By Jen Roberts
We are finally in Cuba and I already don’t want to leave!
Surprisingly, the security check point leaving Cancun, Mexico, seemed much more relaxed than in America. Once we were through we boarded our plane and after only a hour we finally arrived in Cuba. Once in the airport we headed toward customs; there were about six glass booths and we were directed to go get in line.
I thought to myself, well this doesn’t seem too bad, then a woman in plain clothes walked up to me and said something in Spanish, I responded, “No Espanol.” She said, “Passport,” so I handed over my passport to her. She saw United States of America and I could tell a red flag had been raised. She said something into a walkie talkie and then started to walk away with my passport, so I followed her over to another agent, where she showed my passport.
Luckily at this point, C-SC’s Jose Mejias was able to explain in Spanish that we were here for education and after we answered a few questions they let us go on. Once inside we went through another security checkpoint, again nothing like in America. The female employees wore green uniforms with skirts and black fishnet-like stockings and didn’t seem to pay much attention to us. We went on to wait for our luggage. There was only one carousel and about 150 people were waiting. We saw some interesting things go around, such as tires and other large amounts of products.
The inside of the airport was a bit dull and had no windows, signage or shopping and everything was painted gray and red. We made our way toward the exit and as soon as the doors opened, there was Cuba!
People were everywhere, there were palm trees, 1950s-era cars zooming, everything we had imagined and more. We were warmly welcomed by our tour guide, who showed us to our tour bus. On the way to our hotel, El Presidente, she gave us a little history on Havana.
A few facts she told us were:
- There are 11 million people in Cuba and 2 million of them live in Havana.
- The Cuban people do not earn CUCs,; hey earn Cuban pesos which are only worth half that of a CUC. CUCs is what we are using.
- The average Cuban makes 300 Cuban pesos a week, which in America dollars would be about $140.
She also said that the country is in mourning, because of the death of Nelson Mandela. When in mourning, they do not have any festivities or performances. Because of this, our itinerary has to be changed around a bit.
It was so surreal to see all of the old cars, beautiful architecture and Cuban people everywhere. Once arriving at the hotel we had all already fallen in love with Cuba. The hotel is more beautiful than I had imagined. Art and statues are everywhere, with antique furniture and fixtures and chandeliers hung everywhere. Our rooms are just as beautiful with large doors, beautiful windows and antique furniture. We quickly changed and it was back out to have dinner at the Patio in Old Havana, in the square. We were all blown away by the beauty.
The area was buzzing with people and beautiful music filled the atmosphere with the Cuban spirt.
We were led into the restaurant and taken to a private dining room upstairs with balconies overlooking the square. The waiters instantly greeted us with mojitos and our salads, which were a mixture of cabbage, peas, corn, oranges, pineapple, zucchini and some sort of meat patty that was delicious.
Our dinner was a beef dish called Ropa Vieja, which in English translates to old clothes, because the beef is pulled and stewed with peppers and tomatoes and looks like torn clothes when it’s finished. It was accompanied by steamed vegetables and rice. Dessert consisted of a chocolate layered cake that was absolutely amazing. We were served coffee, which proved to be the best part of the meal. It was different than any coffee I have ever had. I usually put more cream and sugar in my coffee than actual coffee, but this needed nothing. It truly blew American coffee away.
During dinner, we had the privilege of having our own personal band play for us. It was the most festive, energizing, exciting dinner I have ever experienced. After dinner we retreated to our hotel and most of us couldn’t help but go check out the sea wall. It is a long stretch of wall along the ocean that the people of Havana all gravitate to. Our tour guide told us that it is a tradition in Havana that every couple goes there for their first kiss. None of us kissed of course, but it was still magical for us.
We finally retreated for the night to try to sleep, because we have a big day ahead of us Saturday. We have only spent a few hours here and I am already blown away. I can only imagine how incredible the next six days are going to be.