like the Cubans have. And one hopes that when the parting moment comes in August, for both her mother and me, it can be done with the same spirit and dignity.

 

Ventura Blvd magazine sales representative Dale Tiffany wrote this piece this past summer just before his daughter headed off to Oberlin College. At present, father, mother and daughter are doing well in this new chapter of their lives.