Written by El Gallo on 14 Oct, 2001
Grog And Rations
If you've noticed a theme about this story, it would probably be, "Not bad...and great for the money." Well, the same could be said about the food. Michelin wouldn't give it five stars, but you could do worse in a…Read More
Grog And Rations
If you've noticed a theme about this story, it would probably be, "Not bad...and great for the money." Well, the same could be said about the food. Michelin wouldn't give it five stars, but you could do worse in a lot of decently expensive restaurants. I never heard the slightest complaint about the food. I personally thought it was good to great. I'm thinking specifically of a heart of palm/mushroom mix on the salad bar, absolutely excellent eclairs and pastries, fried bananas for breakfast, and some spiced sliced pork ala Cubana.
The chef is Mexican (which always works out well), with Cuban helpers. So they can do their regions, but have an international and eclectic taste, using what works best. For instance, they sensibly stick pretty close to American ideas of breakfast food: eggs (as you like them...as long as you like them scrambled), bacon, hotcakes, cereals...but throw in refried black beans, a lot of tropical fruit, and some flaky croissants.
Lunch and dinner both feature long salad bars (with an odd dressing selection restricted to Thousand Island and Mayo, but offering several bottles of balsamic or pear vinegar) and a selection of rolls and bread by their anonymous but gifted baker. Lunch always offers a choice between hot dishes and cold meats, cheeses and sandwiches. Dinner entrees range from Caribbean pork dishes to steaks, fried fish, damn tasty drumsticks...and some real dessert romps by those pastry guys. Kiwi tarts and mocha pies and such. And remember...it's "all you can eat". Not "all you should eat without making a total slobbering swine out of yourself", but "all you can eat". It's buffet-style service, grab a plate and load up. Other than the self-serve aspect, service is excellent, as it tends to be anywhere aboard. There don't seem to be many waiters for the number of diners (200 at each of the two sittings) but they provide excellent coverage. No glass stays empty long, no dirty dish lingers, no trip out to the bar takes long at all, no problem in replacing your dropped fork or cloth napkin. They cover the waterfront through sheer hustle and are full of good spirits, charm, and tips on places to visit in Havana. The waiter in my section had even prepared a xeroxed slip of recommendations. And did I mention you can eat all you can eat? Not to mention drink all you can drink. The short itinerary trip includes seven meals, plus snacks several times each day in the poolside bar and at midnight in the piano bar. Beats the hell out of airline chow.
It may be one of those "well-kept travel secrets" abroad, but in Cuba and Caribbean Mexico, The Boat is almost inevitable. Tell somebody you flew to Havana and you end up having to explain yourself: "Why didn't you take The Boat?"…Read More
It may be one of those "well-kept travel secrets" abroad, but in Cuba and Caribbean Mexico, The Boat is almost inevitable. Tell somebody you flew to Havana and you end up having to explain yourself: "Why didn't you take The Boat?" People ask about your new girlfriend and you get nods of full comprehension when you say, "I met her on The Boat." Local travel agencies advertise it as the "Crucero a La Habana", but everyone on the Mayan Riviera knows what The Boat is.
Except that what exactly The Boat is depends a lot on who you are and what you're all about. If you're a tourist on a Cancun beach, it appears as a pretty mini-ocean liner that mysteriously anchors off shore then disappears. If you're a Cancun tourist who is looking for a new pastime after doing the sunburning, ruin visiting, nightlifing, dolphin molesting, and eco-touring, it's the ultimate side-trip: a cruise to an exotic and slightly disreputable destination. If you're a traveler, it represents the best, most fun, and cheapest way to get to Cuba. If you're a businessman, or somebody's Man In Havana, you "take The Boat" as the ultimate alternative to a red-eye special. If you collect cruises, this has got to be the cheapest one in the world, and one of the most unique. If you just want to hole up for three days with an unlimited open bar and buffet, sundeck and TV movies, it'll be that for you, too. If you're a smuggler, it's a golden opportunity.
