Americans have been waiting to meet the Cuban people for decades. Our Cuba expert, Adam Vaught, knows what the fuss is all about. He’s lived in Cuba. He’s guided in Cuba. He’s cultivated relationships all over the country with everyone from salsa experts to surgeons. He’s exchanged ideas with Cuba’s passionate people over the last seven years, establishing a true understanding of this complicated Caribbean island and its people.
Now he’s sharing this once off-limits world with Absolute Travel clients, opening doors, and using over half of a decade of knowledge and connections with the Cuban people to create journeys for those that are intrigued to get to know our next-door neighbor better (both custom Cuba journeys and an Explorers Club Trip coming up in April 2015). We sat down with Adam and asked a few questions on his impressions of Cuba, his reaction to the Cuba explosion, and why he’s confident an Absolute Travel trip to Cuba is the ideal way to experience the country and get to know its people.
What qualifies you as the Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist for Cuba? A list that, statistically speaking, is more difficult to make than getting into Harvard.
It is an easy place to provide a sugar-coated experience consisting of classic American cars, crumbling architecture and mojitos, but that ignores the fascinating political, cultural and socio-economic issues that Cuba and its people are battling with as we speak. Given the amount of time I’ve spent in country, I’ve built strong relationships with Cubans from all walks of life (from taxi drivers to students) all of whom are eager to share their stories with my travelers and help them begin to understand Cuba’s complex history and uncertain future.
Biggest misconception about the Cuba or the Cuban people?
That Cuba is unsafe or that Cubans are in any way anti-American. Havana is probably the safest city I have spent time in in Latin America, and Cubans in general have a very positive view towards the United States and Americans.
“Go now before it changes” is the theme when discussing travel to Cuba right now. You’ve spent over seven years exploring Cuba and exchanging ideas with the Cuban people. What is your response to this mindset?
You won’t hear me say, “Get there before it changes,” because Cuba is changing, constantly, and has been for years now; that’s what is so exciting about it. Change in Cuba is a daily experience. Between when I first traveled to Cuba seven years ago to my most recent trip the change was palpable.
The overarching theme of any Cuba trip is the change the people are experiencing. Visit now to witness and become a part of a country in the midst of monumental change. Everyone we meet and compare and contrast ideas with will touch on this, particularly the excitement and hope for the future tempered with the stagnation and disappointment they’ve grown accustomed to. The phrase, “Go now before it changes,” is constantly thrown around in travel. No doubt it will be applied to Cuba with the new travel regulations, and many people will be racing to visit before Cuba “changes,” but anyone who has been to Cuba will agree that this idea doesn’t apply. Cuba has been experiencing change for the last twenty years. This very moment is just as unique to Cuba as yesterday or tomorrow. Even when I’ve gone just six months between visits I’ve noticed significant differences. No one has any idea what the country will look like in three to five years—this is part of what makes Cuba exciting.
What are some of the changes you’re talking about? What can travelers expect?
There are countless different examples of this, from how the Cuban people are able to create private businesses like owning paladares (private restaurants), to the changes that made it easier for artists, musicians and athletes to work abroad; that connection with the outside world is having a huge impact on Cuban society. This new emerging middle class in Cuba is starting to become an economic force in Havana, and new bars and restaurants are starting to cater to the local people. All of these developments have happened in the last five years or so, additionally, the internet becoming more accessible and cell phones are everywhere all of the sudden.
What type of traveler should go to Cuba?
Avid learners looking to have their preconceived ideas challenged. Cuba is a place that consistently surprises and an exchange of ideas with the Cuban people will leave you inspired.
Your Cuba photos make us want to book a trip RIGHT NOW. You are an incredibly talented photographer. Tell us about one of your favorite photos and the story behind it.
This is one of those, “Only in Cuba” moments where casually asking a local for directions led to sharing some rum and eventually an invitation for a home cooked meal. Carlos and Maria exemplified Cuba hospitality down to insisting on giving me a spontaneous salsa lesson in their living room. Frustrated by my lack of dancing prowess, Carlos eventually stepped in and he and Maria put on a show demonstrating the type of dance moves that seem to come naturally to all Cubans. Luckily my camera was nearby and I managed to catch this shot. I feel it perfectly captures something I have experienced numerous times in Cuba: a passion for life juxtaposed against stark living conditions.
Get in touch with Adam to start planning your custom Cuba trip, or inquire about joining our upcoming Explorers Club Trip to Cuba. See more of his stunning images of the last seven years of his travels to Cuba on our Facebook page.