Among the greatest joys of visiting a new place is the opportunity to get to know the locals. And after 30-plus years of traveling the world, one constant that I've found everywhere is that despite how different we look, live, work and play, people are essentially the same everywhere.
While it may not be entirely legal for Americans to travel to Cuba, the "green crocodile with eyes of stone and water" (as Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén calls the island) could make the non-traditional customs experience a tempting one.
Regardless of the effect that an absurd amount of American visitors would have on Cuba's culture, there are factors much more important to consider when discussing the 51-year-old trade embargo.
After years of U.S. Treasury Department travel restrictions, Cuba has taken on an air of mystery. Our 45-minute charter-flight from Miami and the bus ride into Havana make us feel like astronauts of a sort, touching down for nine days in a parallel world.
The Cold Warriors in Congress, less prepared to move forward than the Cubans, are turning a blind eye to all these developments.
It was three in the morning and I was somewhere in Camaguey province. Beyond the small spotlight in which I stood, the night was black.
I was in Havana, Cuba, with no visa and no permission from the U.S. government. It was just the way I wanted it.
As a travel writer specializing in Cuba, I often get asked about the best things to see and do. Here's my ideal two-week itinerary.
Now that our program is back in full gear and I've had some time to reflect on this whole Cuba license subject, I can't help but marvel at the fact that this people-to-people program, which brings Americans and Cubans together, face-to-face, making it possible for each to learn about the other, was the brainchild of a government bureaucracy.
I will be there when they open the doors to decide which Cubans can board a plane and which will continue under the "insular imprisonment." And my suitcase will be at my side.
I have accumulated 20 negatives in just five years to my requests to travel. Twenty times I have tried to leave my country and just received a "no" as a response from the Cuban authorities.
Eating a freshly made breakfast from antique porcelain plates beneath a teardrop chandelier in an old colonial house while being treated like an old family friend would be considered an experience possible in only hotels of the rarest kind. In Cuba, however, it's practically normal.
The image of Cubans has been shaped with a great deal of imagination, a lot of past memories, and the stories of the exiles. As a result, it is not strange to view us as if we were living in one of those old sepia postcards, forever frozen in an image from the mid-20th century.
I arrive to the soundtrack of Charlie Parker's jazz crackling out of a rigged up car stereo punctuated by the syncopated shake, rattle and roll of a beat up old Chevrolet hurtling along beside my taxi.
They leave Cuba showing a national ID and land on the island of New Providence presenting their other identity as members of the European Union. The transformation occurs in the air, in the miles that separate the Antilles from the Bahamas.
Wherever we went, the highs and lows of Cuban society were clearly illustrated; we saw the beauty, the poverty, the arts, the decay, the hospitality and the biases.