Dwayne hails from Oklahoma City but lives in Dallas. So, that explains his southern charm. But don't let those shy blue eyes fool you, because although Dwayne was very laid back, he was always eager to see and get the most out of this once-in-a-lifetime visit to Cuba with Zoom Vacations’ New Years tour. Like many American citizens who have never been to Cuba, Dwayne arrived with very little background about Cuba and no idea of the amazing experiences he would have. Here he tells you in his own words:
Zoom: What made you want to go to Cuba?
Dwayne: Who doesn’t want to go to Cuba? My entire life, Cuba has been off-limits to the average U.S. citizen. Even though it is a neighboring country, Cuba has felt like it was a million miles away. With the recent softening of travel restrictions by the U.S., the prospect of visiting Cuba is now on everyone’s radar. My eagerness to go now was my curiosity to see Cuba in its raw form, before the familiar signs of tourism change the landscape.
Zoom: Was there anything you thought about Cuba that proved to be different once you were there?
Dwayne: In a word, EVERYTHING! I’m embarrassed to admit how little I knew of Cuba’s history as a country. I had no idea how much culture, art, and architecture was there. The country is rich with history and even though it is a struggling country economically, you can see the greatness that the country has exhibited.
Zoom: What was your highlight from the trip?
Dwayne: I would have to say that the highlight for me would have to be the architecture. Say what you will about the Cuban government but one thing they have done extremely well is protect their architectural history. Even though much of Old Havana is still in a form of decay, the Government makes it a priority to protect and preserve the structures. In America, we tear down our old buildings to make way for “new and shiny.” In Cuba, they are very determined to preserve and restore, as finances allow.
Zoom: How was the group received by the locals?
Dwayne: Obviously, the increase in tourism is a welcomed boost to the local economy. But even beyond the need for the economics, the locals are truly curious and welcoming of tourists. The locals are proud of their heritage and were eager to share their stories with us and conversely, very interested in meeting and talking to us about the U.S.
Zoom: Does it feel like a country in the midst of change?
Dwayne: The Country is definitely in the midst of change. With the lifting of some of the travel restrictions by the U.S. and coupled with the Cuban Government's softening of some of their economic laws, private industry and commerce is beginning to emerge. Private restaurants (Not Owned or Subsidized by the Government) are popping up, some outside investment is beginning to come in, and Cubans are beginning to think about ways they can better themselves through entrepreneurship. This process will take years but it was fascinating to see the early glimpses of this change.
Zoom: We go under a special license, which requires our group to partake in educational and cultural activities. How were these? Did you enjoy them, and how did they enhance your experience?
Dwayne: The Cultural and educational activities made the trip so much more than I expected. They added an element to the trip that I was not expecting. We didn’t just tour a museum; we had a private tour by one of the museum’s curators. We didn’t just eat Cuban food; we visited the Cuban Culinary School and got a private lesson. These activities made the trip unique and gave us insights into Cuba that the normal visitor/tourist is never going to get.
Zoom: Looking back on the trip, what are your lasting impressions or impacts?
Dwayne: I think what will stay with me the most is Cuba’s unique form of beauty. You get a sense of what once was when you visit Cuba. But at the same time you leave thinking that the country will be great again. I find myself talking about Cuba to friends and trying to explain how the people of Cuba have struggled but also survived.
Zoom: How was it, traveling as part of a gay group in Cuba?
Dwayne: It is a little bit of “first day of school” type fear in the beginning but after a few hours together there is instant connection and friendships formed. I definitely see it as a bonus to the trip. Not only did I experience Cuba, but I met some very colorful, entertaining and interesting guys from my own country.
Zoom: Where would you like to go next with Zoom Vacations?
Dwayne: I think I would like to experience Rio with Zoom!