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DRINKING MOJITO’S AND DANCING SALSA UNTIL YOUR FEET HURT – Lessons learned in Trinidad, Cuba

You’re right, it’s not your feet that will hurt from drinking one (or two, or three…) too many of those perfect mojito’s, it’s your head…

But who cares? You’re in Trinidad!

Learning life lessons in Trinidad, Cuba

Dear old Trinidad… You’re like everything that’s authentic about Cuba gathered together in one single place. I rarely visit the same place twice, but you’ve been on my list ever since I left more than 8 years ago. I want to come back. I NEED to come back. But at the same time I’m scared. Afraid to find you’ve changed. I sure know I have…

It’s you who changed me, or at least put the change in motion, and I don’t even think I realized it at the time of my visit. It was my first trip outside of Europe, I had just finished college and was pretty clueless as to what was going on in the world. Of course I read the paper and watched the news but I had no idea about the real issues and the emotions that came with the stories. I didn’t even think about the people behind the images or the lives beyond those clichés.

Learning life lessons in Trinidad, Cuba

At that time, I wanted to see the world because I wanted to see the world. It was as simple as that. I didn’t think about my impact on the destinations or the people, and I only rarely thought about their impact on me. I knew it did something to me, but I couldn’t really point out what it was and to be honest I hardly ever really took the time to think about it.

I still thought travel was about places. About seeing things and ticking destinations off your bucket list – even though nobody called it a bucket list yet. It was only partially about the journey and it was definitely not about the people. I know I was unconsciously intrigued and inspired by them but by no means did I realize the importance they’d get in my future travels. Meeting people was about having fun and getting a glimpse of the unknown. About having exciting stories to tell about those great nights out with strangers or maybe ending up at an unknown beach or bar I never would have found out about otherwise. It was about going off the beaten path before that word was even invented. And that was it. That was all travel was about.

I didn’t even expect half of the emotions that journey and those people would give me or the life lessons I’d learn from them later on through my travels.

Learning life lessons in Trinidad, Cuba

I’ve said it over and over again so it’s probably getting boring, but I’ll take the risk and say it again anyway: if you go to Trinidad, ditch the guidebook and go get lost! Let the music that’s coming from around every corner guide you to places you’d imagined only existed in one of those old Havana Club commercials as you stroll through the cobbled streets. The main attraction is the city itself, with its squares and buildings that witness a colorful past. The bright blues, greens and yellows have gone pale and the new layer of paint they put on every couple of years for Revolution Day doesn’t stop the previous layers from peeling off. The rusty old-timers complete the picture marvelously. The beauty and sadness of this long gone glory will hit you with every step you take.

Learning life lessons in Trinidad, Cuba

Look at the people dancing on the corner of pretty much every street. Sit down on a terrace for a cocktail and some live music. Go ahead and pay the old man with the chicken for a picture if you want, even if everybody took that exact same picture before. Who cares? You’re in Trinidad! At night, drink cheap rum from the peso store with the locals on the stairs of Plaza Mayor. Go feel the intensity of trova music at the Casa de la Trova and shake your booty at the Casa de la Musica or just outside on one of the squares. Take salsa lessons! If you’re not going to do it here, where else are you gonna do it? And if you don’t care about salsa, do it anyway. You’ll be happy you did when you’ll be dancing the night away with the locals afterwards.

Take a step back and look further than what’s obvious. Observe the people and notice the contradictions. These people live in tiny houses, drive a 37 year old car – if they’re lucky – and hardly possess anything, but their smiles bring the city to life. They have no access to many basic products and services we just get from the grocery store but they’ll welcome you into their homes and into their lives with open arms.

They don’t even have half the liberties we have but they are singing and dancing in the street.

Learning life lessons in Trinidad, Cuba

Dear old Trinidad… I’m sure I didn’t realize it at the time, and maybe I’m only fully realizing the exact scale right now as I’m writing down this story, but I’ve learned so much from you. You showed me the beauty and inestimable value of human interactions. You were the first to not only teach me but to actually make me see with my own eyes that happiness doesn’t have to be determined by freedom, political situations or possessions. It’s a matter of attitude, getting the most out of what you have and enjoying life no matter what. It’s not about ‘having it all’ but about realizing what ‘being rich’ really means.

For the past couple of years, this is what I’ve tried to focus on in my travels. This is what I want to bring home with me. It’s nice to have thousands of pictures, souvenirs and a world map on the wall with 45 been-there-done-that pins on it, but it’s the human adventures I will always remember first. You made me realize this, you showed me the kind of traveler I want to be, and for that I want to thank you.

