On May 1st, I took a trip to Cuba under the people to people license through the Grand Circle Foundation. I’m honored to have been mistaken, over and over again, for a “Naturales Cubana” because the people are the most open, most curious, most friendly i’ve ever met in my life. If for no other reason, then for the people, Cuba is a magical place to visit. Like a place stuck in time, and yet inching toward the modern world around it, Cuba opens my eyes to the inconsistencies of human nature, the irrevocable damage of human greed, as well as the natural goodness of the human heart and the universal language in a human smile. Cuba is a place of contradiction. Internally and externally it challenges my senses and my sensibilities. Below are excerpts of my journal entries-
Cuba Day 1.
What a day!
I had a great time. I love CUBA! It’s such a nice place.. I danced tonight till I was soaking wet, like we do back home. Also laughed a lot and had a really good time. I was thinking may be I should come here to do my Masters.. Would be interesting. I’d love to move here. It’s a crazy but beautiful place.
We walked around old Havana, saw a modern dance group, and visited a neighborhood art community. They sang, we danced, we ate, we got to see art, we had such a fantastic experience. It really is a treasure on our itinerary. A guy literally told me I need to exercise.. It was hilarious.
Now back in bed. My roommate is sweet, gorgeous and a little ditsy. But we get along well. I like her. It’s so nice to see all these Cuban people giving me kisses and remembering me. Teehee!
Cuba Day 2-3
Wow! What a couple of days!
So yesterday was a good day. Loooong but really fun. I got to see a lot and meet up with many loves of mine.
We started the morning with Dominoes, I played with our bus driver. We won! Then we went to the Senior Center and later to the Ludwig Foundation. They are our partners in Cuba and we got to meet and hang out with the interns who came to Boston. It was so nice to see them again. More activities in the evening and a solid debrief left me feeling really good.
I met Sumedha. in the night. We had a drink at the hotel, then went into Old Havana to a nice bar. We drank some more, then bought a small bottle of white rum and went to sit by the ocean. We smoked cigarette’s and drank rum out of the bottle till 330am. Then I went back to the room. Showered, threw up and packed- we were leaving the hotel at 4am. Anyway, the plane we had to take was an old Russian cargo plane that opened in the back. It was crazy and awesome. It got really cold though because there didn’t seem to be weather control inside the plane (why would you need such a thing on a cargo plane anyway!) so i was frozen solid, and only survived without hypothermia (i like to exaggerate) because our local guide Elias gave me his jacket. He is the most wonderful man. Like a Papa to me, i love the smile he gets on his face when he sees me in the morning (or any time really) coming toward me saying “ Pavvviiiiiii!!!!” 😀
When we got to Baracoa it was like Matara. A small town. The itinerary wasn’t very great but we had some significant down time. I got my work done. Our team leaders challenged us to write about our impression of Cuba. So I did that and hung out with my roommate. Julie is sooo nice and chilled out. We laughed a lot and really enjoy each others company. So I had a nap, then hung out with the group a little before dinner.
The debrief tonight was.. um… Eventful. Our team leaders of the day got a lot of feedback negative and positive. They handled it well. Then we had to read the little thing we wrote. The judges judged and I WON! I got a bottle of 7 year old Havana club rum. But then this guy decided to be an ass- my roommate is crying. Pau aney, she just brought up a really good point and he just kind of freaked out. Anyway, we’ll see what happens in the week to come.
Sigh what a day! I hate conflict! And dealing with conflict in a constructive way was my fear. I know it didn’t happen to me but I really want to learn from this. So I’m helping Julie.
We have such a GREAT group. We’ll see if I feel this way by the end- but today I was disappointed in this reaction we got.
I hope it gets better and not worse. Here is the piece i wrote which won me the bottle of rum.
“We can smell the freedom,”announced Orlando Sanchez reflecting on the recent openness to Jazz in Cuba. Also known as “Cuba Jazz” and a leader in the industry Orlando and the group led by Alexis Bosch were such a delight! We had the pleasure of sitting in on a rehearsal. Watching the playful back and forth between the trumpet and the sax- laid on a soul swaying foundation of keyboard, bass and percussion; the story of jazz in Cuba comes alive in this interaction.”
