My Cuba Trip: The Pre-View

Wednesday, January 4

As you read this post today, I expect to be wending my way home with grandson Mikah after our week in Cuba.

I’ve wanted to see Cuba since my high school Spanish classes, circa 1964.   Of course, that was out of the question, given restrictions my government imposed. It’s possible that the prohibition itself may have added to Cuba’s allure.

The US still prohibits tourist travel to Cuba. There are, however, twelve activities listed on the Treasury Department’s website that will get me in legally and, it turns out, I qualify for three of them. Can you guess which three?

Family visits;
Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations;
Journalistic activity;
Professional research and professional meetings;
Educational activities;
Religious activities;
Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions;
Support for the Cuban people;
Humanitarian projects;
Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes;
Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials;
Certain authorized export transactions.

In preparing ahead of our trip for this post, I looked first for maps.

cuba-map
Thanks to lahistoriaconmapas.com for the image.

This map caught my eye because it reminded me just how close Cuba is to the US, reinforcing for me how strange this fifty-plus-year estrangement has been. So close, yet so very far away.

Over the past twenty years, opportunities to see Cuba arose, but never bore fruit.  Last spring, however, I was perusing Road Scholar online, particularly their many trips to Cuba. I noticed also that they offered trips with grandchildren, which brought Mikah — who was then in his third year of high school Spanish — into the picture.  As Woody has never shared my thirst for Cuba, this trip with Mikah seemed to fall into place.

Unfortunately, Road Scholar doesn’t offer trips with grandchildren to Cuba. Still, the seed had been planted.  I wanted to go to Cuba with my Spanish speaking 17-year-old grandson. There must be a way.

Enter social media buddy, Shirley Showalter, who connected me with Canadian Cuba-phile Jenny Cressman <www.jennicacuba.com> who runs tours to the island a few times a year. Shirley had been on one of Jenny’s trips the previous autumn.

Jenny had no tours that worked for the dates Mikah was free from school, but that didn’t  phase her in the least. Mikah and I could go on our own, she convinced me, over the dates that worked for us. She helped negotiate the ins and outs, like travel insurance, which one  must have, and airport pick up. She even secured for me a front seat in the airport shuttle to the hotel, given my propensity to “feed the fish” when traveling by boat, bus, or car — pretty much anything in motion — unless I’m driving.

Here’s a five-minute photo spread of the area where Mikah and I will be over New Year s, from Jenny’s website <www.jennicacuba.com>.  It’s set to the music of local Cuban, Luisito Rosell, and his band

Do you bring gifts when you travel?  We certainly did when we went to Kazakhstan. There, potholders, refrigerator magnets — ideally with a scene of the U.S. — and chocolate were the commonly suggested gifts to bring from home.

When we travel to see our friends in Holland, Woody loves to bring something with a Native American theme. He’s particularly thrilled if he can find arrowheads for them.

But we’re going to Cuba, a country that has been under a U.S. trade embargo for over fifty years. And, knowing how Cuba was economically propped up by the Soviet Union, I’m curious to see for myself how she has fared since the collapse of the USSR in 1991. From the list of gifts Jenny has suggested, it would appear the  people are suffering.

As I write this (early December), I’ve not yet chosen what gifts we’ll bring. Here’s the short list that Jenny provides on her website:
Clothing of all types & sizes (even light jackets)
Shoes, socks & underwear (for adults & children)
Any basic drugstore or medicine-cabinet supplies
     [Please check expiry dates on consumables!]
Toiletries like deodorant, soap, shampoo, toothbrushes/paste, etc.
Feminine products (tampons & pads) & razors
Paper, pens, pencils, etc. (school supplies & for adults too)
Cell phones (must have a SIM card slot & be unlocked)
USB devices (can be loaded with movies, music, etc.)
Solar yard lights (can be used indoors during power outages)
Wind-up flashlights (batteries can be hard to get)
Flint igniters or lighters for gas stoves (not matches)
Sewing kits (assorted threads, needles, buttons, etc.)
Bicycle tire patching kits (26″ or 24″ tubes too)

 

One of my goals in going to Cuba is to experience this island and her people first hand. There are questions I ask myself.

What do they think of America and Americans? From my time in Kazakhstan, during the George W. years, I learned people can easily separate Americans from America. Indeed, in those years — so soon after we’d invaded Iraq — the only way they could allow me into their lives was to make that separation.

How do they get their information? 

Are they going hungry?  A recent article in the New York Times, brought this question home to me. When I passed this rather critical-of-Cuban-tourism article on to Jenny, she responded with the eye of someone who sees the larger picture and a link to an article from this past summer, from the Havana Times.

Food shortages are a long standing problem for the people of Cuba, but more so in Havana and other urban areas, farther from the farms.  Mikah and I will not  be seeing Havana this trip.

And so an additional goal of mine is to better understand the impact that tourism is having on the people of Cuba. Are they going without so that (relatively) wealthy Americans will have enough?

Here’s a video that the resort has put together, shot via drones.  When I first saw this one, I was concerned that we’d be housed in something akin to a Club Med, with limited access to seeing the “real” Cuba. Jenny assured me that wasn’t the case and Mikah and I have planned a few excursions into the surrounding villages and mountains. Again, the background music is by local musician, Luisito Rosell.

Wondering where we’ll be in Cuba?

Thanks to googlemaps.com for the image.
Thanks to googlemaps.com for the image.

If you look closely at the very southern-most coast, a bit to the west of Santiago de Cuba, you just may see Mikah and me relaxing on one of the beaches. Or is that us having supper in the home of one of the locals we’ve come to know?  We hope to do both while there.

Will we see a baseball game too? Mikah tells me there’s a rum factory nearby; I’ve reminded him of the cigar factory tour.  If he tries one, I tell him, he’ll have to try the other. I’m assuming we’ll both be skipping both.

Together, Mikah and I have eight years of Spanish classes.  Mikah’s are ongoing, including an advanced class at the local university. Mine were a thousand years ago. Needless to say, I’m relying on him to carry me in the language department.

How much help will my portable Spanish-English dictionary be? And, will I find a copy of Marc Frank’s Cuban Revelations before I depart? The answers to these and other questions await our return.

How about you? Have you ever wanted to see Cuba for yourself? 

 

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