Saturday, January 7, 2017

Historic Cuban People-To-People Tour, 2016

For many years I have wanted to travel Cuba to see the beaches and farm land, and get to know the Cuban people. So, in 2015, when the Obama Administration loosened ties with our southern neighbors, I signed up for a “people to people tour”, the only legitimate way to visit. It was a wise move and a fabulous trip. As the political climates in both Cuba and the US change, I am fortunate to have gone when I did. If free travel ever does occur, I will go back in a heartbeat. The Republic of Cuba consists of one large island and several small ones situated on the northern rim of the Caribbean Sea, about 90 miles south of Florida. With an area of 42,803 square miles, it is slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania. It is primarily agrarian partly due to the need to raise much of their own food. In the past, there was a thriving sugar industry, and currently tobacco is large. Today, one of Cuba’s greatest exports is doctors, a result of the mandatory education system and the overproduction of medical people. .
We flew from Miami to Camaguey International Airport, then traveled by bus through the country side to Trinidad, Cienfeugos, and Havana. Going to Cuba is a lot like stepping back to the 1950’s, thanks to an accumulation of austere requirements of the Communist-Marxist rule, then Russia leaving the country, and now the rigidity of the current regime. But, as you may have read on my earlier post, I happened to go at an historic time. Fidel Castro died the day I left for Miami. What this would mean for our tour was unknown, but the only changes due to the mourning period were no alcohol and no music. I certainly missed the music, one of the reasons I wanted to go, but considering the historic significance of the time, it was a small hardship. The people-to-people exchanges were with artists, cowboys, librarians, botanical specialists, parks managers, day care caregivers, a retired baseball player, and a wonderful cemetery guide. The food was varied and delicious. Please enjoy the photographs of Camaguey, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and, of course, Habana . . . .
Trinidad, Cuba, 2016
Cienfuegos, Cuba

Thursday, January 5, 2017

After All These Years, How I finally Met Fidel Castro

What an Historic Time to Be In Cuba! A year ago, as the Obama Administration opened relations with our island neighbor, I made plans to travel to there in November 2016. It has been a dream of mine for years to see this country and I have had this fantasy that maybe, somehow, I would meet Fidel. I remember I was in college when he launched his revolution against the dictator, Battista. I rather admired his heroics at the time, not knowing he would become and oppressive and nasty dictator himself. The day I left Denver for Cuba via Miami, Shirley emailed me that Castro had died. I didn’t know what this might mean, perhaps even the cancellation of the People-to-People tour I was scheduled for. (The only changes that occurred were there was no liquor served or music played during the mourning period which included all but our last travel day). Since I had an extra day in Miami before the tour left, I caught a train and a bus to Little Havana to witness the celebration. There was literally dancing in the street. Little Havana, Miami, FL November 26, 2016 Finally in Cuba and on our 5th day, we were exploring the mid-island, southern port city, Cienfuegos, founded in 1745, with its UNESCO World Heritage town center, when word on the street was that Fidel’s ashes would be passing through. He was on a 4-day journey from Revolutionary Square in Havana to his final resting place in Santiago on the east end of the island. We had noticed people along our route sprucing things up, and the city square was beginning to show signs of people gathering. Rumor was he would be coming between 4 and 4:30. Some of us petitioned our tour leaders to let us watch the proceedings, and they agreed. I walked back to the square and gently elbowed a place to stand in the gathered crowd. The sunny afternoon had gradually turned into a cool evening and Castro remained a no-show. It wasn’t just I as the entire crowd became restless and the aligned military people were shifting their positions. The rest of my group had drifted away some time ago with plans to gather in our evening restaurant. I continued to stand, but after five and a half hours had passed and I was supposed to meet my group at 8:30, I walked through the crowd away from the square and arrived at my destination. I was very disappointed and rather despondent as I ate my dinner to be so close and not witness this moment in history. Our group spent a little over an hour with our meal and as we were about to leave, word came that Castro would be coming down the street in front of the establishment in approximately 20 minutes. We spilled out the door and joined the gathered hundreds, and in about 30 minutes, here he came. I was a witness to history, and after all these years, I finally met Fidel Castro. . .well, kind of. Cienfuegos, Cuba November 30,2016