Cuba Day 4
What a day! I’m pretty sure I started yesterday’s entry the same way. But really today was great. Being May 4th I’m not surprised. Good things happen on May 4th.
We started the day with breakfast and had a tour of the town, met some artists, went to a native Taino Indian village and after all the work stuff went to the beach. I have one photo, but the others have some good ones too. We swam and spent about 2 hours or more at the beach. We got more work done in the evening, then had a lovely and fun dinner. When we got dessert it was a plate of chocolate custard and I got dared to put my face in it. Of course I did. 🙂 lol there is a video.
After dinner and debrief we all decided to go out into the town. But first we had some drinks at the hotel. We talked about the weirdest places we’ve had sex. Lol I told a few, then we all went into town and to a club on a rooftop called Las Terrazas. It was weird. As soon as we walked in this guy grabbed me, kissed me on the cheek and said that I look Cuban but I’m more beautiful and sexier. I said thank you and walked away. Anyway, danced with a few people, not even grinding. One guy had huge muscles and was crushing my arm a little. Nothing exciting. Not drunk, not out of control. But that first guy kinda got aggressive with one of the girls in my group.. Then the guys got all worked up. Lol
Anyway, we’re back now. I showered. And I’m going to sleep.
Cuba Day 5
I had a good day for my ego. We went to a cocoa farm in the morning. The farmer was being silly and making fun of me. We had lots of laughs- about aphrodisiacs, “Modern Love Tongues”- which turned out to be Mother-in-law tongue, and limp cylindrical bread fruit. It was such a fantastic visit.
The next stop was a coconut farm. It was ok, there were chickens everywhere, and you know I don’t like having birds on me and around me. They scared me so much, and really annoyed me and made it difficult to enjoy the visit. I love birds from afar, but I hate birds up close. They should be wild and free and appreciated.. No need to get close to me. 😦 Later in the evening I apologized to the team for my fear, and told them I hope my fear didn’t get in the way of their enjoyment.
Anyway, we went for lunch and there was this band. Banda Tropical. (Funny their name has Banda in it! :))
There was the lead singer who had a magical voice. Of course he knew I knew, and then everyone was making fun of me. We all bought their CD because they were so good. We were joking about how much I was into him. They told him I want to know if he’s single. Anyway, one of the girls took the CD I bought and asked the guy to sign it. He did. He gave me his number and email, and said “with love to you Pavi.”
Anyway, apparently they are playing at the bar I went to last night. I would like to go see them, because they are very good.
Don’t make fun of me and my Cuban boyfriends, because now I have another story.
The dinner after the children’s choir the restaurant was called ” El Poeta” so the owner of the restaurant is a poet- he called me up and made up a poem about me.
It went something like this- you shine like the brightest star in the sky. Your energy is like the sun. Your eyes are magnetic and fiery, drawing people in. And what will you do to subside the passion you arouse in men.” LOL
After dinner we came back to the hotel, and debriefed. It was good and uneventful. Anyway, Sonia (the Russian girl who works with me) was urging me to go down to the terrace bar and see the band. So I agreed. Finally we were convinced to go and it was a GREAT idea.
Sonia, Andrew and I somewhat unsure and even reluctantly head down to the bar; even as we went arguing friendly ly about the sound of the music being too loud to be the band we saw at lunch. We paid the CUC entrance fee and walked up to the terrace. As we entered I saw colourful costumes. What a difference from the night before! Gone was the loud bass driven music, and bodies gyrating to the latest and greatest reggeaton songs. People sat at the tables and stood along the edges, as a pretty young woman and man, emceed a concert with live music and beautiful dances.
From 11 to midnight there was live music by Banda Tropical, the band we saw at lunch. We found ourselves seated next to the choreographer of the dancers, who,dressed in colourful, extravagant costumes with head dresses accompanied the music. The choreographer Yolanda, who turned out to be a transvestite, was a delight. Sonia, so very taken up by her welcoming heart gave away her beautiful earrings- a small price to pay for a friendship I think.
