90 Millas…

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Cuba has always been one of those places that has fascinated me.

I can’t really explain why.

True it has up until very recently been “off limits” to US citizens as long as I’ve been alive, but then again, the former Soviet Union and China used to be more off-limits and at least the former Soviet Union never really interested me.

Maybe it’s because learning about it has been something not really done in my education? I mean, I remember learning about stuff with Russia and the former Soviet Union – I even had a class in college on Russian History – Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union – but I don’t remember seeing a class on Cuba. Yes, we learned about Bay of Pigs, but beyond that I learned very little.

My main knowledge of Cuba has been that it’s always been a place that people have risked their lives to escape from.

So it’s been this fascinating mystery place for me.

So close to the US – only 90 miles (90 millas in Spanish) separate Ket West from Havana – but so far away in so many ways. I remember standing here at the southernmost point of the Continental US in Key West and looking in Havana’s direction and marveling at how close we were physically…and yet how far in so many ways.

And then gradually some small things began to happen. My running coach went with a people-to-people program to run a marathon in Havana, and now there is a sponsored P2P trip that runs the marathon.

But running? Not my jam anymore.

And since I’m not a diplomat or anything, there didn’t really seem to be any way to get there.

This desire to go, to experience, to meet the people – most of whom did NOT choose this life they have been forced into – got even stronger after seeing “On Your Feet!” the first time and really seeing in a more first-hand way that there ARE people whose lives, whose families were irrevocably changed by everything that has happened there, that the spirit of these people is so beautiful and their love for their homeland is so great in spite of it all.

And then…

Then things started changing. Relations between the US and Cuba are beginning to “normalize” and new paths to visit are opening. Yes, with very specific situations that require documentation, but things are beginning to open.

One of these things is the launch of fathom impact travel – which does People to People cruises to Cuba and social impact cruises to the Dominican Republic on alternating weeks. I heard about it and started looking into it and exploring possibilities.

I know fathom has its detractors. And I know it will not be perfect. The early sailings have had issues – not all completely unique to this line (MOST lines have issues when they launch new ships and/or brand new ideas). Some people complain that everything is pre-determined in terms of activities (not 100% true…you CAN do your own thing, but the amount of paperwork you have to do to prove that it meets the P2P regulations is pretty extensive) and/or that you HAVE to do these things. (I’m sorry that this is how it is, but for US citizens, you simply cannot go to Cuba and lay on the beach the whole time and have it be legal.)

It’s definitely not a cruise line for everyone – if all you want to do is drink and hang on a beach, it’s NOT the line for you, with either itinerary (which to me makes it all the more interesting that Carnival is the parent company of fathom given Carnival’s reputation as the party line of cruises).

But I do think that it has a lot of potential as there ARE people who want to explore this way and/or give back even while on vacation. Do they need to really figure out how to market is? Of course. If I wasn’t on cruise forums, I don’t know that I would have heard of fathom.

I can’t say how well or poorly fathom does this providing a different kind of vacation experience – but I can say I WANT to experience this and make up my own mind rather than listening to haters on message boards and so forth (ditto anyone who wants to comment on here about how awful it is…that was YOUR experience, please let me have mine and make up my own mind) and deciding that is how things are.

I’m excited about the opportunity. Nervous, yes. But excited!

Visiting this place that has held my imagination for so much of my life hadn’t been a possibility before. But now, suddenly, it is. There is a possibility in front of me – and expensive possibility, but a possibility!

My first thought was Spring Break week – but that is a DR week on fathom’s schedule.

Birthday cruise? Again, the week itself was a DR week, but there was the week before or after.

And then political things became clear in the US, and in addition to the multitude of worries one candidate in particular brings, one thought came into my mind.

“I want to do this before January 20! Just in case…”

So given what I already had planned for this summer, there was only one other week I could consider.

And that week WAS a Cuba itinerary for fathom!

And that week is Christmas.

I knew my dad had brought up me going home for Christmas – or possibly them coming up here. But my sister didn’t know her schedule – and once she did, it’s still not definitive as extensions and changes can happen. And even though Daddy had said “But you’re an adult, and if you’d rather stay there or do something else, that’s fine.” I couldn’t help but be nervous about his reaction if I said what I really wanted to do.

But finally one phone call when the subject of Christmas came up, I brought it up. And he was supportive!

It took a little while until I knew for sure I would be able to do it (long story…had to wait for a settlement check from a class action suit regarding some loans I had to come and see what the amount was), but…

I am officially booked and 100% paid on fathom’s Christmas week cruise to Cuba!!

This cruise is a reverse from their usual route – Havana to Cienfuegos to Santiago de Cuba – so we will go first to Santiago de Cuba then Cienfuegos, then Havana. Round trip from Miami.

Each day we are in port, we will be doing on-ground cultural immersion activities such as touring with a Cuban guide, eating in family-owned and operated restaurants, seeing performances, meeting local artisans and crafts people, etc. We are docked overnight in Havana and will have the opportunity to go to the Tropicana or the Cabaret Parisien through fathom – or the possibility to go elsewhere on your own for the evening. (Right now I’m leaning towards the Cabaret since I will be solo and my Spanish is limited. I’m working on learning with DuoLingo, so we will see, but I’m still learning towards the ship excursions.)

While we are on board we will have enrichment activities such as Cuban films, seminars to learn about Cuba and Cuban culture, and smaller group sessions to debrief and discuss.

It is going to be a vacation unlike any other I’ve been on in my life, but I’m so excited to have this chance!!

Stay tuned!! You’re coming along on this journey for sure!!

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