Cuba Reflections

We are back from Cuba and I’ll be the first to admit that my head is still spinning. I feel as though I left a piece of my heart, not just out in the Garden of the Queen, but in the poverty-stricken city of Havana as well. The memories of people we encountered will far outlast any bucket list fish I landed. And on this trip, that meant my first crazed Tarpon and 4' Baracuda on 16-pound tippet! 

Thankful that I listened long ago when a cherished veterinarian mentor of mine encouraged this wild young teen to travel as far as I could, and as often as I could. Regrettably, not always with a rod in hand (see what I did there…) but undoubtedly with the spirit of adventure, an open mind, and a heart that loves to learn far outside a textbook or organized classroom. What never ceases to amaze or inspire is that travel is certainly intended to change us; first-hand experiences cultivate the desire to understand ourselves and this world in a deeper way by revealing unasked questions to expose more intimate layers. And undoubtedly, our adventure to Cuba reshaped my gypsy heart once again. 

9 days of zero internet or wifi truly was mind-opening and heartbreaking on levels I wasn’t expecting. The contrast between seeing desperate people in deep poverty in Havana for 2 days and then to then go live aboard a full-service yacht, completely catered to our needs and desires with only a view of the vast, beautiful archipelago in sight was quite emotional for me. Every still morning trek across the turquoise-sapphire waters to a fishing flat pulled tears from my eyes that didn’t stop flowing. I couldn’t help but wonder “Why me?" As Joel so pointedly stated: Why did God shake us all up in Yahtzee can and sprinkle us across the world in such a way? 

The question of my life is & will always be. “why me?” Why do I have so much and others do not? While in recent months I weep for my beloved dog who lived a full, happy, and spoiled life, others in the world beg for a single dollar. I spent so much time being physically and mentally still; while scanning the soft rhythmic tides for silvery flashes, simultaneously pondering and trying to listen to that still small voice to answer: What can I change? How do make more of a difference in my day to day that truly matters? And what does it mean to make a difference? If I took 10,000, $1 bills and passed them all out to 10,000 Cuban people what difference would that make? Oh, my soul. When will we be all saved from nightmares? 

I am diligent in covering my entire body in an effort to ward off ultraviolet rays, but beneath a secured Buff, I wore my Andrea Larko doodle Tarpon hat. I just knew from the moment I saw it it was lucky and I was certain I would land my first tarpon while wearing it! Mission accomplished! No fish pics of my Tarpon in hand as we were right in the mangroves so I let the guide quickly release the wild wonder. On the fish’s behalf, I advocate only taking pics of the fish if it can BE IN THE WATER and breathing, but goodness gracious, this fight was epic fun and good training for me to handle bigger, stronger fish as we look forward to being in Mexico in May at XFlats. Thankfully, this Cuban fishing trip grew me as an angler to feel more prepared for the next challenge. 

Later that day I hooked a solid 4’ long Barracuda that took me deep into backing, zigzagging through the gin-clear waters and deeply bending my 9wt Winston Air2 Max to look like a willow reed. What a rod and dang what a FISH!! On 16lb test, he took the permit crab with no steel leader and somehow I managed to hook him in the lip so he couldn’t break off. The beautiful creature soared with so much power and grace at the end of all that line and backing, jumping elegantly out of the water high enough to clear a VW Beetle~ I swear they are unicorns in disguise. Just as we brought him to the boat, the tippet gave way.  The thrilling fight had hit the pause button of my mind with an exhilarating and marked focus on the task at hand. As the impressive creature instantaneously disappeared, I thought of Moses~ deeply absorbing his very words that life as a whole is “but a vapor”. 

What a privilege it is to be right here, right now. Cuba is most definitely a bucket list destination and I am already looking forward to November 2024! 

Jennifer La Follette
18 Nov 2023
Becky McRae
Love the perspective you imparted telling your story.
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