In Cuba I did a lot of cool stuff, but none of it compared with what you didn’t see on camera. Sure I took part in a Santeria purifying ceremony. I drove some of the 60,000 vintage American cars in Cuba, all pre-1959 when cars stopped being sent to the country. I dined in some amazing paladares, restaurants squeezed into family homes, part of the free enterprise legalized by Castro in the mid-1990s.
They are legally only allowed to seat 12, but everyone bends the rules. The Havana Journal rates La Guarida as Havana’s best known paladar, and the food there is awesome, but most of them are small unknown family places. I ate in some superb restaurants like El Ajibre, the best chicken rosticerria I ever ate in, and Santy’s, a rustic fisherman’s shack in Havana where they prepare the best fish in town from the fresh caught tuna and other fish in the most unlikely of settings. I stayed at the Hotel Nacional in Old Havana — THE hotel in 1950s Cuba. Still in operation, stuck in time, it’s dusty, fascinating and enormous. I stayed in room 225, the Frank Sinatra room where he honeymooned with Ava Gardner. I taste tested cigars with the catadores of the Partagas factory in the VIP smoke room, strolled the Bay of Pigs, picked tobacco with farmhands, danced with Havana Rakatan, wandered through the mogotes of Vinales and toured the old city of Havana in a horse drawn carriage. What you didn’t see was the hassles we went through trying to get into the country, the sweaty nervousness of bringing all our gear through Cuban customs on the way in. The bliss we felt at May Day, the thrill of our boat ride to Cayo Macho, the fun we had watching all the tin pot dictators and their posses who were in Havana for the Non Aligned Nations Conference, throwing baseballs with kids in the streets each day in between takes, making fun of our bus driver who doubled as our government minder and was constantly writing down the names of everyone we talked to in his little book, lobster lunch with our fixer Toby at his house in Miramar and the list goes on and on. But here’s the point. I doubt that when it airs, if there will be a more politicized show we have ever done. Cuba is a tough subject to tackle, part paradise, part paradise prison. And the expat community here in the States is very vocal and adamant in their chilling condemnation of all things currently Cuban, and I get it. But the thaw is here, and the palm curtain will fall very soon, and we found an amazing world in Cuba. Their favorite subject is America, they love Americans and frankly, travel is humanity’s greatest equalizer. I think that travel allows us to join hands around the table, and we spend time enjoying each other and our commonalities, and we spend less time arguing about our differences. I say the sooner we embrace Cuba the better, because it’s a bizarre world, but we all call it home.