I feel fortunate to be here now. I feel fortunate to be working for Backroads, a company that doesn't gloss over the realities of the world but instead offers its guests a closer, authentic and unfiltered look. Cuba and its people have now become something personal to me - more than news headlines and pages in a history book. It's the taxi driver, the pigeon-flyer, the port foreman and all the others who have helped me paint this beautiful portrait in my mind of a vibrant country full of hopeful people marching toward an uncertain future.
Like many first-time travelers to Ireland, I had a vision of what lay ahead as my flight cruised towards the Emerald Isle. Lush hills and the rugged coastline, sheep and their shepherds, whiskey and Guinness, the melodic Irish lilt. What I didn't yet realize was that, while the landscape and natural beauty of Ireland are majestic, it's the Irish people who make the country truly captivating. It's the Irish spirit--a magnetic, almost irresistible pull--that drives visitors to return again and again.
Travel offers a deeper understanding of the world and I try as often as I can to make the leap from tourist to Insider. And that requires a commitment to always wanting to know and see more. To always asking questions and pausing long enough to listen to the answers, whether they come or not. It's just as much about the people attempting to provide the answer as it is about what exactly they have to say. And the folks that might answer honestly tend not to be the ones on the main avenue selling trinkets or day tours.
As a die-hard fan and season ticket holder for the Oakland A's, I can usually be found in the bleachers behind our star left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, who defected from Cuba in 2011. I'm a big geek when it comes to baseball, and this was just one of many reasons I booked a Backroads trip to Cuba. Before I knew it, I was on my way to visit Cespedes' homeland. I was pretty excited to visit the Palmar de Junco ballpark, where the first official game of Cuban baseball was played. I even got to chat with some up-and-coming players and meet Rigoberto Rosique...