I don’t know if I’ll ever come back. Part of me wants to return. To that old you. To that old me. But another part of me knows I probably never will. The memory of how we were is perfect as it is.

I don’t need to rewrite our story, I know it would sound exactly the same.

d

Learning life lessons in Trinidad, Cuba

Leave a Comment

  • Victoria 17th March 2016, 5:38 am

    Great article! Your writing only intensifies my desire to visit Cuba.
    http://www.thenewelegant.com

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 21st March 2016, 2:09 pm

      Thank you so much Victoria, that’s my main goal with this blog 🙂

      Reply
  • Amy (Two Drifters) 17th March 2016, 8:15 pm

    Beautiful post, Liesbeth! You really brought the place vividly to life! <3

    Reply
  • Karin 17th March 2016, 10:24 pm

    I think the first big travel is always a big eye-opening revelation 🙂 Trinidad does look beautiful on your photos, I hear Cuba is getting more touristy lately, so I guess everything is changing…

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 21st March 2016, 2:12 pm

      I’m afraid it’s changing, too… And in some way I wish for it to change, to make it better for the people who live there. Of course as travelers we always want places to stay authentic and like they were before but well we don’t live there 365 days a year, right 🙂

      Reply
  • Joanna 17th March 2016, 10:38 pm

    Trinidad is still the same! I’ve recognized it in your posts, exactly as it is, and I’ve only said good-bye to it 3 months ago. So don’t wait any longer, go back before America rushes in! Then it’s going to change!

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:20 pm

      Yep I’m pretty sure now is when it’s going to start changing… Very happy to hear you’ve recognized it through my post though! 🙂

      Reply
  • May Simpson 18th March 2016, 1:10 pm

    Since I got my first globe and started to learn all the countries and capitals at the age of 10, Cuba has been somewhere I have wanted to visit – and I couldn’t even tell you why!
    But your post just sums it up perfectly; it looks so relaxed, so friendly, so worn down yet so beautiful at the same time.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Love, May x

    The Little Blonde Backpacker | Bloglovin’

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:21 pm

      It’s that perfect mix of long gone glory, people living their lives in the present no matter what and this relaxed atmosphere I’ve never experiences anywhere else that makes it so perfect!! I hope you’ll get there someday soon!!

      Reply
  • Cathy 18th March 2016, 1:36 pm

    Beautiful tribute to the country, makes me want to go!

    Reply
  • Katie 18th March 2016, 3:35 pm

    So true – when I first started travelling it was about where I’ve been and it’s only on reflection afterwards that I realise the best memories were from interactions with people – and these are the stories I tell years afterwards!

    I also loved learning salsa and drinking piña coladas in the streets of Trinidad last year!

    Katie
    http://whatskatiedoing.blogspot.co.uk

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:24 pm

      Yep, mojito’s, piña coladas, mmmmm 🙂 Did you take private salsa lessons, too? I did – but I already danced ‘LA style’ salsa in Belgium so really just wanted to learn the Cuban version too, it was sooooo great! 🙂 And indeed, the best stories ALWAYS come from the people! 🙂 Have a great day!!

      Reply
  • Life, Other Than 19th March 2016, 3:58 am

    This is a great piece. It summarizes my travels through Europe alone when I was 19. I had no idea what was happening in the world – and suddenly I was there. It changed me forever.

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:25 pm

      Thank you so much! 🙂 It really changes us, doesn’t it. And not only the kind of traveler we are but really just our whole person… It’s SO rewarding!

      Reply
  • Corinne 21st March 2016, 3:02 pm

    Liesbeth, I love how you tell Cuba you were learning that travel is about the people…very poetic.

    Reply
  • Marteen Lane 21st March 2016, 10:15 pm

    Havana, Cuba has been on my list. But now I’ve put Trinadad on my list after reading this

    http://itsatravelfullife.com

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:27 pm

      Ooooh Marteen, that’s THE BEST compliment! 🙂 Inspiring people to go somewhere through my articles –> life goals!!! 🙂

      Reply
  • Doreen Pendgracs 22nd March 2016, 2:07 am

    Isn’t Cuba great? I’ve been 3x but still haven’t made it to Trinidad. Maybe next time …

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:28 pm

      I LOVED Cuba! Havana, Viñales, Santiago de Cuba, … Trinidad really was my favorite though, so I would definitely recommend it for your 4th visit! 🙂

      Reply
  • Kailey 22nd March 2016, 2:48 pm

    Love the message of this post! Travel really does change you and I’ve found it to be mostly due to the people and difficulties you encounter. So much of my life would be different if I had never traveled- inwardly and outwardly…I’d rather not imagine it!

