Cuba: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

“Es complicado,” our Cuban guide, Lázaro, said in acknowledgment to a catechism from one of our group

I was in a bus on a active artery in Havana with fourteen biking assembly (thirteen women and two men) who were touring Cuba with Sisters Beyond the Straits, a accumulation organized and sponsored by the Florida accompaniment affiliate of League of Women Voters. Our purpose was not alone to appointment approved day-tripper stops but to become added abreast about Cuba, the Cuban humans and the country’s history.

Besides Lázaro, we were advantageous to be accompanied by Miami citizen Annie Betancourt, architect of Sisters Beyond the Straits, a Board Administrator of the League and a affiliate for added than three decades. We were the twenty-sixth accumulation Annie has taken to Cuba. She afterwards explained that ‘it’s complicated’ is the accepted acknowledgment Cubans use to call any difficult situation. It’s a adept way of adage there is no acknowledgment to your catechism or conceivably there is no solution. ‘It’s complicated’ became the countersign for our six day chance in Cuba.

Annie was built-in in Cuba and lived there with her parents until she was thirteen years old. That was if the anarchy occurred and Fidel Castro came into power. Her father, an engineer, accepted the changes that were advancing and, like hundreds of added Cubans, confused his ancestors to Miami, acquisitive that their time in that city-limits would be short. But Fidel remained in ability and the ancestors anon accomplished that Miami was their new home.

Annie’s achievement is that these visits will advance alternate compassionate afterwards decades of abreast and disbelief amid the US and Cuba. The itineraries, as you will see, are advised to accommodate League associates with opportunities to apprentice about Cuba’s history, ability and association and to accommodated both bookish experts and accustomed Cuban citizens.

­Day 1.

Our flight from Miami to the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana was just 45 account long, a admonition that Cuba is alone 90 afar from the United States. As anon as our accumulation anesthetized through customs, we boarded the bus and started our bout with a ride through axial Havana and the Capital de la Revolucion. Annie had warned us that we were traveling to a third apple country but it was still a shock to see so abounding barrio that looked as if they had been bombed. Added barrio appeared actual fragile, as if they ability collapse at any moment. However, they were acutely inhabited, with humans traveling in and out of the entrances and others blind ablution from balconies ten or fifteen belief high. The American embargo and a declining abridgement had acutely had a huge impact.

After a cafeteria stop at an alfresco restaurant in a garden setting, we chock-full at the Jose Fuster Studio, the home of a ceramist who has afflicted the breadth breadth he lives. The absolute artery looked like an immense avant-garde painting with ablaze colors imbedded in every yard. But as I got closer, I could see the designs created with active ceramics, anniversary one altered from the one before. The artisan had amorphous this activity by transforming his own aboideau into an busy arena created with ceramics. If neighbors saw the effect, they asked him to do the aforementioned to their homes. He never asked for money, consistently adopting funds through donations and by affairs his own work. Finally, he adapted his absolute courtyard into a bowl masterpiece. Because the American embargo had fabricated ceramics and just about aggregate abroad difficult to obtain, he has been affected to biking abundant distances to acquisition the tiles he needs.

After we arrested in to our acting home, the Auberge Sevilla, and had a abbreviate rest, we abutting Annie and a lot of of our adolescent travelers for a airing through the Capital and Calle Obispo – a banal artery in Haban Vieja (Old City). Our airing concluded at a auberge breadth Annie had planned to accept us eat banquet at its roof-top restaurant. However, like abundant of Cuba, the elevator was not working. A auberge agent arrive us to use the account elevator which was amid about the corner. It angry out to be a small, aphotic box that captivated 5 humans including the elevator operator. Our accumulation went up in shifts; I went up with my eyes bankrupt and my fingers crossed, assertive that anniversary bang meant we were about to attempt to the ground. However, the appearance of the city-limits from the top fabricated it all worthwhile. The aliment was addition story.

After dinner, four of us absolved down six flights (thank advantage there was a bannister) and fabricated our way through the plaza, searching for a taxi. Finally, we begin six of them, all 1950′s automobiles, patched up and roaring to yield us aback to the hotel. We were herded into the backseat of one and enjoyed a bumpy, airy and gasoline alloyed cruise aback to the hotel. As we were accepting out, I noticed that abundant of the age-old upholstery was captivated calm by tape.

Day 2.

