I grew up in Ohio, a landlocked pancake full of corn, corn, and more corn. My parents are originally from New England, and, upon graduating high school, I returned to Boston to go to school.
I loved being near the mountains, where I hiked most weekends, and, though I theoretically enjoyed being near the water, during my first two years living there I rarely, if ever, went to the sea.
Havana makes such a lifestyle impossible. The sea dominates every aspect of life; you cannot be without it. I live in a fourth-floor apartment, and, there, I can see the sea in every window and from the balcony. It greets me as I wake up and glance outside to check the weather and it cools me with its spray as I run along the Malecón while the sunrise turns the waves pink.
I use it as my major landmark: two of the four cardinal directions in Vedado dead end to the ocean, and if I peer around enough corners its dark blue mass is eventually at the end of the street. After it storms I walk down to watch the massive waves crash over the sea wall and soak any passersby. And at night its inky infinity provides the backdrop to every party in the city.
I love it. We all do. Craving more, I joined a group of IFSA-Butler students headed out for a Sunday beach day at the local Marazul. Half an hour in a classic Havana taxi later, and far from the hustle and bustle and exhaust of downtown, we find ourselves on a crowded but idyllic beach, where we pick a sandy spot to throw down our towels before jumping into the crystal clear waves.
Just like every guide book promises, I’ve never seen water so clear or so blue. As we bob through the waves, there is a collective announcement that this, this, was what we all came to Cuba for. As much as the statement was about that day at the beach, though, I feel like it was also about “el mar” in Havana as a whole.
We may have been in the ocean that day, but it is with us constantly in the city as well, establishing itself as part of the routines we are slowly forming and making Vedado feel like home. I may not have realized it until after I arrived, but the ocean is what I came to Cuba for—and it has surpassed my expectations already.