Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Aubrey. Aubrey Wonders, “What happened in Cuba and America?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Aubrey!
Have you ever been to Miami, Key West, or anywhere else in the southern part of Florida? In addition to beautiful beaches and refreshing ocean waters, you'll also find plenty of delicious food, lively music, and eye-catching art that reflects the influence of a nearby country: Cuba.
The largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba was claimed for Spain in 1492 by Christopher Columbus. Its history goes back much farther than that, though. Before Columbus' arrival, Cuba had been home to a variety of indigenous peoples.
Spain controlled Cuba until 1898, when Cuban and American forces won the Spanish-American War. After independence, Cuba continued to be influenced heavily by the nearby United States.
That changed on January 1, 1959, when Fidel Castro's revolutionary forces overthrew the government of dictator Fulgencio Batista. As Castro's communist government grew closer and closer to the Soviet Union, its relationship with the U.S. became severely strained.
In the midst of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Cuba became politically and economically isolated from its neighbor to the north. Many of its people, however, fled Cuba and settled in southern Florida, bringing with them a rich culture that still thrives today.
Although many people might think Cuba is just a large island, the country as a whole consists of an archipelago of about 1,600 islands located at the intersection of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea. Its northernmost point is only about 100 miles or so south of Florida across the Strait of Florida.
Many people claim Cuba is just 90 miles south of Key West, Florida's southernmost point. In fact, a popular tourist spot in Key West called the Southernmost Point Buoy has the words "90 Miles to Cuba" painted on it.
The 90-mile measurement is a nautical measurement in statute miles only used by large ships at sea. In reality, the shortest distance between points in Cuba and the U.S. is about 103 miles.
With such a short distance across the Strait of Florida separating the two countries, one might naturally WONDER whether it's possible to swim that distance. The answer is yes, but it's not a feat to be undertaken lightly.
In 2013, 64-year-old American Diana Nyad became the first person ever to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. Her route was approximately 110 miles. She overcame a variety of obstacles, including cold waters, dangerous creatures such as jellyfish, and blistering exposure to sunlight.
In total, Nyad's swim from Havana to Key West took just under 53 hours. That trip had only been made successfully one previous time. In 1997, Australian Susie Maroney swam across the Florida Strait with the help of a protective shark cage.
In the decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba has made promising political changes. In 2014, the U.S. announced that it was resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba. As economic restrictions continue to be loosened or lifted, many people hope that relations and travel between Cuba and the U.S. will be revived.