Es complicado, our Cuban guide, Lázaro, stated in response to a query from 1 of our group
I was in a bus on a busy street in Havana with fourteen travel companions (thirteen women and two men) who were touring Cuba with Sisters Across the Straits, a group organized and sponsored by the Florida state chapter of League of Girls Voters. Our purpose was not only to check out standard tourist stops but to turn into a lot more knowledgeable about Cuba, the Cuban individuals and the country’s history.
Apart from Lázaro, we had been fortunate to be accompanied by Miami resident Annie Betancourt, founder of Sisters Across the Straits, a Board Director of the League and a member for more than 3 decades. We were the twenty-sixth group Annie has taken to Cuba. She later explained that ‘it’s complicated’ is the standard response Cubans use to describe any difficult circumstance. It’s a diplomatic way of saying there is no answer to your query or perhaps there is no answer. ‘It’s complicated’ became the password for our six day adventure in Cuba.
Annie was born in Cuba and lived there with her parents till she was thirteen years old. That was when the revolution occurred and Fidel Castro came into energy. Her father, an engineer, understood the modifications that were coming and, like hundreds of other Cubans, moved his loved ones to Miami, hoping that their time in that city would be quick. But Fidel remained in power and the loved ones quickly realized that Miami was their new home.
Annie’s hope is that these visits will boost mutual understanding soon after decades of isolation and distrust in between the US and Cuba. The itineraries, as you will see, are made to provide League members with opportunities to discover about Cuba’s history, culture and society and to meet both academic experts and ordinary Cuban citizens.
Our flight from Miami to the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana was just 45 minutes extended, a reminder that Cuba is only 90 miles from the United States. As soon as our group passed by way of customs, we boarded the bus and began our tour with a ride via central Havana and the Plaza de la Revolucion. Annie had warned us that we had been going to a third world country but it was still a shock to see so numerous buildings that looked as if they had been bombed. Other buildings appeared very fragile, as if they may collapse at any moment. However, they have been naturally inhabited, with men and women going in and out of the entrances and other people hanging wash from balconies ten or fifteen stories higher. The American embargo and a failing economy had certainly had a huge impact.
Following a lunch cease at an outdoor restaurant in a garden setting, we stopped at the Jose Fuster Studio, the home of a ceramist who has changed the location exactly where he lives. The entire street looked like an immense modern painting with bright colors imbedded in each yard. But as I got closer, I could see the designs developed with vibrant ceramics, each a single distinct from the a single ahead of. The artist had begun this project by transforming his own gate into an elaborate scene produced with ceramics. When neighbors saw the effect, they asked him to do the identical to their homes. He in no way asked for cash, usually raising funds through donations and by promoting his personal function. Lastly, he transformed his complete courtyard into a ceramic masterpiece. Because the American embargo had produced ceramics and just about almost everything else difficult to obtain, he has been forced to travel fantastic distances to uncover the tiles he demands.
Right after we checked in to our temporary property, the Hotel Sevilla, and had a short rest, we joined Annie and most of our fellow travelers for a walk through the Plaza and Calle Obispo – a pedestrian street in Haban Vieja (Old City). Our walk ended at a hotel where Annie had planned to have us consume dinner at its roof-prime restaurant. Even so, like significantly of Cuba, the elevator was not working. A hotel employee invited us to use the service elevator which was situated about the corner. It turned out to be a modest, dark box that held five men and women which includes the elevator operator. Our group went up in shifts I went up with my eyes closed and my fingers crossed, convinced that each bump meant we have been about to plunge to the ground. However, the view of the city from the leading produced it all worthwhile. The meals was one more story.
Following dinner, four of us walked down six flights (thank goodness there was a bannister) and created our way via the plaza, searching for a taxi. Ultimately, we located six of them, all 1950’s automobiles, patched up and roaring to take us back to the hotel. We had been herded into the backseat of a single and enjoyed a bumpy, breezy and gasoline infused trip back to the hotel. As we have been acquiring out, I noticed that significantly of the ancient upholstery was held with each other by tape.
