Quite a day: Hemingway, cigars and the ballet

December 9, 2013 3 Comments
Brandon student playing with the band(1)

Brandon Mundshenk, a C-SC senior theatre major, was invited up to play the bass with the band.

By Jen Roberts
Reflecting on Saturday, Dec. 7

Our first full day exploring Havana was amazing!

We are all in awe of the city’s beauty. It is the most romantic place I have ever seen. Everywhere you go you see couples in love, strolling hand in hand and many times passionately embracing. The people are so warm and friendly, except for the Santeria women when you don’t pay them for taking their picture, which I learned the hard way.

History of Old Havana

Havana candidWe started out our morning by going to old Havana where we meet Miguel Coyula, Cuba’s most famous architect who has constructed a scale model of Old Havana. He went though a brief overview of Havana’s history. One of the most interesting facts was that in the 18th century, Cuba was the world’s number one producer of sugar cane, so much so, that all of Old Havana streets are made of cobblestone that was used to weigh down ships that came into port to pick up sugar, and every single one of those stones came from Massachusetts in the U.S. Also, Cuba was the fifth city in the world to have a train system due to their mass production of sugar cane.

Another interesting fact was that 80% of the country was built from the early 1800s until 1958. This was a such rapid growth and it also means that the city is now deteriorating at a very rapid rate; on average three houses collapse a day. A few weeks ago, 16 inches of rain in just a few days caused 220 houses to crumble. However, there are no homeless in Cuba. The government is required to find new homes for all of those displaced. And the government is now letting their people purchase private property for the first time since becoming communist.

Coyula’s thoughts on what the future of Cuba’s infrastructure will be is simple: “Humans are the only species to trip over the same rock twice.” He joked that the perfect proof of this is how many times people in the U.S. get married. What he meant by that is, he just hopes Cuba doesn’t repeat the past when it comes to rules and regulations.

Hemingway’s Home

appitizers at lunch had eyes still(2)Next it was off to Cojimar, a small fishing village east of Havana where Ernest Hemingway had a home and wrote many of his books. The most famous book that he wrote here was “The Old Man and the Sea,” the story with the message that a man can be defeated, but he can also always rise again. Cubans relate easily to this, which is why this book is one of Cuba’s most studied pieces of literature.

Once we arrived in the village we went to a restaurant, La Terraza de Cojimar, for lunch. This restaurant was Hemingway’s favorite and is now completely decorated in photos of him as a tribute.

We thought that seeing the memorabilia, dining next to the ocean and live music was going to be the highlight of our visit to Cojimar, but we were pleasantly surprised when our own Brandon Mundshenk, a C-SC senior theatre major, was invited up to play the bass with the band!

After quite an exciting lunch we were off to Hemingway’s home, which was donated to the country by his widow. It is a beautiful home overlooking the countryside. The home is still full of Hemingway’s furniture, many bottles of alcohol and his prized hunting trophies, animal heads. The city is a fishing village and Hemingway was known for submersing himself with the locals and usually purchasing them all their drinks. He was and still is a very loved and respected icon of the village.

Cuban Cigars

On our way back to our hotel we stopped at a cigar factory, where we were able to purchase cigars from one of the most famous cigar rollers in Havana. Although most of us would never touch a cigar back in the States, the temptation of being in front of the world’s greatest was too much to resist.

Dinner and Dancing

We then returned to our hotel to get ready for an amazing night. We started off with dinner at a privately-owned restaurant. Choices were lamb, beef, lobster, duck or rabbit, served with rice and beans. Everything was quite amazing and true to what we had been told by Vanessa and Pablo Perez, the C-SC alumna and her husband, on Skype prior to our trip. The food was much more impressive than our dinner last night at the Patio, which was a government-run restaurant.

Next up was the Lizt Alfonso Ballet. Some of the best dancers in the world come from the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and Lizt is one of them. Unfortunately I was not allowed to take photos of the dancers, but I did sneak a quick video of the opening performance. The costumes were vibrant and elegant. The dancers ranged from gorgeous adult women, to amazingly talented young men. We were all entranced by the Flamenco style of dance.

Ballet 2
So this was day one. I can’t imagine how much more incredible this learning experience will get, but I have a feeling we have only seen the tip of the iceberg or in this case the palm tree!


My statement yesterday of the average Cuban wage being $140 a week was incorrect. My converting was way off; 300 Cuban pesos is equal to about 20 American dollars and that is a month’s wage, not a week’s. I apologize for that. Going from American to Canadian to Cuban currency and then to CUCs, I was confused.

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  1. Jodi Birkmann says:

    Another awesome update! I would love to see a video of your group’s first time attempt at cigar smoking:-) I wonder how the people of Cuba live on so little. Sounds like they are very happy though. If you can get some ideas as to the prices of everyday items and services that would be really neat. We had an exchange student once from Belarus. They only earned about $30 per month-but a hair cut was $7! It would be neat to see some examples.

  2. Nancy Mundschenk says:

    I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to see photo’s of you enjoying yourselves in Cuba. Thank you Jen, for the photo’s, updates and comments that keep us in touch with our students. I know my son, Brandon, well enough to expect he would join in with the band…given the opportunity…and it’s heartwarming to know the Cubans are welcoming you with such favor. (He’s a “behind the scene” kinda guy.)Way to go, Brando! What a memory! Missing you is worth the life changing experience you are having. Just think…how many Americans will be able to tell their children they toured Cuba? My love goes with you!

  3. Kim Rischar says:

    I love the updates. Cuba looks wonderful.

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