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:29 pm

      Thank you Kailey!!! It really does, even though it sometimes takes us some time to realize it – we start changing as soon as we set foot on in the world!!

      Reply
  • Jana 22nd March 2016, 6:17 pm

    What a great Cuban story. Can´t wait to visit myself one day. Thank you Lili!

    Reply
  • businesstravelerswife 22nd March 2016, 6:38 pm

    Beautifully written! I can’t help but feel melancholic though..

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:31 pm

      Yes I get you… it somehow makes me feel a bit melancholic, too. But often repeating things or going back to a place simply isn’t the same as the first time, and it would be soooo sad to go back there and kinda ruin the memory… I prefer being thankfull for this perfect memory!

      Reply
  • Zen BabyTravel 22nd March 2016, 6:43 pm

    Loved Cuba and the Cubans and their contagious love of life despite everything! We could also so relate to all the bad sides of a communist society as grew up in Romania. We didnt make it to Trini but spent a week in casa particulares in Havana back in 2005 and a week in Varadero getting our Padi licenses, we loved Cuba and its people! Greetings from London! Zen Babytravel recently posted https://zenbabytravel.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/sydney-active-babymoon-with-friends/

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:33 pm

      I loved Havana too, but it’s very different, even though the people are just as great all over the country!!

      Reply
  • Kaylene Chadwell 22nd March 2016, 8:51 pm

    Incredible post! Your writing is amazing 🙂 I’d really love to get to Cuba, especially after hearing about your experience! Also, I really love the colors in the top photo!

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:33 pm

      Aaaauuwh Kaylene, you make my day!! 🙂 Thank you!! I hope you’ll get there someday!!!

      Reply
  • Amber 22nd March 2016, 11:33 pm

    Beautiful post! This is how Peru was for me . . . I learned a lot on that trip.

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:34 pm

      I hope to visit Peru next year, and obviously hope for some similar life-changing experiences over there, too!! 🙂

      Reply
  • Paige Brown 23rd March 2016, 2:49 am

    I love reading about those eye-opening experiences and those moments when you’re unbelievably inspired by the people dancing in the streets! Great post!

    Reply
  • Izzy 23rd March 2016, 3:37 am

    I love the poetry about this post. Trini has become an important place in my heart too even though I have yet to visit because some of its citizens comprise a list of my favorite people! They always rave about the culture, the love, Carnivale of course, and just how much trouble their country is undergoing and how it makes their heart aches. I need to make this destination more of a priority and I’m so thrilled by such a positive review of the country. 🙂

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:35 pm

      Thanks Izzy! 🙂 I really hope you’ll be able to visit someday soon, from what you’ve written I’m sure you’d absolutely LOVE it!

      Reply
  • Jamie Italiane 23rd March 2016, 2:06 pm

    Lovely story!

    Reply
  • Mar Pages 24th March 2016, 4:43 am

    Beautifully written, you can feel the love. I love the method you described here, ditch the guidebook and get lost! I want to do that a lot during travel, but when I don’t have time on my side I worry I will miss out if I don’t plan properly. But its true, the most memorable moments I’ve had during travel are the unexpected surprises with people I’ve met and interacted with. Would love to head to Trinidad soon!

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:37 pm

      It’s always difficult to chose between the ‘must-see’ places and just stroll around, but indeed, the most memorable moments usually don’t happen inside a museum, do they? 🙂 Thank you for reading and your beautiful comment!

      Reply
  • Stéphanie LANGLET 24th March 2016, 7:50 pm

    My first solo trip will stay in my heart and memories for ever. It was Indonesia, especially Java and Bali. My first time in Asia, and it even eclipsed my first trip outside Europe : in Morocco. I realized it when I wrote this comment !

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:38 pm

      Aaauwh glad my article made you look back at such a great memory 🙂

      Reply
  • Kyle Bernard 24th March 2016, 7:52 pm

    I went to Cuba and didn’t have a great experience, but I’ve been considering it more and more especially with the big changes taking place there. This post gave me another subtle nudge back in the Cuban direction – Solid read.

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:39 pm

      Thank you Kyle! So sorry for your bad experience, I hope next time you’ll have one as perfect as mine!!

      Reply
  • Christina Guan 24th March 2016, 10:48 pm

    Beautiful post 🙂 I’ve never been to Cuba but I can’t wait to see it for myself one day. thanks for sharing this personal piece!