At breakfast, I heard about a lot of issues with the rooms. One of our group had hit the jackpot_ her window wouldn’t close, the air conditioning did not work, and the door would not lock. My traveling companion, Pat, and I had been lucky. Although the area was standard (we weren’t expecting anything else), almost everything worked. In reality, the air conditioning was also cold and we couldn’t seem to turn it down but we weren’t going to complain. The hotel had a beautiful swimming pool which we enjoyed practically every afternoon except for the final day when it was closed down at five_00 pm for mosquito spraying!
Our initial quit was the Cuban Embassy to meet girls who were members of the Cuban chapter of the United Nations. The Embassy building had been the house of one of the wealthy Cuban households who had left in the course of the Revolution and it was nevertheless in great shape. Soaya E. Alvarez, Director of ACNU Associacion Cubana de las Naciones Unidas, spoke to us about Cuba and the United Nations and the importance of lifting the embargo. The Cuban people are suffering salaries are $15 to $20 a month Lázarus (who has a master’s degree) left a government job to turn into a guide simply because he could earn a lot more cash. Though wellness care is cost-free, gas and some food is rationed and there is not considerably left over for luxuries. The Cuban dream is to come to the US in 2015_16, 153,000 Cubans arrived in the US. Individuals are leaving now because they are afraid the Cuban Adjustment Act, which makes it possible for a path to citizenship, will be repealed. Therefore, the Cuban workforce has been diminished and the population is aging.
Our next stop was a visit to El Quitrin, a women’s clothing shop sponsored by the Federation of Cuban Women. Annie had suggested we bring thread and needles as gifts for the ladies working here as these products, like almost everything else, are in quick supply. At the time of our check out, most of the finished dresses and shirts in the shop were white cotton. The work on the clothes was remarkable but I didn’t discover something to buy (for a alter).
Later in the afternoon, we visited a conservative synagogue and heard about the Jewish population in Cuba from a young lady. There are 1200 Jews in Cuba and three synagogues a common predicament for Jewish folks in any place. But in Cuba, they are either conservative or orthodox the modern reform movement has not reached Cuba. Nevertheless, I was glad to hear that girls are obtaining Bat Mitzvahs.
That evening, three of us took a taxi to a restaurant for dinner and created the acquaintance of a young driver who spoke exceptional English. The taxi was brand new, had leather seats and purred as it made its way by means of town. Our driver told us it was made in China and purchased by the Cuban government. He was leasing it from the government and sharing it with one more driver each and every had 3 days on and 3 days off. He was married and had a toddler. When we asked him about President Obama’s visit, he said, with emotion, Obama is our hero.
Annie had arranged a check out to the newly opened U.S. Embassy. I was shocked at the amount of safety – our passports had been very carefully examined and our bags were checked. We entered by way of a turnstile and have been seated in a room right off the entrance. An embassy director who had been sent to Cuba to prepare for Obama’s go to gave us an overview of our country’s situation and answered all our questions. It was thorough and fascinating. She encouraged us to interact with Cubans to dispel any damaging impressions they may well have about Americans.
At the end of the sidewalk in front of the entrance to the American Embassy, there is a football field of quite tall black poles that appear like they had been planted. Annie told us that, proper right after the Revolution, the American Embassy began running a ticker tape with a message about freedom along the top of the creating. To retaliate, the Cuban government put up the poles and topped them with the Cuban flag to block out the tape.
Our subsequent quit was Finca Vigia, the residence of Nobel Prize laureate Ernest Hemingway who lived in Cuba from 1930 to 1960. Pat and I had observed the film Papa Hemingway in Cuba just a few days ahead of our trip so it was thrilling to appear in the windows and doors and see where the film had been filmed. His fishing boat Pilar has been restored and is on show at the home.
We had lunch in Cojimar, a fishing village that was the backdrop of Hemingway’s novel, The Old Man and the Sea. I looked out at the water and could nearly see the old man rowing the boat. Lunch was at a privately owned restaurant run by young neighborhood entrepreneurs and it was scrumptious. Many restaurants in Cuba are owned and operated by the government but a lot more and more men and women are getting permission to open their personal restaurants, a really good sign.
Breakfasts at the hotel were huge five huge tables filled with everything from fruit to meats to pancakes or eggs and sweet breads. By now I knew our lunches would be large – at least 4 courses – so I stuck to cereal, fruit and yogurt (at least I feel it was yogurt) for breakfasts. I also decided I would not weigh myself for a week after I got residence.
