A People-to-People Visit to Cuba

A People-to-People Visit to Cuba

By Violette Gorell

We hear so much about the politics of Cuba, the embargo, Castro, extremely low wages, lack of technology and Cubans who just want to get to the United States. And on the other hand, Cuba calls to mind a pastiche of vibrant images: 1950’s vintage cars, Cuban cigars, rum and wonderful music. The only way to find out what this country is really like is to experience it firsthand. Now, with the People-to-People program, Americans can legally visit Cuba with licensed tour operators. Most people feel the embargo will be lifted at some point and the experience that is Cuba will most certainly change, as it must.

Our nine days in Cuba were full of surprises. The first came at the Miami airport as we prepared to board our special flight to Cienfuegos. The airport was crowded with Cuban Americans travelling to their homeland, loaded with supplies for family members. I had no idea there was so much travel between our countries. After arrival and a delightful stop for lunch, we were scheduled for a performance by the Cienfuegos Choir, our first introduction to the Cuban people. Being tired from the trip I was not really looking forward to it. But they were an amazing surprise; I have never heard voices more beautiful. After the concert, we were able to visit with them, and each was gracious and welcoming.

During our sojourn, we visited artist studios, a dance studio, and rode in Soviet trucks into the Parque Codina Mountains to ate roast pig in the forest. There was beach time where we heard about the pristine reef diving. We couldn’t help but to remember history as we lounged at the Bay of Pigs sipping our rum.

We strolled through a magnificent orchid garden and the fields of a tobacco farmer before sharing cigars and coffee at the home of this very charming man. On our way into Havana, we stopped at Hemingway’s home. It has been preserved just as it was on the day he unwillingly left Cuba. His presence is felt in Havana at his favorite bars and the hotel where he wrote A Farewell to Arms.

I chose this itinerary for the time spent in the countryside rather than just Havana. We all felt, however, that more time could easily be spent in this very diverse city. There are many dilapidated buildings, but also many that have been carefully renovated. Music streams spontaneously from open doorways.

The ride we took along the Malecon in a 1950’s red Chevrolet convertible is unforgettable. Most striking were the people: friendly, smiling and asking us to bring our friends to Cuba. For one of those “trips of a lifetime,” the time to visit Cuba is now!