The Boat itself is neutral on the topic. It's of moderate size at 130 meters and 10.000 tons, and much more in the cozy old "ocean liner" mold than today's "floating office building" mode of Princess-class monstrosities. Compared to the glass box designs it looks smooth, sporty, and well...shipshape. It is given to round lines (even the disco and pool are round) and takes a pretty good stab at that feeling without going overboard on needless luxury. The interior has been described as a glorified ferryboat. Low ceilings look like aluminum siding and some of the larger salons resemble a VFW bingo hall in a double-wide mobile home. But there is nevertheless some class about the layout. There might be Formica and fairly cheesy carpeting, but there is also brass and polished hardwood. Electrical and plumbing fixtures are fist rate and in good repair. Cabins are cozy, and the beds are soft and comfy, with simple linens--a sort of Norwegian look. Sparkling white baths have little soaps and shampoo and cool little showers with lots of very hot water and nice thick fluffy towels. The cabins don't look like hotel rooms because nobody saw any reason to make them look that way. They look like cabins on a ship. They have portholes, marine plumbing, bunk beds, clever little drawers and closets and foldaways. Denial is pointless: you're on a ship, not the 34th floor of a Howard Johnson's. The point is this: you aren't on a cheap version of a cruise ship, you're on a very luxurious ferryboat...
Which is one way to look at The Boat--as one of the major portals into Cuba. Any given trip has a large contingent of "I'm a traveler not a tourist" types, business people, visiting families, This diversity of motives on The Boat create an interesting cross-section of passengers and make it a fun place to meet people. International roadwarriors with "hostel bum" written all over them loll in the unaccustomed luxury and get wide-eyed over the showers rub backpacks with junketeers from Cancun who are essentially treating their kids to a sort of floating Disneyland. Retirees discussing grander cruises of years past with jaded businessmen whiling away their nteenth crossing with unlimited drinks in the piano bar. Cuban-Mexican families look askance at the sprinkling of retro-commies hauling in medical goods for Solidarity, unaware of the bureaucratic nightmare they are about to step into. MTV Spring Breakers going over for a week or two, intent on music/dance, international politics, cheap sex, and punching an envied "I been there" ticket end up sharing dinner tables or jacuzzis with "their parents" who are chatting about cigars and deals on paintings for their rumpus rooms. At my table in the second meal seating: a ballerina from Philadelphia going over to learn Spanish, an Irish family just trying to do something totally-unIrish, a permanently traveling Argentine trio speaking every known language without accents, two busty American blondes who spent the whole trip on the sundeck in bikini bottoms and fragrant marinade and didn't really seem to have a very good grasp of where they were heading or why. In fact, they didn't even go ashore in Havana, just sunned themselves, nursed hangovers, and got completely drunk all over again. The motto of The Boat could well be "To Each His Own".
But even judged as a cruise, The Boat stands out as an amazing bargain. For under two hundred dollars (plus $45 port tax for those reconstructed communists) You get two days and two nights at sea, plus the port call in Havana. That includes all you can eat and drink, 24 hour closed-circuit movies in your cabin, pool and sundeck, jacuzzis, sauna, two Cuban floor shows, casino gambling, duty-free store, and a round of activities ranging from nitwit games to music lessons with the dancers and band. It wouldn't take much imagination to see the trip as a return to the glory days of liners from Miami to Old Havana. Take in the rumba show, then go play some roulette and picture the guy over at the blackjack table as Ernest Hemingway running guns to rebels for the Mob.
But whoever you are and whatever your reasons for boarding The Boat, there is a universal bottom line: you get a hell of a lot for your money. With Havana thrown in.