We walked via Old Havana and visited the plazas. There were dozens of stands selling books and street artists had been everywhere, displaying their function on boards and boxes. A single young man followed our group, drawing rapid profiles of a couple of women and then trying to sell the sketch to the owner. He was remarkably good and we later found out he was an art student. 1 woman purchased her sketch then found that it looked far more like one more member of our group. Then we visited an artisans’ cooperative and I bought a tiny painting to take residence (my first acquire).
In the afternoon we visited the Museum of Fine Arts- Cuban Collection and I was so awed by the art that I kept moving even when my physique was telling me to go back to the hotel and take a nap. Of course the elevator was out here also so we did a lot of walking.
A day in the country! The bus took us by way of the countryside for more than an hour and Lázaro kept us awake with a lesson on Cuba’s history. Now and then, Annie took over the microphone, providing Lázaro a rest and us some background from the American point of view. We arrived at lookout point in Valle Vinales in Pinar del Rio Province which is west of Havana. The special hill formations (identified as mogotes) are gorgeous unlike anything I’ve seen ahead of.
Then we moved on to a rum distillery (not certain that’s what it is named) and then a tobacco farm. We watched a man in fact roll cigars which almost produced me want to smoke one. Of course I bought some for my husband he smokes one particular sometimes but only when I am not house.
Lunch was on the porch of a charming country restaurant. Annie warned us there would be a lot of courses and there have been one after yet another, each and every a single better than the final. Dessert was the greatest flan I have ever eaten.
I thought I’d in no way consume once again but by 7_30, I was at yet yet another restaurant consuming the ideal eggplant lasagna I’d ever had.
Time to pack our suitcases for our trip back to Miami that evening. But in the meantime, we have been nonetheless moving. We visited a local arts and craft marketplace where I searched for (and located) a humidor in which to place my 5 precious cigars. I also bought a gorgeous, hand-made white cotton dress for my granddaughter which will almost certainly not match but I couldn’t resist it. Subsequent, our group visited an art neighborhood project in inner city Centro Habana. An artist named Salvador Gonzales Escolono 1st started creating art from graffiti till galleries opened and it became a street of art celebrating the African_Cuban experience. Salvador, who was leaving for Washington and New York the subsequent day, was at his gallery and he told us to appreciate my nation but never attempt to recognize it.
Lunch was at an organic farm that also provides meals for people in want, painting and environmental classes plus classes for single mothers and seniors. When the government gave the land to the household that has produced all this, it was a swamp region. Now they grow 150 various varieties of fruits and vegetables (plus a little dog that kept acquiring underfoot). The lunches support spend for the totally free meals and classes.
Next cease_ The airport and the finish of our adventure in Cuba. But initial, I and many other travelers checked out all the duty totally free shops, attempting to invest what was left of our Cuban funds. I settled on two bottles of vintage rum which my husband tells me tastes like smooth bourbon.
A fellow traveler who has been to Cuba ahead of was overwhelmed with the number of yellow cabs and even open-air double decker buses – all created in China. The Chinese have also built an automobile factory in Cuba. She noticed lots of tourists from Spain, France, and even a handful of from Switzerland. I spoke to two young males from Germany and a couple of English women who rode the hotel elevator with me. Also, there are a lot of new restaurants. Cuba, she commented, is catering to vacationers.
The world wide web is still quite difficult for Cubans to access it’s costly and slow. The government has begun to open up WiFi hotspots outdoors of some buildings exactly where you will see lines of young individuals sitting, standing, leaning – all with computer systems in their hands.
Change is taking place but it is slow. Despite the fact that the country is still under the Castro’s, I continually heard Cubans describe Raul as pragmatic compared to his brother. I’m assuming this implies he is much more open to modify and to private ownership which we experienced in the course of our check out. Personally, I think that if the embargo was lifted and the Cuban Adjustment Act repealed, Cubans would be capable to pay a visit to America, learn from all of us and then go house rather of seeking citizenship in this country. And the distribution of American goods in Cuba would cease the rationing and improve each Cuban’s life immensely. The ferry will travel across these 90 miles once a lot more and the Cuban individuals will be lifted out of poverty and into the twenty-very first century. I know ‘es complicado’ but it really is way past time_
Lift the Embargo!