When the band noticed our presence at the side of the stage they hurried to welcome us during an intersession, and brought us a stool and thus began one of the most memorable nights of my time in Cuba.
The music was beautiful, Yaroldis was flirty, but playing hard to get. It was funny! I really appreciated the support and confidence from my partners in crime! While we enjoyed our mojitos, Cuba libres and Cervesas Ernesto who we had met the night before also joined our little corner. It felt so amazing to know so many locals and have them welcome us as friends. I’ll never forget the comment Ernesto made seeing Sonia smoke a cigar, about not seeing many women smoke cigars- only “another kind of cigar.” Of course it could have been offensive ( and it was) but it wasn’t the kind of atmosphere to make you angry. I smacked Ernesto, playfully at his comment and we continued into the night.
When the band finished playing they came down and joined us. With broken Spanish and help from Gillian and Sonia I managed to have a fantastic interaction for an hour and a half with Yaroldis and his band mates Haisy and Joelmis. Yaroldis and I knowing full well the slightly awkward, slightly exciting situation we were in, were shy and timid. But by the end of the night I had 3 more friends in Cuba.
We shared much of our lives, and many laughs. I got to dance with a handsome Cuban man with the voice of an angel. I refuse to minimize the impact of his voice and their music on my very soul and I explained to them as best I could how much I felt in my heart the music they were making. They in turn held nothing back curious about my life, and like all good friends teased Yaroldis and myself to no end!!
With great difficulty we tore away from our new friends and returned to the hotel. Even now as I lay here ready for the bliss of sleep I can’t stop smiling. Yaroldis, Haisy, Joelmis, the smile on my face, and the songs that touched my soul… This is Cuba.
I can’t wait to be in touch with them- and return once more to meet them. I can’t wait to share my experience and their music with anyone I meet. It’s been such a fantastic stay in Baracoa. It is amaaazing! Now on to Santiago and hopefully another great experience in this paradise island.
Cuba Day 6
Today we left Baracoa and came to Santiago. We worked on the bus. Nothing special. Laughed with the others, had a nice dinner and debrief. Then went to send some emails. Instead of going for drinks with the others I came to the room, listened to the Banda Tropical CD like 8 times. Let the music go into me, and let my soul and body react to it. Then like a fucking idiot I took my contacts off in the sink. I only have 1 more. So for the rest of the trip I’m gonna be blind in one eye. Urghhhh
Most of the day was spent on the bus, and dinner was generally uneventful. We danced, did a conga line- took a picture with our server who took me back to a time when life had a different pace to it. May be it’s politically incorrect, but he was yet another character in this journey and as we’ve learned from our week here- Cuba is full of characters!
Cuba Day 7
I’m so tired. Wearing only one contact lens was the worst idea. Gave me a headache. Plus its sooo hot here, but not so humid. So I’m not sweating and its making me feel sick. Need to drinks lots and lots of water.
Haven’t gone out since the day before yesterday. Feeling sick, and low on funds.
Today was good. City tour of Santiago de Cuba.. Gorgeous and busy place. I thought it would be like Havana but its different. Had a fun experience at lunch, the food was good and we all had 3 pina coladas each!! Compared to US things are so cheap here! Well, food and drinks are cheap. When we told the waiter we need a receipt to show our company how much we spent for lunch, he just gave us a receipt with $50 written on it and told us to keep the money!! Hahah hilarious! He then gave Mike a kiss. LOL he seemed a little gay when I think of it. 🙂
After lunch we visited 2 artists. Fascinating people with great stories- both old in their early 80s. If I had money I would have bought more art from them. Then in the evening after a short break, back for a performance and dinner. Of course they asked me to dance first, and the lady said I have a sparkle in my eye.. Lol it always happens to me. Had dinner with a group, laughed a lot and soooo happy to be in bed before 10.
8am meeting tomorrow and another long day. But it should be fun also.
Alright.. Just got under the sheets and my eyes are already closing. Another 3 days and I’ll be home.
