"Cuba's been sitting here for what, 55 years. Half-an-hour away, basically giving the biggest superpower in the world the stiff middle finger."
In the season six premiere of Anthony Bourdain's award-winning travel show, Parts Unknown, the food-loving host travels 90 miles south of Miami to savor some of the island's best drinks and dishes. The episodecenters around Cuba's current collective anticipatory vibe — it's as if the entire country is about to embark on a trip, and none of them are exactly sure of where they are going.
President Obama's recent "normalizing" of relations with Cuba will soon open the floodgates for North American tourists — and their money — to enjoy everything the beautiful country of Cuba has to offer.
Bourdain points out as much in every conversation in the episode, even telling a local restaurant owner that he is "about to be a millionaire". As Bourdain makes his way from the capital of Havana to the poorer, less westernized city of Santiago, it's apparent the country teeters back-and-forth as whether to anticipate with excitement or dread the change that is to come.
Whatever your knowledge on the politics of the situation surrounding the island, Bourdain boasts throughout Parts Unknown that you won't want to wait too long before making it a point to visit a country that is otherwise a mystery to the majority of Americans in 2015.
"However you feel about the government, however you feel about the last 55 years, there aren't many places in the world that look like this," Bourdain says. "It is utterly enchanting. It's very seductive."
The New York chef feasts on everything from sushi to lechoncubano to corn-and-pumpkin pig head soup while in Cuba. He even takes a visit to an out-of-place Chinatown that, unsurprisingly, includes almost no Chinese people. "It's like a cargo-cult version of Chinese food here. Dumplings. A Sichuan chicken dish that's about as Sichuan as, well, I am," Bourdain quips as he looks down at a plate of food he surely had not expected to be eating while in Cuba.
Bourdain — as is the case with him in many of the places he travels — loves a country for what it is, and hopes that it will never change. For all it's been through, Cuba has a certain charm and look about it, one Bourdain, and the locals alike, hope does not evaporate when the tourist money shows up.
"There will be wealthy hipsters, women in tiny black dresses drinking ironic riffs on the mojito in the lobby of a spanking-new W Hotel with untzuntzuntz in the background. And that's within five years."
Nobody is quite yet sure what to expect from new relationship with Cuba, but things are sure to be different for both the U.S. and Cuba. As is the theme in the episode, Bourdain wonders out loud just what it will mean for a country so rich with un-bothered pride and tradition: "What next for Cuba? Something is coming. It will come, from out there, but also from within Cuba. It's already happening — but what is it? Everybody knows, everybody can feel it, it smells like freedom. But will it be victory?"
Parts Unknown airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN. The "Cuba" episode is available to watch now on CNNgo and on-demand.
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Ryan Yousefi is a freelance writer for Miami New Times, a lover of sports, and an expert consumer of craft beer and pho. Hanley Ramirez once stole a baseball from him and to this day still owes him $10.