Written by fizzytom on 01 May, 2007
Due to Cuba’s precarious position in the global economy, it should come as no surprise that petrol is a more valued commodity than it is elsewhere. Although Cuba is able to buy some supplies of petrol, it is at a premium and any ways of…Read More
Due to Cuba’s precarious position in the global economy, it should come as no surprise that petrol is a more valued commodity than it is elsewhere. Although Cuba is able to buy some supplies of petrol, it is at a premium and any ways of conserving it and making the most of what is available are championed by the Cuban government. As a result, it is considered wrong to leave empty spaces in your car, if you have one, and except for sensitive military vehicles, all vehicles on government business are obliged to pick up hitchhikers.All over Cuba, you will see people at the side of the road thumbing a lift. Even when there is a bus service it will probably be late so you may as well see if you can pick up a lift while you’re waiting.Such is the culture of hitchhiking that at busy locations there is even a hitchhiking marshall to make sure everything goes smoothly. He, or she, is known as an “amarillo” (or “amarilla”) because of the distinctive yellow uniform (amarillo is the Spanish word for yellow) and stands holding a clipboard by the side of the road. Sometimes, the amarillo has an elevated seat to see what traffic is coming. You tell the Amarillo where you want to go and he writes it on his list. Then, as he flags down each passing vehicle with spare seats, he asks the driver where he is going and checks his lists to see who should go in this vehicle; it may not necessarily be for the whole journey, it may only be to the next hitching point but the amarillo knows how best to get people to their destinations.We once used the services of the amarillo to get us a lift and managed to make our journey in three different vehicles arriving about the same time as the bus we had missed. Another time, we tried to pick up our own lift without success until a passing policeman took charge of the situation, flagged down the next vehicle, and got us a lift halfway to our destination. We have no idea why it was so hard to get a lift but it proved that help from an official is invaluable, so try to hitch with an amarillo if possible.On one occasion we were waiting an eternity for a service bus near the Bay of Pigs when a local taxi driver pulled up. He had picked us up from the local crossroads a few days earlier, and got us to squeeze, literally, into his car with four others. It was uncomfortable and it was hot but we got to where we wanted to go; just as well Cubans have little problem with personal space. They just accept being pushed up against strangers and get on with it.Since most vehicles are bordering on the unroadworthy and the roads aren’t much better, you are unlikely to be able to shout above the noise and strike up a conversation with the driver or your fellow passengers but they will smile, make you feel welcome and probably offer you something to eat. It’s not the best way to meet people in Cuba but it’s certainly a fun way to get from A to B.Money does not usually change hands but you may wish to at least offer a few Pesos, especially if you have traveled some distance. It is likely to be turned down but it is a nice gesture all the same. One last piece of advice, since space is at a premium, you may not get a lift if you have big backpacks. Traveling light is the best way to improve your chances of getting a lift. Close
Written by am331 on 19 Sep, 2005
I wanted to briefly talk about Cuba’s economy and some of the changes made in the last ten years or so. One of the first things I noticed when I visited Cuba, was how many more cars there are than I remember from my visit…Read More
I wanted to briefly talk about Cuba’s economy and some of the changes made in the last ten years or so. One of the first things I noticed when I visited Cuba, was how many more cars there are than I remember from my visit in 1991. At that time there was no gas, so people used bikes sent from China. Now, ten years after the USSR dissolved, Cuba has been slowly pulling itself out of the economic mire it was in in the '90s, largely due to tourism and a dual peso-dollar economy. Prior to the '90s, Cubans were not allowed to own dollars and I think you could get into big trouble for having them. Then, with the fall of the USSR, about 85% of the trade that Cuba depended on just disappeared, and Cuba had to think fast about a quick form of revenue, and they decided on tourism. It seems to have helped a great deal. There are many many old U.S. cars here, and I mean OLD--from the '30s, '40s, and '50s! I don’t know how they even get parts to keep them operational, but they must be resourceful because they do run, and many are used as 50-cent taxis to most parts of Havana.
