What we did, what we saw
Since several people asked, here is a list of activities, events, lectures, meals, and breaks during our week. I have added a few personal items to the official itinerary, which includes the purpose of these activities, referring to interactions with locals to develop a better understanding of their culture, history, accomplishments, and challenges.
My week in Havana is detailed in a separate blog post. Our itinerary follows.
Saturday, April 5, 2014:
- Meet at the charter counter (American Airlines), Tampa airport; check in; depart
- Arrive in Havana; go through customs; transfer to Hotel Bosque
- Orientation meeting with local coordinators
- Welcome dinner (included)
Sunday, April 6, 2014:
- Check out of Hotel Bosque and transfer to Hotel Habana Paseo
- Visit to Revolution Square
- Walking tour of Habana Vieja (Old Havana), the historical and oldest district of Havana
- Plaza Vieja, Mercaderes Street, Plaza de Armas, and the Cathedral
- Drinks at the rooftop bar, Hotel Ambos Mundos, former home of Ernest Hemingway
- Lunch at La Mesón de la Flota in Old Havana (included), Flamenco music and dancing during meal
- Brief walk around Old Havana, Chocolate Museum, a little shopping
- Visit the art studio of Salvador Gonzalez, Callejón de Hamel, a street cultural project; meet the artist; Afro-Cuban cultural performance
- Stop at John Lennon park, see John Lennon statue on park bench, sculpted by Cuban artist José Villa Soberón; meet Juan Gonzalez, the 96-year-old caretaker who puts glasses on Lennon’s statue for tourist photos.
- Stop at Submarino Amarillo Night Club where local bands cover Beatles’ songs
- Brief rest (and shower) at hotel
- Dinner at La Divina Pastora restaurant near the fort (not included)
- Cultural activity at Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña including cannon firing ceremony at flank of fortress.
Photos from Sunday:
Monday, April 7, 2014:
- Visit the Literacy Campaign Museum, meeting with Professor Luisa Campos from the Pedagogical University and Director of the Museum, followed by a discussion of the project’s impact on education and culture
- Meeting with Leima Martinez and the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People (ICAP or Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos). Founded in 1960 to foster communication and connection with the international community.
- Lunch at El Carmelo in the Vedado neighborhood where our hotel was also located (included)
- Back to Old Havana for some strolling, shopping, and a soda on Obispo Street (on our own)
- Brief rest (and shower) at hotel
- Performance by (amazing) Okan-Tomi dance group, director and choreographer, Juan Carlos Silvera. This community project explores and reworks Afro-Cuban dance and music traditions.
- Explore and have dinner at Hotel Nacional on our own (not included).
- Taxi ride back to our hotel in a ’52 Chevy.
Photos from Monday:
Tuesday, April 8, 2014:
- Presentation by Dr. Esteban Morales on Cuban history, society, and culture, with an emphasis on racism and racial issues, and the need to increase research and dialogues on this topic to reduce the incidence of discrimination
- Visit to the Fine Arts Museum, with a discussion on Cuba’s dedication to art education and how artistic styles have evolved over the years
- Lunch at Conde de Villa Nueva in Old Havana (included)
- Visit the Organic Agricultural Urban Cooperative of Alamar, meeting with Miguel Salcines López, president of the cooperative, learning about their challenges and successes in supplying goods to the marketplace, as well as how they manage planting, sustainability, and pest management, and touring the farm.
- Brief rest (and shower) at hotel.
- Meeting at the hotel conference room with members of the Community Project Espiral, a grassroots organization dedicated to educating young people on environmental issues and sustainable development. Discussion with the college students and young professionals who volunteer for this organization.
- Dinner at Unión Francesca, three blocks from the hotel (not included). Note: This was a late dinner and three of us decided to sit in the rocking chairs on the front porch of our hotel, munching on cheese, nuts, and granola bars we had packed to bring for snacks.
Photos from Tuesday:
Wednesday, April 9, 2014:
This is the official itinerary as taken from the original notes we were sent.** I opted out for several reasons including a concern about mosquitos (I was already pretty bitten up from a few days we spent in Florida before this trip) and a sensitivity to the fragrances in the bug repellant I anticipated I’d encounter. Although neither of these concerns materialized, I knew that once I got on the bus, I’d be committed to what could have been an unpleasant experience for me. I know that I missed what sounded like a lovely trip, but I think having a little time to myself really recharged me. While everyone was out on the tour, I spent the day wandering around the neighborhood by the hotel (Vedado), taking lots of pictures and talking with neighborhood people I met along the way. I hooked up with the group for dinner.
