Cuba: Separated from the U.S. by 90 miles and 50 years

There are many reasons why the tiny nation of Cuba had such a huge hold on my imagination for so many years. Some of the lure was the image I had of a country frozen in time; most of the buildings, infrastructure, and automobiles pre-date 1961, when the United States began its trade embargo. What I knew of the culture and the people was also appealing; I’ve always been attracted to the Latin ethos, perhaps because it contrasted so strongly with my plain vanilla self. And then there’s the arts – especially the music and the dancing – which had a special hold over me.

The beauty of Salsa
The beauty of Salsa

Just a few years ago, traveling to Cuba as a U.S. citizen would mean breaking the law. The travel ban was relaxed somewhat in 2009, which allowed Cuban-Americans to travel freely to Cuba. When, in 2011, “people-to-people” visits were sanctioned so other U.S. citizens were able to travel to Cuba, albeit with certain restrictions, I started to research my options. I hoped to find a tour that had a good mix of organized excursions and unstructured free time so we could explore our surroundings on our own. Last October, when I found one that fit my requirements, I signed up for the next planned trip without hesitation.

Very early on the morning of our departure, a group of 18 mostly strangers gathered together, visas in hand, in the Charter Airline terminal at Miami airport. Exhausted but excited, we began the process of getting to know one another as we made our way through the series of steps necessary for U.S. citizens to travel legally to Cuba. About 2 1/5 hours after we arrived at the airport we boarded our plane for the short flight to Havana’s Jose Marti Airport.

My first glimpse of Cuba!
My first glimpse of Cuba!

When we landed and I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac, I could barely contain my emotions. I had dreamed of this moment for so long it was hard to believe that I had finally made it. I was in Cuba!

After making our way through immigration, retrieving our bags, and going through customs, we exchanged dollars for CUCs and we were on our way. Our first day’s agenda included a short orientation walk in Old Havana, lunch, and a tour of the Havana Club Rum Museum before checking into our hotel in downtown Havana.

Jose Marti International Airport
Jose Marti International Airport
Taxis wait for passengers in front of the airport
Taxis wait for passengers in front of the airport
The first of many government-sponsored billboards and murals we saw
The first of many government-sponsored billboards and murals we saw
Catholic church in Old Havana
Catholic church in Old Havana
The Havana Club Rum Museum
The Havana Club Rum Museum
The view from our hotel room in Havana
The view from our hotel room in Havana

Kicking the Bucket List

Ever since the film “The Bucket List” came out in 2007, the phrase has become a part of the American vernacular. Whether or not the term pre-dates the movie, I have no idea, but it seems that now just about everyone has made some type of bucket list. It might be a list of things they want to do before they “kick the bucket” or it could be a list of places to visit or goals to achieve before a specific end time (going off to college or getting married, for instance).

List

When I first heard the term I thought it was a clever, light-hearted way to describe a list of experiences to be had and dreams to fulfill. I’ve used the phrase many times myself but, lately, what used to sound clever now strikes me as trite. In many cases, “Bucket List” trivializes the passion, desire, and curiosity that helped to create the collection of destinations and dreams I would like to pursue while I am still able to do so. These are not merely items on a to-do list to be checked off as I flit from one to the next, but real experiences to be lived and savored.

Recently, I was able to fulfill a dream I have had for as long as I can remember: travel to Cuba. I’m not sure what planted the seed of desire in me, but I have fed and nurtured it for many years. I’ve collected articles, accumulated books, and closely charted the political winds as they have raged, then calmed, then raged again, carrying my hopes with them. As close as Cuba is – just 90 miles from the tip of Florida – it might as well have been on another planet because of the travel restrictions placed on U.S. citizens.

Then, last fall, the right opportunity presented itself and we immediately said “yes”! The person putting the trip together had experience, passion, and a great sense of fun and adventure. We’ve never been interested in traveling with tour group before, but this one promised just the right combination of group time and free time. It would give us the opportunity to see parts of the country, learn about its culture and history, and have experiences that we would find very difficult to realize on our own.

All of the arrangements were made before President Obama’s December 17 announcement of the beginning of normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States. When we heard of the impending thaw, we were so grateful that we would see Cuba before the travel restrictions were lifted. We wanted to see Cuba before it is irreversibly altered by the deluge of American tourists that are sure to come once diplomatic relations are reestablished.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I flew to Miami to begin what would feel like a journey on a time machine, back to the late 1950s, before the U.S. imposed a trade embargo on this tiny island nation.

