by Chen Lizra | Latidos Productions

In 2010 I was leading another tour in Cuba. That day the group and I woke up early in the morning and left Havana. We drove through the scenic route on the way to Trinidad. After a few hours we stopped at the cueva de los peces [cave of the fish] reef.

We hung out there for about an hour and just snorkeled leisurely, discovering the beautiful fish and the corals. Everyone single one of them was in heaven. It was one of highlights of their trip.

The light Caribbean blue water with not even a wave was magical. It took our breath away. I tested my new underwater goggles-camera and tried to figure out how to take pictures and videos underwater while swimming.

Later on when I downloaded the pictures to my computer I figured I really didn’t get the framing right because I had nice pictures of fish, but all my clients were missing their heads. Ray and I laughed about it for hours.

After about an hour floating in the water in total bliss, we were starving. We crossed the road to the restaurant which was by the natural pool and had great food. It sealed the great experience. After lunch we decided to refresh again in the warm water. Then it was time to continue to Trinidad. Bye bye reef, till next time. We left with huge smiles on our faces.

As we got closer to Trinidad many ambulances passed us by. It was not a good sign. After about fifteen minutes of driving we ended up in a long line up of cars. There was a bad accident.

Ashley is a doctor and she felt the need to see if anyone was in need of medical assistance. I got right away where she was operating from. Ashley and I are like firefighters; when there is danger and action, we are suddenly on. We both hopped out of the van and walked towards the old guagua [bus] which was flipped on the side of the road. I asked the Cubans if they needed any help and they said no. I think that Ashley was disappointed; she really wanted to help. It was obvious that she genuinely likes to help people.

As we walked back to our van I signaled the cars to start bypassing the standing ambulances since we were allowed to drive again. As our van approached us we got it and continued to Trinidad. Jesus, the driver, informed us that four people died – two of which were a little girl and her mom. Ashley’s spirit just sunk. Not saving anyone was one thing, losing them was another.

As we continued towards Trinidad we saw people standing outside each village hoping for good news. News travels through people in Cuba, not on TV. It could have been one of their loved ones. The bus was so old and thin that if it flipped the chances of survival for those standing were very slim. Life is not easy in Cuba, and even more so in the small villages.

We eventually got to Trinidad and there was a bit of drama with our casas, some miscommunication. It’s really hard to make things work perfectly in Cuba; nothing ever happens according to plan or operates as it will in a regular system. Don’t even try to fight it, just surrender and work with the obstacles. That’s where the magic is. Everything gets resolved at the end, it always does, but it’s how Cubans deal with the challenges, light-heatedly, that is so unique.

The guy who organized everything for us in Trinidad said something to me, but he was so emotional and spoke so fast that I did not understand even one word. I turned to Heidi, the Cuban travel guide, and asked her to explain what was going on. It turned out that the woman and the child who died were the wife and daughter of his cousin. News traveled fast to the village and caught up with us. He was deeply sad. Cubans are very family oriented and even though he was taking care of “business,” his heart and mind were somewhere else and he expected me to understand and be done with him quickly.

We finalized everything and let them deal with their loss while we settled in. I went and booked a table for us for the evening to see the live Afro-Cuban show. An hour later we were there watching a mesmerizing show of Rumba, Orishas and Haitiano. It was so beautiful, and the first time I ever got to see a live performance of Yambu, the slowest type of Rumba. It was so special that it turned into yet another highlight for my group. They were truly all in heaven again.

After the show we walked over to Casa de la Musica which is an outdoor location. A live band was playing. I stayed with them for another hour and then left them to enjoy the rest of the night.

Next morning, we met after breakfast and had a tour of Trinidad followed by free time to explore on their own. We then drove to Ancon beach and hung out there for an hour just enjoying the warmth of the water and the beautiful weather. Then it was time to head back to Havana.

On the way back we stopped at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. The previous day, Jesus, the driver, told them that we will pass by so they caught fresh fish for us. This is one of the best ways to eat in Cuba, to have the fishermen catch fresh fish for you and for a local restaurant to cook it. Many people say that food in Cuba is horrible, yet anyone that travels with me says that food is great. You really need to know how to work the Cuban system to get that authentic experience. This is one of the biggest reasons why I wrote my book - “My Seductive Cuba – a unique travel guide” - to teach people how Cubans think and feel and how to get quickly to what they want. This is also why I put together exclusive tours to Cuba, like this one, to show people what Cuba is really like. Cuba is not a perfect place by far, but it has so much heart and soul that it makes up for it with pure charm and sense of adventure.

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• April 25-May4
• July 18-27

Author Bio: Bestselling author and award winning entrepreneur, Chen Lizra, started traveling to Cuba in 2005 in order to train with the island’s best professional dancers.  Each year she finds more excuses to visit Cuba, discovering the culture from within and hanging out with her close friends. Chen grew up in Israel and later moved to Canada. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a major in marketing, which allowed her to turn her passion — Cuban dance and music — into an inspiring lifestyle for others through her company, Latidos Productions®.