At breakfast, I heard about a lot of problems with the rooms. One of our accumulation had hit the jackpot: her window wouldn’t close, the air conditioning didn’t work, and the aperture wouldn’t lock. My traveling companion, Pat, and I had been lucky. Although the allowance was basal (we weren’t assured annihilation else), aggregate worked. In fact, the air conditioning was too algid and we couldn’t assume to about-face it down but we weren’t traveling to complain. The auberge had a admirable pond basin which we enjoyed about every afternoon; except for the endure day if it was bankrupt down at 5:00 bulletin for mosquito spraying!

Our aboriginal stop was the Cuban Admiral to accommodated women who were associates of the Cuban affiliate of the United Nations. The Admiral architecture had been the home of one of the affluent Cuban families who had larboard during the Anarchy and it was still in acceptable shape. Soaya E. Alvarez, Administrator of ACNU Associacion Cubana de las Naciones Unidas, batten to us about Cuba and the United Nations and the accent of appropriation the embargo. The Cuban humans are suffering; salaries are $15 to $20 a month; Lázarus (who has a master’s degree) larboard a government job to become a adviser because he could acquire added money. Although bloom affliction is free, gas and some aliment is rationed and there is not abundant larboard over for luxuries. The Cuban dream is to appear to the US; in 2015/16, 153,000 Cubans accustomed in the US. Humans are abrogation now because they are abashed the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows a aisle to citizenship, will be repealed. Thus, the Cuban workforce has been beneath and the citizenry is aging.

Our next stop was a appointment to El Quitrin, a women’s accouterment boutique sponsored by the Federation of Cuban Women. Annie had appropriate we accompany cilia and all-overs as ability for the women alive actuality as these items, like aggregate else, are in abbreviate supply. At the time of our visit, a lot of of the accomplished dresses and shirts in the boutique were white cotton. The plan on the clothes was amazing but I didn’t acquisition annihilation to buy (for a change).

Later in the afternoon, we visited a bourgeois abbey and heard about the Jewish citizenry in Cuba from a adolescent woman. There are 1200 Jews in Cuba and three synagogues; a archetypal bearings for Jewish humans in any location. But in Cuba, they are either bourgeois or orthodox; the avant-garde ameliorate movement has not accomplished Cuba. However, I was animated to apprehend that girls are accepting Bat Mitzvahs.

That evening, three of us took a auto to a restaurant for banquet and fabricated the associate of a adolescent disciplinarian who batten accomplished English. The auto was cast new, had covering seats and purred as it fabricated its way through town. Our disciplinarian told us it was fabricated in China and purchased by the Cuban government. He was leasing it from the government and administration it with addition driver; anniversary had three canicule on and three canicule off. He was affiliated and had a toddler. If we asked him about President Obama’s visit, he said, with emotion, “Obama is our hero.”

Day 3.

Annie had abiding a appointment to the anew opened U.S. Embassy. I was afraid at the bulk of aegis – our passports were anxiously advised and our accoutrements were checked. We entered through a aboideau and were built-in in a allowance appropriate off the entrance. An admiral administrator who had been beatific to Cuba to adapt for Obama’s appointment gave us an overview of our country’s bearings and answered all our questions. It was absolute and interesting. She encouraged us to collaborate with Cubans to allay any abrogating impressions they ability accept about Americans.

At the end of the sidewalk in foreground of the access to the American Embassy, there is a football acreage of actual alpine atramentous poles that attending like they had been planted. Annie told us that, appropriate afterwards the Revolution, the American Admiral began active a ticker band with a bulletin about abandon forth the top of the building. To retaliate, the Cuban government put up the poles and topped them with the Cuban banderole to block out the tape.

Our next stop was Finca Vigia, the home of Nobel Prize laureate Ernest Hemingway who lived in Cuba from 1930 to 1960. Pat and I had apparent the cine “Papa Hemingway in Cuba” just a few canicule afore our cruise so it was agitative to attending in the windows and doors and see breadth the cine had been filmed. His fishing baiter Pilar has been adequate and is on affectation at the property.

We had cafeteria in Cojimar, a fishing apple that was the accomplishments of Hemingway’s novel, “The Old Man and the Sea.” I looked out at the baptize and could about see the old man canoeing the boat. Cafeteria was at a abreast endemic restaurant run by adolescent bounded entrepreneurs and it was delicious. Abounding restaurants in Cuba are endemic and operated by the government but added and added humans are accepting permission to accessible their own restaurants, a actual acceptable sign.

Day 4.

Breakfasts at the auberge were enormous; 5 ample tables abounding with aggregate from bake-apple to meats to pancakes or eggs and candied breads. By now I knew our lunches would be huge – at atomic four courses – so I ashore to cereal, bake-apple and yogurt (at atomic I anticipate it was yogurt) for breakfasts. I aswell absitively I would not counterbalance myself for a anniversary afterwards I got home.

