Mar 03

5 Favorites From Cuba

Hola! I have returned! I have returned a different person from the one who left Boston on a blustery morning over a week ago. So much has transpired, so many tears (happy and sad), adventures, stories, laughs, memories, and so much horrible Spanish spoken by myself and my family that we owe the Cuban people an apology. Obviously my dad will have to translate, as he did one million times over, within a span of eight days. Muchisimas gracias papa!

In the two days since leaving Cuba, my head is swimming, my body feels bloated (I have what we now refer to as jamon ass!) but my heart is full. Next week I will have so much more to share but, since my brain is barely functioning on the four hours of sleep I had, I offer this as a teaser.

ONE: My dad went home

Obviously this was the reason we all wanted to travel to Cuba in the first place, and it did not disappoint! From the moment my dad met Anna, the woman who owned the house we were staying in, and started telling her his story (in Spanish of course) he was home. He spoke to everyone he could about his childhood, his memories and his love for his country.

With the help of our incredible driver Jesús we were able to locate my father’s elementary school, his childhood home, the home of his beloved nanny Hilda and the place of his father’s business. Jesús is now officially a part of our family, but we will get to him later.

The picture below was taken in front of my dad’s school, La Luz (The Light) in Havana, where it is still functioning and sadly, looks almost exactly as my dad remembers it. Pictured is my dad, me, my brother, my kids and my niece and nephew. What an incredible moment for our family!

With the help of Facebook and my SIL, we were able to locate 10 of my dad’s relatives still living in Cuba. Facebook, is there nothing you can’t do? Did I mention my love for the internet and social media has deepened since I was away from it for so long? #sorrynotsorry

Everyone in Cuba, when they are young or “little” are dubbed with an “ito” at the end of their name. My father was known as “Alito” meaning “little Alex,” which of course still applies in many ways. It was so endearing to hear his now 50+ year old cousins call him by that name and, in turn he would call them “Enriquito,” “Luisito,” etc. It was a reminder of who they were and how incredibly young they were, when they last saw one another. So many happy tears at the dinner we shared with 20 Cuban relatives!

It should also be noted that we waltzed into this place with no reservation, were greeted as if we were rock stars, fed until we couldn’t move and were bid farewell with kisses and hugs. The Cubans are very passionate, happy and fun people…obviously.

TWO: Racing

Nothing went according to plan when it came to the Havana Triathlon but I’m saving the full story, so I can be overly dramatic about the whole thing.

Let’s just say I was able to swim, run and bike while in Cuba.

This was the pre-race swim the day before the event…

Cubans do things very differently in triathlon than Americans, or Spaniards for that matter, and my race bib did not come with holes for my belt. Have no fear, Jesús went to our van taxi and reappeared with a scissor/knife to cut the holes to my bib. Gracis Jesús!

Since you don’t swim with your race bib on and, transition speed matters, most triathletes will just grab their bib belt and start running out of the bike transition and click it around their waist for the run portion. It’s highly technical.

THREE: Bathroom Appreciation

There is nothing like visiting a third world country to make you appreciate all the little, and not so little, things in America.

Although we had no problem getting toilet paper at our rental house, it was rare to find it in a public bathroom. You either had to bring your own (my SIL had three travel rolls in her bag at all times) or it was rationed out to you by an attendant. And, the one square they gave you was definitely not in proportion to the amount of soap and water you needed for your hands afterward, which was also very limited.

The sign below reads: “Aim for the middle or sit down!” And yes, every mother of boys is ordering this on Amazon right now.

P.S. There usually were no toilet seats so good luck with that second part… #quadworkout

FOUR: Cuban People

I cannot say enough about the people we met! Everyone was so friendly and, not just when we were with my dad and had a translator. They were genuinely interested in meeting new people, laughing at us trying to communicate (and at themselves trying to speak English!) and they are very proud of their country and heritage.

These ladies were extra friendly with my dad and husband in old Havana…

I never felt afraid or that my safety was in jeopardy at any time and my boys spoke to Cuban kids in the language of play, with zero issues and iPads, naturally.

