Ready for one more post about Cuba? I was clearly incredibly enamored by this country and the experience. It seems as if photography is the lens (pun intended) through which my soul has been deeply touched.
I was asked twice today if I went to Cuba legally. Legally? WTF? I tend to be a legal-eagle (though a little rebellious at times) and do things by the book. It clearly took me a minute to figure out what I was being asked. I blame it on the jet lag (which I still have by the way!).
As a matter of fact, the HOTY and I did indeed go to Cuba legally as part of a “Person-to-Person Cultural Exchange.” I literally practiced saying this phrase before I got off the plane in Miami (because you cannot say “Tourism”). It’s a really good thing that the Customs officer didn’t ask for my definition of “Person-to-Person Cultural Exchange” because I would probably still be detained! Seriously. I was clueless.
So, I decided to learn a little more about said “Exchange,” which of course I’m going to share with you. In 1999, President Clinton signed a bill granting exceptions to the ban on travel to Cuba for private citizens. The law allows for travel to Cuba for “people to people contacts,” or in other words, a person has to go with the intention of engaging in cultural exchange and learning about Cuba and the Cuban people (that we did!). Adjudicating the quality of the daiquiri’s doesn’t count, unfortunately.
In order to go on this sort of trip to Cuba, a person has to book a trip with a group that is authorized to conduct such tours. As I mentioned, we went with the amazing, astounding and phenomenal travel company Indagare.
A key rule change has made it easier to get into a tour of Cuba, as travel itineraries no longer have to be approved ahead of time by the State Department. Though the “person to person” travel exemption has been reinstated and more people are going there, most travel to Cuba is for academic, journalistic, governmental, religious or a limited range of commercial purposes, according to the State Department website. People can visit relatives in Cuba, provided their relatives are Cuban nationals. There is no U.S. Embassy in Cuba, though a U.S. Special Interests Section is located in the Swiss Embassy in Havana, functioning as an embassy of sorts. Upon the recommendation of our guide, we kept our passports in the safe in our room because we did not, under any circumstances, want to be detained in Cuba without the means to get home.
Back to the lens. One of the things that stood out most vividly was the prominence of color. Everywhere I looked, there was color. Bright. Joyous. Color. Perhaps that is why I found myself smiling so much (Silver Lining)!