One of the best things about travel is the ongoing chance to have your most basic assumptions overturned by the unexpected realities of a new place. This happened to me a few years ago, when I traveled to Havana to learn salsa dancing, and instead wound up learning how to play the bagpipes.
Bagpipes, I discovered, aren’t some recent, quirky anomaly in this part of the Caribbean: The instrument was brought to Cuba in the late 19th century, when immigrants from Galicia and Asturias — Celtic regions of Spain — settled on the island. The bagpipers I met during my visit to Havana weren’t middle-aged hobbyists, either — they were hip young Cubans with a genuine passion for Celtic music.
Almost two years after I befriended these Cuban bagpipers, I had the privilege of accompanying them to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia for the fantastic Celtic Colors International Festival, a nine-day celebration of global Celtic music. Here, I was able to see my Cuban friends not just as musicians, but as first-time international travelers. What they found fascinating about Canada (such as the chaotic abundance of a Wal-Mart superstore) helped me see North America in a whole new way.