In December 2014 when a friend at the State Department told me of impending changes for People To People program for American’s to Cuba I was excited by the possibilities. In June 2015 we announced the first Gay Cruise to Cuba.
Our program began December 2015 and we did 17 sailings with gay and traditional sailings for an 8 day cruise from Montego Bay to Santiago de Cuba, 2 days in Havana, Maria la Gorda National Park, and Cienfuegos. It changed many lives.
First, there was FEAR TO OVERCOME. Thousands telling me how terrible it was that I would risk American lives (especially gay ones) by visiting Cuba. I patiently tried to educate those individuals that the inverse was actually true. You will be welcomed, cherished even. And that turned out to be true.
Second, the experience IN CUBA. It was magical. Learning about Cuban society, positive attitudes towards Elderly, Women, Gays… it was magical. In every stay, the Cubans were warm and welcoming. They invited me into their homes. They shared the little they possessed. But above all, I came to realize that the most spectacular part of the travel experience was not monuments, geography, food or beaches. But people. PEOPLE! How could they possibly survive 50 years of American embargo? And thrive, with nothing. That spirit is what I came to admire and love on my repeated visits.
Third, this travel experience is a time machine. I asked people to trust me. GO NOW. Before the end of the embargo changes everything. At the time, I had no idea we would watch what we are seeing in our Presidential election. Hate, Walls, Division, and more. The opposite of diversity and everything I believe in. I argued (and still do) you can go now and it be UNIQUE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. A time machine of Shangri-La that has not changed since Kennedy was President.
Finally, who could have imagined when I started this project… PULSE. Edward Sotomayor was with me in April in Cuba. To plan 2017. He did. But the magic of the island captures him. His spirit captures Cuba. The famous artist Santiago Hermes and his wife come to Sarasota for Eddie’s Celebration of Life and Candlelight Procession in front of 240,000. World-wide news. We now know… TOP HAT EDDIE … is the most visible face of the tragedy of Orlando. But BECAUSE of Cuba, and so many other things that made him special. He lead a new path for all of Gay America.
In 2017 we return. Even more special. On December 1, 2017 an entire ship will travel to the island with 1200 guests in tow and the most famous drag queens in the world, to perform IN HAVANA. The Gay Community in Cuba are literally doing a count-down. I encourage you to join us. For the reasons above. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, because this is unique in Gay American History. How often in our lives are we presented an opportunity like this? So I will return AGAIN. Proud of what I have started at ALandCHUCK.travel and for our entire Gay Community. Proud of Eddie. My staff. And especially proud of YOU, that you followed my recommendation. Because “Get OUT There” is more than the bravery of coming out of the closet. It is about the bravery of a revolutionary change in human spirit. Of who we are. And CUBA represents that for all of us. Including ME.