Cuba Day 8
As it happens, I’m writing this on the morning of Day 9. Tomorrow we return to America. The end to this adventure.
Yesterday I woke up and I wasn’t myself. I had a migraine caused by dehydration. It’s hot in Santiago de Cuba, but not as humid as Baracoa so I didn’t feel myself sweating. I guess I didn’t drink enough water the day before. But I was determined to be a part of the activities. So I sucked it up, drank about 6 bottles of water and went through the day.
I guess everyone could see I wasn’t myself. They all looked out for me, asking me many times if I was ok. I felt well loved. First we went to a church. The patron saint of Cuba, the virgin of charity- it was a beautiful church and I was moved by the spirit I felt inside. I bought a bunch of people candles and I lit one myself. I don’t have much to pray for, because i have so much, so i prayed for others, for family and friends to get through the difficult times.
Then we went on a small boat ride and visited with some fisherman. It was a great interaction. I was still low energy, but lunch was delicious. Fish and shrimp and the location was beautiful too. After another boat ride back to the mainland, we took the bus to see a folk dance. They were fantastic, a little loud but I think that’s because of the migraine. But it was hilarious because we were talking about the two gods and their styles, the man-Chango- is full of sexual moves because he represents virility, and the woman-Ochun- and man have a love story so they were pretty sensual. We laughed, and then asked our leader (who has absolutely no sense of rhythm) to get a little lesson on the dance moves. After more laughter we returned to the hotel- I showered and passed out. The only thing I was going to miss in the evening was dinner, so I didn’t mind. I slept and watched TV and had dinner in the room. By dinner i mean, subpar spaghetti carbonara with parmesan cheese that actually tasted like dessicated potatoes and not like cheese at all. Not good.
By the time it was debriefing I felt like myself again. Went for the meeting, and then spent a couple of hours chilling with the group. Didn’t drink anything because I didn’t want to get dehydrated again. But just talked and chilled and enjoyed.
Now I’m up and ready for Day 9. Tomorrow we return to the US. I’m happy and sad. Happy to be going home- but sad because I love Cuba.
Cuba Day 9-10
It’s day 10. I’m in the airport. A little hung over and exhausted from last night. It sounds like a lot of people cut loose, I don’t recall it being quite as crazy as they make it sound. I drank a lot of rum, and smoked a cigar.
Anyway, I felt so much better yesterday morning. We had breakfast and then a lecture on religions in Cuba. Then we played dominoes with some seniors at a senior center and head to lunch and a visit at El Morro Castle. It’s an old fort from the Spanish times and it was so so beautiful. Then a huge storm came through and it was also so so beautiful. Reminded me of home with the cool winds that tosses your hair and livens your spirit. The anticipation, the tension of Rain or Uvia as its called in Spanish added a spicy touch to the atmosphere.
We came home and had a quick dip in the pool. Before our final meeting to identify the Top 3 recommendations. Afterward we went to a little sketchy neighbourhood for a dance performance by children. They were late, so we stepped out to the local Santeria market and I had my very first bad-ish experience in Cuba. This woman was kind of aggressive with me asking for soap and stuff. Luckily AJ ( our group leader) saw me struggling and saved me. Anyway, the dance was fun. We all had to dance with the kids afterward and I got some funny funny videos!
Anyway, dinner was fun. I had 3 mojitos then we came back to the hotel and got to ride in old time cars- my group got the best car! It was a convertible, and it was hilarious. We laughed and sang- and the party continued back at the hotel. I think I went up to sleep at around 130am. After we got back to the hotel I was pretty low energy though.
We woke up at 630am and now its 830 we are at the gate at the airport. I was so sad to say goodbye to Elias our local guide. He was like a Papa to me. Very loving and wonderful. For my second time in Cuba I’m enthralled- every time I come I love it more and more.
Now onward home, to life, to family, to problems, to work, to birthday.. The comfort of Cuba is almost behind me now. And I’m tired already thinking about what’s waiting for me back home. But the sun has made me stronger, the wind has made me stronger and the rain has rejuvenated me. Cuba is in my blood now, it is a part of my soul.