My dad’s cousin’s sister’s son Johann (did you get all that?), is pictured below at the edge of the pool about to jump in with our kids. We asked my dad to translate the rules to “Marco Polo” for him but my dad laughed and said we had to tell him first! Of course no instruction was needed later when Johann was playing Minecraft on Vaughn’s iPad…

FIVE: Food

I absolutely love Cuban food…for about five days. Some of the chicken and meat we ate was absolutely magnificent but ordering Ropa Viejo (pulled pork) and Pollo (chicken) gets old quick. Tostones (fried bananas) are my favorite  and they are delicious with oil and salt!

For breakfast, we had way more food than we could ever eat and had to tell the women who came in to cook to make less every day. Somehow, they just kept it coming. A typical breakfast included jamon (ham) and cheese sandwiches, fruita bomba (papaya), pineapple, ma mais juice, orange juice (the boys declared way better than American), eggs with more jamon (do you see where the jamon ass comes in?) and bread, yes more bread with butter.

I was not a fan of the “fruita bomba” which is papaya but my SIL read that papaya means the thing Trump likes to grab in Spanish so we tried to refrain from saying it. But not really.

Anna, our house host, introduced us to a chef friend of hers who worked at the restaurant down the street. He came to the house and gave my SIL and stepmom a cooking class (I was in and out because you know, cooking) but he prepared an incredible meal for all of us.

More about Enrique the chef later on too but he is a sneak peak…

Enrique teaching my stepmom, niece and SIL and my dad translating. Always translating.

The prepared feast…

And this is what the kids ate because they’re Americans between the ages of 5-8. That box of Fruit Loops cost $10 and had an 11% tax. And yes, we still bought it because that is the price you pay in Cuba to have your kids stop whining at breakfast.

That concludes the first portion of Allie’s life in Cuba! I hope you have enjoyed your stay. Please come back on Monday when the Rundown will be filled with beautiful disasters from race day!

Have a great weekend and don’t forget to appreciate your toilet paper.

Buenos dias!


What was your favorite of my favorites?

Do you have a favorite foreign/Cuban food?

What do you think your elementary school would look like in 50 years?


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  1. I have been waiiiiiting for this.
    And you didn’t disappoint.
    While you were there a friend announced she’s planning to move to Cuba (!) and all I could think was I wondered if, when you returned, you had any of the same OH ID LOVE TO REMAIN HERE FOREVER thoughts.
    In an entirely selfish way I also wonder now if your dad would ever do a guest post?
    Id love his take on the entire trip.
    CARLA recently posted…6 Lessons Dr. Seuss Teaches About Healthy Living.My Profile

    1. OMG you are a genius!! I’m going to at least interview my dad for sure!! I have to for my USATriathlon article anyway but I didn’t think to post here!! THANK YOU! So good to be home – I missed you 🙂

  2. It sounds like you had an incredible time and I could not be happier for you. The bathroom situation is the interesting thing about visiting foreign countries. We take it for granted over here!
    Hollie recently posted…February Training LogMy Profile

    1. If I was running, I wouldn’t think anything of it but…
      Thanks Hollie! It’s good to be home for sure.

  3. There is so much to unpack in this post! A) I love cuban food (and you named my faves, but I can imagine it would get old quick) B) it still boggles my mind that there are places in the world where you have to carry TP around/bring from home C) I’m glad you brought Jesus into your life (har har) D) Cuba is gorgeous E) I want details on the race
    (the rest of the alphabet) ) YOUR DAD WENT HOME. I can’t begin to imagine what that was like for him. It makes my heart literally swell with warmth. A perfect way to start the weekend!
    And with that, may we all have a fantastic day!
    Susie @ Suzlyfe recently posted…High Protein Allergy Friendly Cauliflower Crust (Gluten Free, Vegan Option)My Profile

    1. YES to all of this and so glad we have similar tastes in food but, obviously!!
      Wait until you read what happened to me. Are there any triathlons in Chicago in the spring? 🙂

      1. I dunno about spring, but we have several during summer. Marcia would know more than i

  4. Que bueno! I did not know that Fruit Loops would stimulate the imagination (translated from the box). Is it just sugar or is there more in those Cuban Fruit Loops?