We absolved through Old Havana and visited the plazas. There were dozens of stands affairs books and artery artists were everywhere, announcement their plan on boards and boxes. One adolescent man followed our group, cartoon quick profiles of a few women and afresh aggravating to advertise the account to the owner. He was appreciably acceptable and we afterwards begin out he was an art student. One woman bought her sketch; afresh apparent that it looked added like addition affiliate of our group. Afresh we visited an artisans’ accommodating and I bought a baby painting to yield home (my aboriginal purchase).

In the afternoon we visited the Museum of Fine Arts- Cuban Collection and I was so addled by the art that I kept affective even if my physique was cogent me to go aback to the auberge and yield a nap. Of advance the elevator was out actuality aswell so we did a lot of walking.

Day 5.

A day in the country! The bus took us through the countryside for over an hour and Lázaro kept us alive with a assignment on Cuba’s history. Now and then, Annie took over the microphone, giving Lázaro a blow and us some accomplishments from the American point of view. We accustomed at anchor point in Valle Vinales in Pinar del Rio Province which is west of Havana. The altered acropolis formations (known as mogotes) are gorgeous; clashing annihilation I’ve apparent before.

Then we confused on to a rum distillery (not abiding that’s what it’s called) and afresh a tobacco farm. We watched a man in fact cycle cigars which about fabricated me wish to smoke one. Of advance I bought some for my husband; he smokes one occasionally but alone if I’m not home.

Lunch was on the balustrade of a absorbing country restaurant. Annie warned us there would be a lot of courses and there were; one afterwards another, anniversary one bigger than the last. Dessert was the best flan I accept anytime eaten.

I anticipation I’d never eat afresh but by 7:30, I was at yet addition restaurant bistro the best eggplant lasagna I’d anytime had.

Day 6.

Time to backpack our accoutrements for our cruise aback to Miami that evening. But in the meantime, we were still moving. We visited a bounded arts and ability bazaar breadth I searched for (and found) a alembic in which to put my 5 adored cigars. I aswell bought a beautiful, hand-made white affection dress for my granddaughter which will apparently not fit but I couldn’t abide it. Next, our accumulation visited an art association activity in close city-limits Centro Habana. An artisan called Salvador Gonzales Escolono aboriginal started developing art from graffiti until galleries opened and it became a artery of art adulatory the African/Cuban experience. Salvador, who was abrogation for Washington and New York the next day, was at his arcade and he told us to “enjoy my country but don’t try to accept it.”

Lunch was at an amoebic acreage that aswell provides commons for humans in need, painting and ecology classes additional classes for individual mothers and seniors. If the government gave the acreage to the ancestors that has produced all this, it was a swamp area. Now they abound 150 altered varieties of fruits and vegetables (plus a little dog that kept accepting underfoot). The lunches advice pay for the chargeless aliment and classes.

Next stop: The airport and the end of our chance in Cuba. But first, I and several added travelers arrested out all the assignment chargeless shops, aggravating to absorb what was larboard of our Cuban money. I acclimatized on two bottles of best rum which my bedmate tells me tastes like bland bourbon.

Last thoughts:

A adolescent adventurer who has been to Cuba afore was afflicted with the amount of chicken cabs and even amphitheater bifold decker buses – all fabricated in China. The Chinese accept aswell congenital an auto branch in Cuba. She noticed lots of tourists from Spain, France, and even a few from Switzerland. I batten to two adolescent men from Germany and a brace of English women who rode the auberge elevator with me. Also, there are a lot of new restaurants. Cuba, she commented, is accouterment to tourists.

The internet is still actual difficult for Cubans to access; it’s big-ticket and slow. The government has amorphous to accessible up WiFi hotspots alfresco of some barrio breadth you will see curve of adolescent humans sitting, standing, aptitude – all with computers in their hands.

Change is accident but it’s slow. Although the country is still beneath the Castro’s, I always heard Cubans call Raul as “pragmatic” compared to his brother. I’m bold this agency he is added accessible to change and to clandestine buying which we accomplished during our visit. Personally, I accept that if the embargo was aerial and the Cuban Adjustment Act repealed, Cubans would be able to appointment America, apprentice from all of us and afresh go home instead of gluttonous citizenship in this country. And the administration of American articles in Cuba would stop the administration and advance every Cuban’s activity immensely. The bear will biking beyond those 90 afar already added and the Cuban humans will be aerial out of abjection and into the twenty-first century. I apperceive ‘es complicado’ but it’s way accomplished time:

Lift the Embargo!