Most people forget that Puerto Rico is actually part of the U.S., and they do not even think about this historic and vibrant Caribbean island as a travel destination. But part of the allure of traveling here is that English and Spanish are the two official languages, the currency is U.S. dollars, and there’s more to do on this small island than there is in most states. And then there is the rum.
We were in Cuba delivering supplies to a Cuban health care facility when we learned that United States Government regulations are rigid. We had to fly a chartered plane from Miami to Cuba; then we faced many questions from Cuban immigration and customs officials after we landed at the airport. But once admitted, we felt quite comfortable, except for the uneasy feeling we were in some sort of dream.
I gleaned my first impression of Havana while walking along El Malecon, a lovely waterfront boulevard lined with blocks of handsome mansions in various states of decay or repair. Cuba’s haunting architecture is like a ghost from the past — beautiful facades and shells of old buildings — gems of another era. The palatial old homes stand in eerie silence hiding fascinating stories from the past. If only they could talk! The elegant Hotel National de Cuba, resting on a bluff high above the sea, overlooking the Malecon, has a superb water view and is a perfect stop on a city walking tour.
Imagine a tiny kingdom where the people’s only complaint is that life is too easy. No taxes whatsoever…zero unemployment…free medical and schooling…subsidized housing…a crime rate so low that a stolen car is a serious news event…sunshine year-round…and would you believe gasoline cheaper than water?
Cuba has intrigued me since I was very young. Perhaps it’s the stories my Aunt Olga told me upon her return after a two-year stay in that country during one of the times Fulgencio Batista was its president. Perhaps it’s the memory of watching my parents dancing to the Spanish language song “Bésame Mucho”, or that I once saw the unforgettable and adorable Lucy and Desi Arnaz of movie and television fame snuggling at the Chi Chi Club in the southern California desert city of Palm Springs. I had to see this country – both compelling and forbidden – for myself.
I knew that the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur left the so-called Third World at least 20 years ago and that today, with its dazzling skyline, it looks like a futuristic city. But Sarawak? I came because I had heard that the Malaysian state was its final frontier…
A remote sub-tropical island state in the Indian Ocean, it could be the ultimate tourist getaway abroad that’s not already teeming with Americans.