    I love how Spanish speakers at -ita or -ito to everything related to kids. Even when I ask the child to open their mouth, it isn’t boca, it’s boquita…
    Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home recently posted…Coffee TalkMy Profile

    1. Well look at you little miss Spanish speaker! Why didn’t you tell me you spoke Spanish? I would have had to bring you with me!!
      I actually almost called you from Cuba after what happened to me and, I’m very interested in your diagnosis after I tell the whole story. Scary, weird and now I’m on antibiotics.
      Also, no, there was zero imagination stimulation. If they had imaginations, they wouldn’t be eating Fruit Loops 🙂

      1. Si, hablo poquito español, pero los Cubanos se hablan mas rapidó! Mi español es muy limitado!

        Que paso en Cuba? Mi amorita…Espero que estas mas mejor.

        You’ll have to take me with you next time… :p
        Wendy@Taking the Long Way Home recently posted…Coffee TalkMy Profile

  5. I’ve missed you lady!!!! All week I was stalking you hoping for an update. There’s so much to say about this post but I’ll leave it to – LOVE. And I am ordering that bathroom sign right now!!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted…High Five FridayMy Profile

    1. HEY!! I missed you too and it was absolute torture to not be able to post pictures and thoughts on social media. So glad to be back and finally able to tell the story! xoxoxo

  6. I’m so glad this visit was everything you hoped it would be! Except for the race of course, but I’ll wait to read about that. Tostones…mmm…that is my favorite part. I’m not a huge jamon fan, so that would get old quickly.

    I was once caught in a bathroom in Cancun with no toilet paper provided and no money to buy it from the woman who was selling it. Your SIL is a wise woman to carry it with her!
    Dana recently posted…10 things to do and see in New OrleansMy Profile

    1. YES and, if anything were to go wrong, I’m glad it was the race.
      My SIL is overly prepared for everything and, this time, she was right 🙂 That Cancun situation sounds horrible.

  7. I completely skipped the order in which I do my social media this morning to zoom in and read this first when I saw it. Being an immigrant myself, and going back to visit my childhood home 15 years later (not 40 years like your dad), I seriously got teary-eyed and am so happy for your dad and all of you. I obviously look forward to hearing the full triathlon report later, but this was great. One of my best friends is Cuban… I’ve had her mom’s ropa vieja and tostones…. anyway, loved this… thanks for sharing. recently posted…ImmigrantMy Profile

    1. OMG I’m so glad. And yes, of course you can identify. It was incredible!
      And naturally you have a Cuban bestie 🙂 I miss that Ropa Vieja already and it’s hard to come by in CT.
      Glad to be back. I missed you!! xoxo

  8. It looks like an amazing time-I loved all your photos! It’s so awesome you got to go back with your dad and take your whole family. I am also not a fan of papaya juice haha.
    Lauren recently posted…Core Cycle Studios in Timonium Now OpenMy Profile

    1. It was!! And thanks for backing me up on the papaya juice 🙂 Gross.

  9. I love hearing about your trip! How cool for your dad to get to go home. And for you and the boys see it too! I think you should have stolen that toilet sign. We need that in the women’s rooms too. WHY would you pee on th seat and not wipe it off?!

    P.S. The video ad on your blog was for KY. Speaking of papaya…
    Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table recently posted…Sustaining Myself… and Dressing Sustainably with prAnaMy Profile

    1. LOL!!!! OMG that is too funny!!!!
      And yes, why do women not wipe off the seat?? We have PLENTY of toilet paper here people!!

  10. Welcome back!! I am so excited to finally read your words and hear about your trip! I love this post. I can’t even imagine how much this trip meant to your dad, to finally be able to return home – and how much it meant to you to share that with him. Thanks for sharing about your trip and I can’t wait to read about your race.
    In Germany, you have to pay to use public restrooms, so thankfully they have TP – the issue is always making sure you have change on hand to get into the restroom. I almost always have TP in my car or bag because of hiking and backpacking, but I would never think to carry it in a normal travel situation.
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted…Friday ThriveMy Profile

    1. It was amazing! Thanks so much Laura and I think I would definitely have preferred to pay for the toilet paper but how annoying! And I’m so glad I brought an extra roll in my transition bag 🙂 Runners are overly prepared for toilet paper shortages!