    Reply
  • Cai Dominguez-Travelosyo 25th March 2016, 12:07 am

    I love how you wrote this story. Made me feel like I want to book a ticket to trinidad. Only if its near my country. I will surely fly there. I can hear the music and the emotion from your story. Great article!

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:39 pm

      Aaauuuwh Cai, that’s just the best compliment… 🙂 Thank you so much!

      Reply
  • Karla (Karla Around The World) 26th March 2016, 1:41 am

    Reading this from you: “if you go to Trinidad, ditch the guidebook and go get lost!” makes me feel like you really love every inch of the place. There are only a few places that I feel truly comfortable to come back to and I also say this same thing for the places I truly love most.

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:41 pm

      Yes it’s all those hidden spots and the surprises behind every corner that make the beauty of it and that are the reason why I loved it SO much! 🙂

      Reply
  • Sally from Passport & Plates 26th March 2016, 6:19 am

    Love this post! This makes me want to go to Cuba even more! Nice to read a post that focuses on another area outside of Havana 🙂

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 27th March 2016, 9:42 pm

      Thanks Sally! Yay, great to inspire you! 🙂 Havana’s great too, but very different, so they’re definitely both worth a visit!

      Reply
  • Chandi 28th March 2016, 5:21 am

    Oh you are so poetic about Trindad! Very cool!

    Reply
  • Nikki 28th March 2016, 7:27 pm

    I think I’ve just read my new favourite posts of yours! It’s so true that travel is more about the human experiences. It sounds like it was a very special place to you and I think you captured the heart and soul of this place beautifully in your writing…as always!

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 18th April 2016, 6:57 pm

      Aaaauuuwh thanks so much! 🙂

      Reply
      • http://wwwsites.top/wayfair.com 31st August 2016, 3:29 am

        Hi Ajay,You have shown all kind of relishes on your website, but pls tell a way to person who is into a boring job and want to switch into a all time travelling career what all opportunities are there for a traveller where he can earn his decent living and travel expences while travelling.

        Reply
  • Elizabeth @ Compass & Fork 29th March 2016, 12:52 pm

    Really nice post and one of the most important lessons we can learn from travel and people. Whether you are rich or poor is just a state of mind.

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 18th April 2016, 6:57 pm

      I totally agree and once you understand that, you can become the richest person in the world 🙂

      Reply
  • Taylor 29th March 2016, 12:58 pm

    A very sweet post. Maybe it’s best that you don’t go back so you can preserve those memories from just that trip 🙂 I like how you mentioned that you didn’t realize until after how much you had learned from the trip, I like that feeling after travel, you get to enjoy yourself in the moment but then realize how amazing and eye-opening it all was after!

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 18th April 2016, 6:59 pm

      It’s exactly what I’m thinking too! It was perfect so why risk ruining it? 🙂 And yes, that’s what’s so beautiful about traveling, you get to enjoy it or learn from it over and over again! Thanks a lot for your comment!!

      Reply
  • Katie 29th March 2016, 1:48 pm

    Ah, Cuba! A place I have longed to go for quite sometime, and will hopefully finally make it to in the near future. I agree with what you said about ditching the guidebook and just getting lost. Truly is one of the best ways to experience a place.

    Reply
  • Kimberly Erin @ Walkaboot.ca 29th March 2016, 11:36 pm

    There are some places that are just so special you have to visit again and again and again. Its like they become part of your heart…So I guess my heart belongs to a few places in this world 🙂

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 18th April 2016, 7:17 pm

      Yes! Especially when they make you have these kind of experiences and lessons!! 🙂

      Reply
  • Charles McCool 7th April 2016, 1:43 pm

    Life lessons and mojitos. Excellent. No guidebook is a powerful theme for every destination.

    Reply
    • lilistravelplans 18th April 2016, 7:18 pm

      There are worse combinations in this world, right? 🙂 hehehe 🙂 Thank you!!

      Reply
  • Zob 20th July 2016, 11:16 pm

    fantastic article!! really makes me want to go here after college

    Reply
  • Gabi 17th September 2016, 6:49 pm

    Such a beautiful piece that shows the real value of travel, the human side of it we sometimes forget in the hustle of packing, and getting everything ready. Luckily once we get to destination and we get in touch with the land and the people we understand what the real value of moving around can leave in us. 🙂

    Reply
  • Erin 25th January 2017, 2:57 am

    Beautiful post. It can be so difficult to return to our favorite places and see them changed. But it’s worthwhile, too, and fun. Trinidad has surely changed since your trip, but it is still wonderful in many ways.

    Reply