In May, I had the good fortune to travel to Cuba with International Expeditions, a tour company that offers cultural tours of Cuba. I expected ten days of old cars, rice & beans and rain every day. Was I in for a big surprise!
The afternoon before our departure for Cuba, our group of twelve met in Miami where we were introduced to Angel, our expedition leader. We were briefed on what to expect during our trip. We completed the paperwork for our visas and had plenty of time to ask questions. We were provided a light dinner and our group had a chance for introductions and getting to know each other a bit.
The next morning, following breakfast at the hotel, we boarded a bus for the airport where we were very efficiently guided through our visa processing and check-in for our flight to Cienfuegos, Cuba. Just a few minutes before our scheduled landing we were informed that due to severe weather in Cienfuegos, we were being forced to return to Miami! We sat on the plane in Miami for a little under an hour and headed back to Cienfuegos, arriving about three hours after our originally scheduled time. We were met by our Cuban guide, Gustavo (Gus), who would remain with us for the rest of our trip. During the short bus ride to the Hotel La Union Gus gave us a little information about what to expect the following day. Because it was getting a little late, he also took our dinner orders, which he phoned in to the hotel. Check-in at the hotel was very quick and efficient, as it would be at each hotel during our trip.
Our first morning in Cuba we went for a walk through the areas around the hotel. We had a chance to visit a farmers market where vendors were offering a variety of fruits, vegetables and meats. While there were a few of Cuba’s famous classic American cars in the area, the more common modes of transportation seemed to be bicycles, horse-drawn carriages and beat-up, old Russian cars.
Our first day continued with a stroll around public squares in a more modern section of Cienfuegos where our guide, Gustavo, explained the history behind many of the buildings, statues and monuments. This was followed by a wonderful private performance by a local professional choir group. Their talent and vocal range was truly outstanding; everyone in our group seemed very impressed! Later in the day, on our way to Trinidad, we visited an old sugar plantation originally owned by Edwin Atkins, a wealthy businessman from Massachusetts. We were given a short tour by the woman in charge of a soon-to-begin restoration project. She also runs the village elementary school located on the same property. We continued on to Trinidad where we visited a well-known pottery studio owned by the Santander family. We also had a chance for Gustavo to take us a walking tour of some areas in Trinidad.
All this was during our first day in Cuba!
To be continued…