  11. Reading about your Dad returning to Cuba put such a smile on my face and tear in my eye!!! It must have been so amazing for you all to experience that with him! It sounds like it was a trip of a lifetime!!
    Fancy Nancy recently posted…TTTMy Profile

  12. this was absolutely heart warming… so incredibly cool. i loved reading this experience and could feel all the warmth and even smelled the tostones frying!!! i love fried bananas and plantains, and the pulled pork. my mother started taking us to cuban restaurants when i was very young because she loves the coffee and basically all of the cuisine. i can’t imagine living without having a cuban dish at least once a week. coincidentally we have chinese fried bananas that i grew up eating, which might be why my mom loves cuban food lol.
    your family, the warmth, the reunion, having your father there and all of you witnessing this reunion and walk down memory lane… having your KIDS there!!! gahhhhh, i just feel so happy inside for you. those memories are golden nuggets forever. as long you don’t get amnesia lol. but seriously, awesome.
    my mother took us back to hong kong when i was 22 – even though i was born there i didn’t grow up there. my brother was born here so it was pretty much new to us all. but for my mom, she remembered everything and knew every single corner and pocket of the island, and we did it all. and saw family, and laughed, ate, and ate more through the entire island. such amazing moments.
    we are blessed people. you are a blessing~!!!!!!
    danielle recently posted…WIR sleep less play moreMy Profile

  13. Yippee! So exciting!!! I’ve been to a couple of developing countries and the biggest hurdle has always been bathroom business. I’m squeezing my bum cheeks together just thinking about it. I’m so glad you had the opportunity to go back and experience Cuba. What a gift! I can’t wait to hear about race day!
    Suzy recently posted…Old NewsMy Profile

    • tami on March 3, 2017 at 3:07 PM
    • Reply

    i told you this before you left but my friend’s daughter went for a week and one of her classmates had the stomach bug and the lack of TP became a HUGE thing!

    you must be so happy for your father. it’s amazing the turn of events that have happened and how lucky he was to be able to go back home. i hope you include some of his thoughts if he allows

  14. Such an incredible adventure of a lifetime for you and your family. What an amazing thing for you finally to be able to do and oh how i cannot wait for the recap of the race!!!!
    Sandra Laflamme recently posted…Was I supposed to be training for the Boston Marathon?My Profile

  15. I’ve been waiting for an update! I’m so incredibly happy that you and your family were able to take this trip together. I can’t imagine all the emotions and memories your Dad must have been experiencing revisiting his childhood and reuniting with family too! And that he got to be there with you, your brother and your families. I can’t wait to hear more about the trip, food, triathlon. Welcome home Allie!
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted…Hello? Is this thing on?My Profile

    1. Thanks so much Christine! It was truly incredible but, I’m also very happy to be home 🙂

  16. I needed that sign for my brothers when we were little. How hard is it to make it into the bathroom?! I could also ask the women who use the bathroom on the college campus I work at. Like seriously babe? You go to a very good school, you could make it in the toilet.

    I’m so glad you had a great time! What an incredible experience for your father.
    Ellie Pell recently posted…The Crucial Element in TrainingMy Profile

    1. LOL – seriously!! Thanks so much!

  17. This takes me back to some of my South American travels… I’ve never been to Cuba, but I was so impressed with the warmth and hospitality of the people in the DR and Argentina. So many amazing memories for your family! And crazy stories too, of course. 🙂 Looking forward to hearing about the race!
    Laura recently posted…Two weeks to half (training recap) + meal planningMy Profile

  18. I missed your Cuba posts, so I’m visiting tonight to catch up a bit! It sounds like overall your trip was amazing, as I figured it would be. What a cool experience for you to take your dad there and not only learn more about his childhood, but see everything he spoke of firsthand. And how awesome that you had so much family take the trip with you! I definitely would like to visit Cuba one day now that it’s a possibility!

    1. So glad you are able to catch up on all that was Cuba. It was a truly incredible experience and I still want to do an interview with my dad for the blog…:-)

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