by Olin Salley
Cuba is an absolutely fantastic opportunity for the generous. If you’re one that genuinely enjoys charity work or other forms of social service then Cuba should really be toward the top of your travel list. As Americans, we truly had the capacity to change the lives of the Cubans we met in our travels. If you’re a tourist in Cuba you will quickly notice how amiable the natives are, even before introductions they will be beaming at you as if you were their high school sweetheart. The reason for this is largely a matter of simple economics. According to Journalist Marc Frank, whom we had the opportunity to speak with Sunday evening, your average Cuban brings home twenty CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) a month. To put this into perspective, your average McDonald’s cashier can make twenty dollars in approximately two-three hours. Since the CUC is pegged to the US dollar, this means that Americans of the lowest income bracket are making a Cubans’ monthly salary in a single day. With this comes a whole lot of social implications for tourists, from which stem many superstitious and negative predispositions about Cuba in general. More than a few of us, myself included, were worried about scams, theft, and all other sorts of nasty encounters that most Cuban travel guides warn of. When we arrived in Cuba, however, we found none of it.
The truth is that the Cubans are a naturally hospitable people. The idiom, “you attract more bees with honey” is ingrained in their culture. In our travels we were amazed at the geniality of those we encountered. Little boys ran up to greet us while in the village or out on the beach, street vendors poetically wished us academic success, and groups of young Cubans eagerly danced for our entertainment. Among the other joys of Cuba were the food, music, beaches, vibrant architecture, and heartfelt social interactions. Wilson remarked, “The architecture in particular was interesting because of its variety. I could see styles of Spanish Baroque, Neo-classicism, and modern design while traveling through Havana.” While Patricia commented, “The one thing I took away from Cuba was their music. I felt their patriotism, their fears, their hope, their wants and more through their melodic harmonies and impeccable synchronization.” Personally, I found the social interactions of our journey to be the most rewarding. When in Viñales we found the locals knew little if any english, so those of us who take Spanish had a fun time testing our knowledge and speaking skills. Furthermore, the entire island is almost completely disconnected from any form of internet, so you really had to talk to those around you if you wanted to entertain yourself.
All in all, our experience in Cuba was above and beyond our expectations, and I’m sure that the majority of us would go again if given the chance.
by Kathleen Babb
For Special Studies week, thirteen students and three teachers traveled to Cuba. When we arrived in Havana, we met our tour guide, Orlando, and met our hosts families of the Casas Particulares. Cuban families are permitted to rent rooms in their house to foreigners, and this allowed us to experience the life of everyday Cubans. On Monday, we toured Old Havana and strolled through a few of the plazas and visited a printmaking workshop. Later, we visited Morro Castle, discussed socio-economics with Miguel Coyula, and participated in a flash mob. Tuesday morning, we traveled to Viñales and had an organic farm to table lunch overlooking the mountains. Later that afternoon, we participated in salsa lessons, which we all enjoyed, even the teachers. After dinner, we returned to one of the houses of the host families, and they played music for us. We all practiced our salsa dancing together, and some of the kids who lived nearby came to dance with us. We also gave the kids gifts we brought from home. They were very excited. On Wednesday morning, we went on a morning walk through the tobacco fields and learned about the life of tobacco farmers in Viñales. After a home-cooked meal from our host families, we returned to Havana. That evening, we listened live music from Frank Degalo. On our last day, we met with a hip-hop/jazz duo, Magia López and Alexey Rodriguez where we discussed racial and gender equality in Cuba. Also, we learned about how they hope to change their society through their music and videos. Later, we visited the Museum of Cuban Art and learned about many world-renowned Cuban artists. We spend our last afternoon in Cuba at Playas del Este. Some of us made friends with the local kids and we all had a fun time in the ocean. We ended our last day in Cuba at a rooftop restaurant and had a really good family-style dinner. The trip to Cuba allowed us to discover a new culture and to learn so many new things. Cuba is a trip that we will never forget. This experience impacted our lives in countless ways.