The first night: ‘We had all already fallen in love with Cuba’

December 7, 2013 12 Comments

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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.

50s carsI 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!

first tourPeople 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. CUCsĀ  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.

On the streetIt 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.

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  1. Wlodek says:

    Island of Cuba is more than image of beautiful beaches, is a compelling and fascinating destination a specially for those who love Latin lifestyle, salsa music and colonial architecture. Some destinations remain for good in ours memory, Cuba is one of them.
    More on Cuba http://www.netssa.com

  2. Jodi Birkmann says:

    Fabulous update! My family has been praying for your group and are so happy to hear that you are having a nice trip. I’m glad to hear Cuba is so beautiful. I hope you don’t have to miss the music performances that you were planning to attend. Hi Justin!!!

  3. Mike Torres says:

    Loved reading about your experience. The coffee sounds amazing!!!

  4. Juan says:

    The average Cuban make 300 a MONTH not a Week like you said,which is 12 USD not 145. To Buy one Dollar you need 25 Cuban pesos

  5. Kim Rischar says:

    It looks amazing and beautiful.

  6. Tom Bean says:

    What a wonderful article. How I wish I were there. Cuba is about to under go major change and the warm wonderful Cuba will be only a memory.

  7. Melissa says:

    Sounds amazing! I wish I was there instead of out in the snow.

  8. John says:

    Help me out here…I understood Cuba to be an embargoed county and therefore against US law to trade with or visit?

  9. Hatcher says:

    Let’s not forget that Cuba is a totalitarian state, responsible for the deaths and torture of hundreds of thousands of dissident citizens. I am glad the author is enjoy the trip; but focusing only on the remnants of a free Cuba left over from 50 years ago, and not on their Communist system that perpetuates despair for its people is an insult to those who have died and those who have had to flee their homeland. I am sure nobody loves Cuba more than those people who have had to make the difficult decision to flee their homeland and their families in an effort to escape extreme oppression with only the hope that someday they may return to a free and prosperous Cuba.

  10. kwilson@whig.com says:

    John – the embargo partially lifted in 2010 to allow certain Americans to visit, such as those with educational purposes or those with families in Cuba.

  11. Good morning,

    To address a couple of comments: We understand the concern and while the writer has mentioned the beauty of Cuba, our students have only just arrived and this week will be taking courses on the Cuban government and also the Cuban music. Our Travel Study program is set up to not only introduce students to a new culture, but is also a learning experience and courses are held while participating in the Travel Study.

    This is a portion of the Cuban history that the students have researched (http://addins.whig.com/blogs/canton/about-cuba), along with researching areas within their major, such as one of the students on the trip that is a biological chemistry major and she researched Cholera in Cuba. Thank you for following along and contributing your insight into the history of Cuba. We will continue to bring you information on what the students are experiencing.

  12. Please keep in mind what the students blog may be only what they are allowed to transmit out of Cuba. The Cuban government may be monitoring their behavior and communication more than what is apparent. Let’s wait until they get back to get the C-SC students to get their full impressions. Thank You.

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