My friend, Lori, and I have an ongoing lighthearted disagreement about being single. She likes to say “I’m not Spinsterlicious because I don’t like being single.” I always laugh because whether she likes being single or not, the reality is that she is. Whether single by choice or circumstance, I believe a woman owes herself a great life, and part of that means making the most of whatever space you’re in at the moment. That’s what being Spinsterlicious means to me.
And what’s funny is that Lori, in so many ways, is living the Spinsterlicious life. Her life is full and she readily takes advantage of the things that being single, free and unencumbered have allowed her. Recently, she traveled to Cuba alone. A very Spinsterlicious move. I asked her to write about it.
So, here, in her own words is the guest post from Lori “Don’t Call Me Spinsterlicious” F.:
Hearing of my solo trip to Cuba, Eleanore asked me to contribute to her blog about the joys and travails of traveling as a single woman. My trip to Cuba was not my maiden solo voyage. A few years back, I attended a Spanish language school in Buenos Aires, Argentina. That trip was truly solo; I lived in the home of a Argentinian host, a single woman, and commuted by subway to classes. On my trip to Cuba, I went with a tour company. I departed on my birthday for a 7-day trip, 4 days with a morning-to-evening itinerary and the remaining 3 days you are on your own. This brings me to the first reason I love to travel solo. I can pick a trip that is convenient for me, select a time that works for my schedule, choose an itinerary that suits my interests or change my mind and cancel without consulting anyone else. Yes, a bit narcissistic but liberating.
I selected this tour despite knowing that only four people would be my companions. I wondered who would be on the tour and if I would make acquaintances. But that is the joy of solo travel – adventure.
After a three hour layover, I arrived at Jose Marti airport in Cuba at 9:00 pm. Tired, with some trepidation, feeling a bit lonely and thinking to myself that maybe traveling on my birthday without a mate to a Communist country, with which the US does not have diplomatic relations, may not have been the wisest choice until I eyed two African American men talking nearby. I strained to hear their conversation and overheard them explaining to another tourist that they were going on the same tour as I was. I strained further to see their ring fingers which were unencumbered. Things started looking up!
After retrieving my luggage, the gents and I boarded the same bus to our hotel. It was evident on our respective faces, that we were delighted to see one another and speculated… And yes, they were heterosexual. They made that clear to me on our ride to the hotel. I started thinking to myself that traveling solo on this trip was the smart thing to do.
The next morning I met the remaining passengers on the tour, two Spanish teachers from different states that met in an online chat room for teachers. They took this trip together having never met in person! It was perfect. The five of us blended and bonded well during the four days of our guided tour. We enjoyed seeing the sites of Old Havana, the Pinar del Rio province, Ernest Hemingway’s home, the amazing architecture, the museums, lunches in delightful restaurants and dinners overlooking the ocean with perfectly picturesque sunsets.
By day five, we were on our own to discover Havana’s vibrant culture. I had a couple of instances to travel with the gents and a couple of times with the teachers. And then there were the times that I walked around without my tour companions visiting the Hotel Nacional, Havana University, free music festivals, Cuban Hospitals and schools. There is so much to see in Cuba.
Traveling solo in a foreign country is unnerving, so I look for opportunities to engage people, by asking directions, asking to have my picture taken or just through random encounters. Invariably, people will ask me what country I’m from. I typically respond New York City (although I actually live outside the city), universally recognized and it engenders more conversation which leads to interesting exchanges. I love the discovery of the unknown, leaning on my wit and instinct.
Traveling without a companion often affords me the attentions of men – always flattering, sometimes unwanted but mostly very respectful. It also affords me courtesies that I might not get if traveling with a companion. For example, one afternoon, I visited unannounced, the studio of a renowned Afro-Cuban artist. He was gracious, accommodating and answered my questions about his work. I decided to purchase a piece, but not at his initially quoted price. We held some very tough but flirtatious negotiations and finally agreed on a price, significantly lower than his asking price. I asked him to personalize it by writing a special note to me and he obliged. He told me that he is coming to NYC next year and encouraged me to email him so that I can visit the gallery. As he wrapped up my painting, I shared with him that I traveled solo to Cuba for my birthday. He threw in a smaller piece for free! Would I have been as fortunate traveling with a mate? I doubt it.
Another memorable experience occurred with a young man named Pedro selling peanuts and popcorn on the street. It was a brutally hot, sunny afternoon, and after walking around Vedado, Central Havana, I grew weary and hungry. I tended to avoid the local eateries and purchased peanuts from Pedro. I told him that I wanted a mango. He offered to purchase one for me at a local produce market. I waited for him to return with two mangos, gratis. I ate one and as I continued to walk he accompanied me. I asked him to take a picture of me eating the second mango on the nearby iconic Malecon, the seawall that borders the length of Havana and the ocean. Instead of taking just one photo as I asked, he took a series in rapid succession. He took some of the most artistic pictures of me peeling and eating a juicy mango with the Havana skyline as the backdrop. Regrettably, I left my camera in the taxi on the ride home. Not having someone along to help look after my things is a downside of solo travel.
Havana is a very seductive and charming city brimming with interesting sights, sounds and experiences around every corner. Cubans are warm, friendly, delightful people. It is true that it looks as if it is stopped in time-mid 20th century, with its elegant mixture of architectural styles, and streets filled, with 1950 Chevy cars. I never imagined there were still so many in the world. All in all, Havana is a marvelous city, with grit, character, charm and elegance. If you love adventure, arts and culture, then Cuba is a great place to visit with or without a mate.
Oh the gents, no love connection, but it was nice to have had chivalrous men along to hold the door, pull out my chair, and shower me with gifts of jewelry they felt coerced to buy from local vendors who assumed I was the mate to one or the other.
What a great story. It actually inspired me to do more traveling alone. I used to vacation by myself all the time but, somewhere along the way, I lost my excitement for it. Lori has reminded me of what I like about it. Thanks, Lori!