Rachel, Day by Day
Revolution Square with friends and family, Havana, Cuba.
Last June I went on a 12-day life-changing educational trip to Cuba with family and friends. My father was born there, and this place has been No. 1 on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, so many classmates thought it was strange that I wanted to go there. My dad and I always talked about going to two places: Spain and Cuba. Unfortunately we never made it to either place together. So, one of my greatest goals in life has been to go to both places in his honor. I went on an amazing trip to Spain in 2003, and I went on this trip in 2018. There were so many amazing moments I will never forget. Here are some highlights from my journal for you from the first half of the trip (second half will be in another blog post).
Day 1: Miami
I traveled to Miami with my mom, brother, and three family friends for Day 1 in Miami. This day involved meeting everyone in our Cuba educational tour group and going through all the information we needed. We had four others in our group (Mary, Nese, Marlys, and Charlie), who were all very nice! When we arrived at our hotel, we had a shot of rum for my dad. We walked around South/Miami Beach and had a bad experience at a restaurant with rude staff, but I won’t go into the details! I did drink a good margarita, though. That evening we had drinks in the lobby bar; there was a guy playing bagpipes, too. Random!
Day 2: Miami to Havana
Christopher Columbus Necropolis Cemetery, Havana, Cuba.
For the flight to Havana, I somehow got first class! They gave me sparkling wine after I sat down. When we landed, everyone clapped, and I couldn’t help but tear up. Once we got through the airport, we met Gretel, our tour guide, and Peachy, our bus driver, at the bus.
Our first stop was Il Divino Farm and restaurant (many of the restaurants are privately owned, called paladars) for lunch and we got a tour of the organic farm. I ate crab, rice and beans, plantain chips, and ice cream. Then we went to the Christopher Columbus Necropolis Cemetery. It’s 138 acres and 146 years old. We saw the grave and statue of Amelia Goire de la Hoz, or La Milagrosa. She and her baby died and were buried together (the baby was placed near her feet). Years later her tomb was exhumed by her husband. Once it was opened, the baby was in her arms. People go to her grave and pray to her and leave notes and flowers.
After this, we went to Revolution Square. This is where Fidel made speeches, and his longest was nine hours. After this, we went to our hotel (Hotel Nacional de Cuba) and drank mojitos at the outdoor bar.
For dinner later, we went to a paladar called La Moraleja. We ate chicken croquets and lobster. I had a Cuba Libre and a shot of rum.
Things we learned:
- Cuba has the best skin and lung cancer treatments. People fly there for it.
- No crime, no guns, no drugs, no racism.
Day 3: Havana
The Muraleando, a community arts project, Havana, Cuba.
This morning we went to a lecture on the history of Cuba. He told us three homes collapse every day. Everything was mostly built between 1900-1958 and is now aging. The average state monthly salary is $27. For apartment buildings, people just maintain their own space, so common areas aren’t kept up. Tourism is up since Obama visited (2016) and the Rolling Stones came (2015), but it’s declined a bit since then. Education is free by the government.
After the lecture, we went to La Merced Church and talked to people at the senior center around the corner. We then went to a small craft market and passed Floridita, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar. He used to drink daiquiris there.
We then went to Amos Photography where we learned about Alex Castro and Rasmés Batista’s business. They both shoot beautiful photography for a living and hold free workshops for younger kids. We had lunch there and ate black bean cream soup, lamb, chicken, egg plant lasagna, rice and veggies, plantain chips, and guava marmalade for dessert.
After lunch, we walked around the city center of Havana. We saw the oldest hotel in Havana and the tree planted by Michelle Obama. We saw a fortress and went to the Plaza de San Francisco. We then went back to the hotel and all had drinks by the pool.
That evening we went to Muraleando, a community arts project. There’s art and murals everywhere and everything is made from recycled materials. Classes and events are held here, too. It originally was an abandoned water tank with garbage in the neighborhood. We had dinner there and danced!
Day 4: Havana
Fusterlandia, an artistic community filled with colorful and whimsical mosaics, Havana, Cuba.
Today we started out taking bike taxis (bici-taxis) to the market. We bought some food and brought it to the local day care center. In one of the rooms, they surrounded me and I played for a bit with them!
After that, we walked to the historical center of Havana, Plaza Vieja. We had lunch on our own and chose a restaurant on the second floor. The view was great looking down at the plaza! I ate a Cuban sandwich and tried sangria. Then we walked around the Plaza de San Francisco for a bit.
Once we got on the bus, we stopped at an old rum factory called Ron Legendario. We got a small tour and I ended up buying some cigars. We then relaxed back at the hotel a bit and got drinks. A peacock was bothering my brother in the courtyard area, and he was very nervous about it!
That night we went to Fusterlandia, an artistic community filled with colorful and whimsical mosaics. It was started by José Fuster, and we went to his house. It reminded me of a beautiful playhouse. His son, Alex Fuster, was there and explained the house and paintings to us. I bought a rum bottle with beautiful art. We then ate dinner there (rice and beans, fish, and chicken).
Day 5: Havana to Cienfuegos
A beautiful view of Cienfuegos, Cuba, at night.
In the morning we took the bus to Cienfuegos for 3.5 hours. When we arrived at La Union Hotel, we had some lunch and free time. We walked around craft markets and then had a piña colada by the pool. As a group, we then walked around the historic center right by our hotel. We listened to the Cantores de Cienfuegos sing. They were amazing! They travel internationally and won many first-place awards. We all danced at the end, too.
We then went to Villa Lagarto paladar for dinner and it was right on the water. The view was gorgeous. We ate pork and black beans and rice. We ended the night by having drinks on the rooftop bar. I had a delicious margarita.
Day 6: Cienfuegos
Children dancing at the Jardines de la UNEAC, Cienfuegos, Cuba.
This morning we went to the Cienfuegos Botanical Gardens. There were so many trees and plants from other countries. Everything was beautiful! We did a small walking tour around the gardens. We then stopped at Jardines de la UNEAC (Union of Writers and Artists in Cuba). We walked around to local artists’ galleries, and one artist even quickly made a drawing of my brother! Then we had lunch at a local restaurant on our own. I ate a Cuban sandwich!
We then went back to the Jardines de la UNEAC to watch the children dance. They were great! We all got up and danced at the end. Then we shopped a bit and had a drink on the rooftop at the hotel.
Later that night we had dinner at Finca del Mar, a nice paladar. I ate ropa vieja, squash soup, rice and beans, and flan. It was great eating authentic Cuban food! On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Palacio de Valle, a historic villa once owned by the Valle family. It’s now a hotel and restaurant. The building was beautiful. Then we went back to the Jardines de la UNEAC and listened to Los Naranjos play music. Many people danced, which was cool to see. We then went to the rooftop bar at the hotel before heading to bed.
More to come! Stay tuned.