Location . Americas . Photo

Cuba. Where the rum flows like wine and even the shyest of people will salsa. From the moment you pass through the airport doors, a constant party enthralls you. The culture flourishes bright yellow and pink, loud and exciting, always with something to do. The locals are out all night along the boardwalk drinking some of the most delicious rum I’ve tasted and listening to strictly Cuban music. For all intents and purposes, Cuba was everything I imagined it would be.  Havana offered an array of restaurants, jazz clubs, and walking malls.  The whole city seemed to be on at all hours of the day, while the countryside was mellow, covered in livestock, and very family oriented.  We spent three days in Havana, exploring historical monuments, local restaurants and music, as well as the outskirts of the city.  Beautiful farmlands with tall trees, suitably dubbed “Tourist Trees” due to their red color and peeling nature help fill the landscape, waterfall havens where the locals spend their weekends also border the capital and we were lucky enough to explore these tranquil areas as well. Before I would ever be able to finish off a Cuban cigar by myself, we were headed for the gardens.  A six-hour bus ride beginning before the sun rose shuttled us to another world.  We went from the aching muscle and smoggy bustle of the city to the relaxing sway of the Avalon II atop the turquoise seas of the Caribbean.  1,000 square kilometers of marine protected waters, filled with beautiful and lively creatures. First, a penga ride to our dive site, zipping between mangroves and salt water crocodiles, before back-rolling into 82 degree water. The soft gorgonians sway in the persistent surge, making a mockery out of my mid-photo buoyancy and sometimes even the fish stop to take a ride.  Crustaceans both giant and tiny hide in confined spaces, always on the lookout, while colorful reef fish comb the coral for food. Pelagic life is rather prevalent as well; beautiful, large rays make guest appearances on our dives while reef and silky sharks were the stars of the show. The local dive guides often refer to the Caribbean reef sharks as flies due to their number and shear peskiness; it’s hard for me to imagine that I’ll ever feel the same way.  They wait for us as we make our decent, circling, observing and following us for a good portion of the dive. Back aboard the Avalon II the crew is friendly, accommodating, and ready to out-salsa you in a moments notice. The boat came fully equipped will all the usual amenities, which I’m not going to harp on because it is in the bonuses where I will begin to gloat.  A deliciously warm hot tub awaits us on the sun deck at the end of the day while a fully functioning waterslide occupies us until we’ve off-gassed enough to feel comfortable about getting in.  It us here, on the waterslide, that ones true age shines through, we boasted a group full esteemed professionals; attorneys to herbal specialists, surgeons to rocket scientists, and yet contests for most original sliding positions got heated and bruising accumulated within the 6 person trains. Between the wonderful group, exceptional diving, and quintessential experiences in Havana, Cuba was well worth the wait.  Thanks to our wonderful non-profit partner, Ocean Doctor, we were able to explore the country’s splendor as well as learn about the assimilation between its people and the environment.  I look forward to seeing how the country adapts to our new found relationship.