Next:

Key West: Separated from Cuba by 90 miles and 50 years

The Klondike Big Inch Land Company: A Tale of Puffed Rice and Deflated Dreams

My two brothers and I are very lucky to have been raised by loving, involved parents who made sure we were well equipped to become successful adults. They made sure we studied hard in school, ate right, and we were encouraged to get plenty of exercise by playing outdoors with our friends.

But, they realized that all this may not be enough. Just having a good education, eating a healthy diet, and rocking at Kick-the-Can and Hide-and-Seek would only get us so far in the world. We needed something else, something that could give us the financial wherewithal to fund our dreams. Some parents might have purchased savings bonds for their children; others might have invested in Disney stock.

Our parents bought us land.

Well, they didn’t exactly buy us land. What they bought were boxes of Quaker Oats brand Puffed Rice. This wasn’t just any old cereal, mind you: nestled inside each box was a Deed of Land granted by the Klondike Big Inch Land Co. Inc.; specifically a deed for one square inch of land in the Yukon Territory.

Yep, I became a land baron before I was out of diapers.

Inch FrontInch Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was old enough to truly appreciate the significance of my Deed of Land – not only for its tremendous future dollar value, but also for its ability to make my best friend jealous – I put the document in a protective plastic sleeve and placed it among my other valuable possessions. I occasionally brought it out when I wanted to dream of my future wealth or I needed to up my cred among my friends, but, for the most part, it remained tucked safely away until the day I would lay claim to my land and the prosperity it represented.

Given the significance of the document, I’m not sure how it managed to lay forgotten for many years until it was discovered when I was going through a box of childhood stuff.  There, along with my grade school class photos, Troop 202 Girl Scout sash, and Presidential Physical Fitness Award patch, was my Deed of Land.

Holding the slightly yellowed document in my hands, the dreams began again.

Maybe, over the years, someone discovered oil under my inch. Or, miners had unearthed a lucrative vein of gold running through it. Or, perhaps a developer had mistakenly built a shopping mall on my land and now I could claim a percentage of the total value (including back interest, of course). If land size inflated in the same way currency does, that square inch would now equal a whopping 8.7 square inches. Certainly that Deed of Land extracted from a cereal box many years ago would be worth a sizable sum today. Oh yeah: my ship had just come in!

Before contacting an attorney or hiring a wealth manager, I decided to do a quick Google search to get some idea of the volume of money that would soon be flowing my way. I also wasn’t quite sure where the Yukon Territory was or the location of the closest airport since I knew I’d have to venture up to the Great North to assert ownership of the square inch that was rightfully mine.

Big Inch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only it wasn’t… mine, I mean.

It was all a gimmick. What has been called one of the most successful ad campaigns in advertising history was a gimmick designed to encourage kids to pester their parents into purchasing Quaker Oats brand Puffed Rice cereal.

Back in the early 50’s, a brilliant advertising executive, Bruce Baker, developed a promotion tied to a popular Quaker Oats-sponsored radio show about Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and his trusty dog, King. Mr. Baker convinced Quaker Oats to purchase 19.11 acres on the west bank of the Yukon River for $1,000. The company divided the land into 119,870,000 square inch parcels and printed over 21 million Deeds of Land. Each one was individually stamped with a unique lot number – mine was L-595729 – and placed in boxes of cereal.

The promotion’s success went way beyond the company’s wildest dreams.  Pretty soon boxes of the bland, unexciting cereal were flying off the shelves.

Unfortunately for the millions of us now-graying kids who once dreamed of one day laying claim to our square inch of rugged paradise, the Quaker Oats never formally registered the land. The company determined that it would be a logistical nightmare to register the deeds to millions of children. Even if it could be done, it would have cost the company a fortune.

Not only do we not own our square inches now, apparently we never owned them.

To add even more insult to injury, the Klondike Big Inch Land Co., Inc. was dissolved in the 60’s and the Canadian government repossessed all the land for nonpayment of $37.20 in property taxes.

Years ago, a Quaker Oats spokesperson explained that “the deeds were not meant to have any intrinsic value, but rather to give the consumer the romantic appeal of being the owner of a square inch of land in the Yukon.”

Yeah, tell that to my lawyer.

Guerrilla My Dreams

RetirementallyChallenged has taken a detour today and ended up in the Boomer Lane!

If you don’t know already, Life in the Boomer Lane is a wonderfully funny blog that looks at the absurdities of the world through the eyes of a former hula hoop champion. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to provide a guest post for the Guerrilla Aging series she publishes every Friday.

Click here to read my post, Guerrilla My Dreams, then take a moment to read some of Renee’s past posts… I’m sure you’ll add her to your must read blogs just like I did.