In the early morning of February 1, 2018, a group of 13 curious and adventurous women met at the Miami airport to begin a nine-day excursion for the purpose of discovering various parts of Cuba. Thanks to the people-to-people program we were able to immerse ourselves in a historical, architectural, agricultural and artistic journey of this beautiful country. From the sprawling and fading glory of Havana, it is easy to imagine the beauty and sophistication this city once had. The number and scale of the classic buildings and monuments are indeed surprising and speaks to the prolific construction this once great city experienced. Old Havana’s colonial buildings have earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking the cobblestone streets of this old city and taking in all the old buildings allowed us to experience firsthand what life was like so many centuries ago. Touring the city in classic American cars gave us a taste of what it was like to experience the city in its heyday of fun and glamour.
Throughout its history Cuba experienced much success at a high human rights price. The wealth created by sugar cane, coffee and tobacco would not have been possible without the use of slaves. In the abolition of slavery, many of these farms were no longer sustainable. Today it is possible to see farmers returning to some of these enterprises on a much smaller scale, allowing Cuba’s agricultural heritage to continue. And UNESCO continues to play a role in helping preserve the Sugar Mill Valley, thus allowing us a glimpse into its past.
Cuba isn’t only about history. It has a thriving and colorful artistic expression to it. From the poor fishermen neighborhood where several blocks of homes have been converted into a joyful, mosaic collage to award-winning pottery studios to the beauty of creating art with found objects to native music and dance, the sights, sounds and self-expression of Cuba’s artists speaks to the love and passion that these people have for their country and culture. The enthusiasm with which they share their passion is contagious and welcoming. In true artists’ fashion, their spirit and imagination cannot be contained.
The care and generosity of the Cuban heart is evident in the way it takes care of its children. There are no homeless children in this country. We had the opportunity to visit an orphanage where the extended family concept was very much the norm. Children greeted us with warmth and smiles. Day trips and cultural outings are encouraged. No child is turned away due to lack of space, instead another bed is brought in and the child is welcome. Compassion and acceptance are hallmark characteristics of the staff that is in charge of these children.
In addition to the vibrancy and energy of all this, Cuba also has its quiet moments. The peacefulness and beauty of the mountain ranges and valleys are breathtaking. The gentle Caribbean Sea allows rowers to enjoy the quiet sunrise of each new day, and its gentle beaches allow for miles of walking, swimming or sunbathing. Sunsets give you an opportunity to whisper a quiet thank you to the universe for the joy of experiencing another beautiful day.
The Cuban people are not shy about asking us to return. They welcome more visitors. They want to share their culture, their proud heritage and their country with the world. They are a positive people, very much aware of their rich history, but also excited about the potential of a bright new future they are very much in the process of creating. It is in this people-to-people mindset that they look to build bridges within cultures, a simple yet timely message. Go, discover, enjoy!