- Depart for Pinar del Rio to visit Las Terrazas, a biosphere reserve and national park in the Sierra del Rosario of Pinar del Rio. Walk around the community of 1000 inhabitants and meet local artists. Learn about the history of this community, founded in 1970, and the massive reforestation program implemented in the early ’70s, followed by discussion between participants, reserve staff, and workers.
- Dialogue with local artists to learn about their work and the process of marketing and selling their artwork, discussing experiences and knowledge about the arts in the US
- Lunch at La Casa del Campesino (included) and the chance to talk with individuals about Cuban art and culture.
- Visit Café de María and have discussions with local coffee producers and vendors to learn about those markets and how they interact with private restaurants and other small businesses.
- Visit the San Juan River and learn about the natural pools that are still used today by local residents for recreation.
- Return to Havana, brief rest (and shower) at hotel
- Group dinner at Gringo Viejo (not included)
Photos from Wednesday (Note that these photos were taken on my walk around Vedado and do not reflect the activities listed above):
Thursday, April 10, 2014:
- At the Fine Arts University (Instituto Superior de Arte) for a guided tour by director, Sonia Ortega. Visit several of the studios (printmaking, painting, and sculpture). Meet José Ramón Villa Soberón, the sculptor who made the John Lennon statue, as well as “El Caballero de Paris” (which we saw the next day).
- Visit to the home and art studio of ceramic and mosaic artist, José Fuster. Lunch on the property (included) with a chance to briefly explore Fuster’s influence around the neighborhood.
- Visit the Arts and Crafts Market to buy souvenirs, listen to music, see artwork, and (in our case) share a great big coconut
- Brief return (and shower) at the hotel
- Dinner at El Cocinero (not included)
Photos from Thursday:
Friday, April 11, 2014:
- Walking tour to view and discuss the architecture of Old Havana, led by architect Miguel Coyula to point out World Heritage sites and restoration work that has been completed or is currently in progress. (Included a stop to see the statue of El Caballero de Paris by José Ramón Villa Soberón and a brief visit to the lobby of the Hotel Los Frailes in Old Havana).
- Visit to the Museum of the Revolution, which had been the Presidential Palace of all Cuban presidents from Mario García Menocal to Fulgencio Batista (1920-1959).
- Lunch on our own (not included). Three of us took one of our guides out for lunch at Sloppy Joe’s, a recently restored bar and restaurant that was popular with Americans during prohibition and until the revolution. Our guest was unaware that Sloppy Joes also refers to a type of meal (which three of us ordered), much as we were unaware that there is no such thing as a “Cuban Sandwich” over there.
- We had the afternoon free, so our guide arranged a horse and buggy ride for us with our driver, Luis, and his horse, Peter Pan. Our tour took us to a number of streets and areas in Old Havana that we had yet to see. At my request, we stopped at Adath Israel, the Orthodox Synagogue in Old Town. (I had a number of questions about the Jewish communities in Cuba but we only had Luis and Peter Pan for the hour, so I didn’t get to see or ask much. Still, I’m glad we stopped there and the woman we met was very nice and accommodating.) The ride also took us past Palacio de la Ursulinas, Arab Revival architecture; the Bacardi Building, Art Deco architecture; and the one-block Chinatown, after Luis agreed to extend our trip to take us all the way back to the hotel. A wonderful “last tour” of the city.
- Brief stop (and shower) at hotel.
- Dinner at El Templete restaurant in Old Havana (included) followed by a farewell party at the Madrigal Bar back by our hotel. They offered an open bar and snacks and many of the people we had met on our tour were in attendance, so we got to chat in a more informal setting. We walked the two blocks back to the hotel.
Photos for Friday:
Saturday, April 12, 2014:
Saturday was our departure and return to Tampa. My roommate and I had booked a room at the Tampa Marriott and were glad that we did. After lunch in the airport with a couple of people from the tour, Jo Ann and I went up to our room and both fell asleep. We woke up for dinner and then went back to bed. We spent Sunday having a big breakfast and just hanging out at the pool until our 7 pm flight back to Albuquerque. It took me almost a full week to recover from all of this activity during which time, I worked on the photos linked from this blog.
Read my blog and observations and highlights from the trip: A Week in Havana.
*I have taken pictures of kids (infants to mid-20s) all over the world. These and other photos (some from friends and some clip art from before I had built up my collection) run as a slide show before my presentation and during the breaks. The show now includes pictures of kids from more than 50 countries, Cuba now included.
**If the actual itinerary was different, please let me know and I’ll bring this list up to date. Thanks.
© 2014, Dr. Jane Bluestein
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