I Left My Heart in Varadero

I’ve been debating even writing about this on my blog, because I try to stick to my “theme” as much as I can: traveling solo as a woman, fighting my anxiety disorder, and attempting to accomplish my dream of becoming a teacher through teach-abroad experiences. But then I thought:

  1. It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to?
  2. In a way, it is sort of travel-related
  3. I have way too many feelings not to write about it

So here it is, and I’d love some feedback/advice/ideas from anyone who has ever gone through the same thing that I am right now.

I didn’t just leave Varadero in November with a new sense of bravery and another country ticked off my list. Amid the beaches and the cobblestone streets, the guava juice, the salsa music, I found something better. I left Varadero with a boyfriend… a Cuban one.

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We met at my hotel (which I swear I’m going to review sometime, I’ve just been really busy), where he worked at one of the souvenir stands. I was inspired by one part boredom because my friend had fallen asleep by the pool, one part attraction to this guy I’d seen sitting there for the past couple of days and exchanged nothing but smiles with, and one part egging-on of my brain to practice my Spanish skills after a dry spell of no Spanish interaction for several months. Whatever the reason really was, I ended up talking to him for a short time, leaving after realizing my Spanish skills had really deteriorated after not living in Spain. Although, I can’t blame just myself, because the Cuban accent is a really difficult one laced with local slang and “swallowed” ends of words, like talking to a Quebecois. Still, I had to pat myself on the back for trying.

We ended up exchanging Facebook handles the night before I was to leave, because on the actual departure day, he had his dia libre. I have to admit that our conversations didn’t become especially riveting until I was back in Canada and could just type in Spanish, rather than talk poorly and try to understand the Cuban tongue. Reading and writing slang-filled text messages became the highlight of my day, and not just because I was learning. I began to really fall for the person I was talking to, who seemed so genuinely kind and easygoing.

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My boyfriend’s grandma’s porch in Varadero, pretty much where I spent every day

Without going into too much detail, I definitely had some personal turmoil when it came to talking to him. Every Canadian gets the warning about Cuban people just wanting a visa or to escape their island, and while it’s a stereotype that’s really overdone and gross, I have to admit that I felt it sometimes too. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I think it’s important to say, because my relationship has given me an insight to the real life of Cubans, not just what they show on TV about Che and Fidel-worshippers, poverty being rampant, and an ignorant understanding of the rest of the world. I’m not saying there aren’t jineteros out there (hustlers that try to bring foreigners good food, trips, and yes… sex… and then get paid a lot for it) but since I was the one who approached my boyfriend in the first place, it didn’t seem likely that he was part of that, and he definitely is not.

Needless to say, our daily messaging and occasional video chats sparked passion on both sides, and it wasn’t long before I was planning another visit to Varadero, specifically for him. The days counted down and I got more excited, but also more nervous. I hadn’t traveled truly solo since 2014, and I was going to Cuba mostly to hang out with a guy I’d only met a few times at my hotel. Was this absolutely crazy? Some of my friends and family said yes, while others were more encouraging. I stepped on the plane in early February, heart racing, with no turning back.

My week in Varadero felt like a dream. It was lovely to spend time with my boyfriend, who was just as happy to see me, and took me to meet his family and friends. I spent a lot of time in his home with his grandmother, eating  great food and learning more about the fascinating dichotomy which is Cuba. Cuban laws prevent foreigners who aren’t married to Cubans from staying in a Cuban home, and they are not permitted to stay with foreigners overnight in hotels. He worked every single day, and I have to admit that staying in an all inclusive hotel and hitting the beach daily isn’t nearly as fun when you’re traveling solo. Still, I had a wonderful, yet bittersweet, time in Varadero, knowing  I’d have to leave and being unsure about when I’d return. I’m still planning to go to Spain to teach if I get the job, and he knows it. There’s the question of money and time off, schedules, the lack of internet access on the island, long distance, cultural differences. I sometimes ask myself what the heck I’m even doing.

But here I am, back in Ontario for a month now, reflecting on that time in Varadero. I still have my boyfriend, and hope to return to see him before I go to Spain, maybe in June or August. I want to bring my mother next time if I can. I have a great deal of faith that somehow, despite all of the odds, this could just be something great. And if not, I’ll always have fond memories of my time in his city, watching stars on the roof, eating delicious ice cream.

Have you ever met someone special abroad? What do you think? How do you handle a long distance relationship?

xoxo Cady

Pre-Trip Anxiety and How I (Sort of) Deal

It’s around 11pm on a cold Sunday night here in Ontario, and I’m feeling fear again. I’ve been sipping tepid water and brushing my teeth like mad. Tomorrow, conveniently timed 5 days before my trip to Varadero, I have my very first root canal scheduled. Every single person I’ve told has said the same thing: “It’s going to hurt.” The right side of my mouth throbs intermittently.

I’m not afraid of the dentist in the slightest.

I truly am not. I’ve sat through fillings and deep tooth scaling like a champion ever since I was old enough to even see a dentist. I have friends who won’t sit their bum in a chair until heavily medicated with laughing gas, whereas I could just as easily walk into a dental office as I would walk into work every day (disappointed to be there, but not uneasy…hahaha). It’s not that I’m looking forward to a root canal per se, it’s just that it’s not what’s driving my nervous feeling.

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Fearing no heights in Varadero 2016 – Photo credit to Victoria Chiasson

Nope, I’m feeling the fear for five days in the future. On Saturday I’ll be taking my first solo plane ride since China and my first solo trip since China, and while I’m majorly excited about it, my old travel anxiety is creeping back up as well. If you’ve never read my blog before, you may be wondering why often it always goes back to my experience in the Far East, which I detailed here.
Well, I just think of how awful I felt at that time. I was so panicked and on edge at every moment of the day, and couldn’t even enjoy sharing time with new friends without worrying about what was to happen to me. My anxiety disorder tends to focus specifically on my health; I’m always concerned when and where I can find a doctor, a hospital, my medications… the list goes on. I never want to repeat my China disaster, and cut a cool trip short for a fear of nothing in particular.

To be honest, I know that my trip to Cuba will differentiate from my trip to China in many ways. I’ve already been to Varadero and am somewhat familiar with the hotels and the airport. I speak Spanish semi-fluently, at least well enough to let someone know if I’m hurting and where in my body. I take my anxiety medication steadily, I’ve been eating well, and I’m going to meet someone in Varadero that I already know. I’ve got it planned out; I’m staying at a resort. I’ve read countless articles about solo travel in Cuba for girls, and it seems like it will all be okay.

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Does my fear trump my wish to be here again? No way!

Still, I have that impending fear. I know I’ll have to fly, which is something I’ve dealt with enough times to become somewhat okay with, but still don’t love. I always think: “What if? What if I have to go to the hospital? What if the plane goes down? What if I get food poisoning?” (That last one is very unlikely for me, as I have an iron stomach, but even that can’t get past my anxious mind sometimes.)

But I’m determined. I read accomplished travel blogs by men and women alike, and I continue to be inspired by the various hiccups that people overcome in order to travel: money issues, long distance relationships, processing visas, etc. Also, given the current situation in the United States right now, I feel blessed to even be able to travel freely with my passport to so many different countries. I know I’m privileged to travel to Cuba as often as I am, and I have high hopes for this trip.

Do you get nervous before a trip? What worries you most? Tell me!

xoxo Cady