In terms of jobs, education is paid for by the government, and there is supposedly no illiteracy in the country. School is actually mandatory until 9th grade, and all educational supplies are free, including books, pens, etc. Also, you are supposedly guaranteed a job after college, but the catch is that you can't study something that isn't "needed". (I assume the government decides what is needed.)
During my short stay, I was amazed at their tremendous strength of spirit, to see people on TV and meet people like us and other tourists who have things they wish they could have and cannot and know that it'll never change. One of our friends told us he makes $10 a month and can’t afford to buy anything with it; for instance, his shorts cost $14! Most people told us they get by in two ways – family abroad or a side (secret) business, like raising pigs, making wine, or, if they live in the rural areas, selling products from the capital at a higher price. People are not officially allowed to work more than one job, so there is no way to "get ahead" as we know it.
It’s amazing to me because, in spite of having so little and seeing all that we as tourists have, the Cubans are so hospitable and giving of whatever little they have. And if some try to hustle us (not that it happened too often), I feel like, who wouldn’t if put in their position?
As the name of this journal implies, the Cuban "joie de vivre" overcomes it all--all the many hardships they face--and they continue to sing, dance, and make the best of their situation. In fact, while we were there, the popular song was Celia Cruz's "La Vida es un Carnival", and the words of the refrain, "Ay, no hay que llorar, que la vida es un carnaval y las penas se van cantando!", seem to be a way of life for them. (Rough translation: Ay, no need to cry because life is a carnival/party, and our worries will go away as we sing).
Written by kjrst9 on 09 Jul, 2004
Havana is potentially the greatest place you will ever visit. A word of advice though - it is NOT for all travellers. If you like to vacation in the lap of luxury, this is not a trip for you. If you like…Read More
Havana is potentially the greatest place you will ever visit. A word of advice though - it is NOT for all travellers. If you like to vacation in the lap of luxury, this is not a trip for you. If you like to explore places, cultures, etc. this IS the place for you. You will simultaneously be saddened by the state of disrepair in Cuba, and overwhelmed by its real beauty and genuine realness. You will see the irony of the conditions resulting from the US Embargo - the poverty coupled with the beautiful lack of McDonalds and American influence.
ARRIVAL: Upon arrival at the airport, keep two things in mind. 1. Customs will take forever if you fly directly from America, which I did since I was travelling on a visa. And, 2. taxi drivers will try to rip you off. A cab fare to the airport is about $15 from Habana Vieja. They will offer you rides to your hotel for $25 anticipating that you won't know any better. I didn't. I consider it a mere lesson learned, but if you know ahead of time, you will be able to get a fair price.
LANGUAGE: If you don't know Spanish, do yourself the favor of learning the basics (please, excuse me, hello, thank you, etc.) Most Habaneros know some English, and those who work in tourism (hotels, travel agents, cabbies, etc.) can speak rather fluently. But, pay them the respect of at least trying to speak their tongue.
WANDERING AROUND: Head to southern Habana Vieja. It's not touristy, rather poor, but you will get a REAL sense of Cuban life. Also, take a ferry to Casablanca (ferry dock is approximately across the street from the Museo del Ron). Wander up the hilly street to the Christ Statue, taking pictures along the way and admiring the view.
TOURS: You can explore much of Havana on your own with a decent guidebook. But, for day trips, etc. I highly recommend a guided tour as opposed to car rental, etc. Many tourist offices are in Habana and even Habana Vieja and there you can sign up for a vast variety of tours, at a range of prices, dates, and times. They are offered in many languages so you can learn about your destination from a Cuban tour guide who is fluent in your native language.
One thing you MUST be aware of though - a tour will say they are going to pick you up at a certain time, but that NEVER was accurate for me. I would wait in hotel lobbies for up to an hour, fearing that my plans were being ruined! The tour buses always came, and only my nerves were shot and I had to collect myself. It's part of the Caribbean culture to not fret about time (easy going) and they do have potentially a dozen other hotels to stop at along the way and can't be too precise as to when they'll get to you. Don’t let it stress you out too much!
EMAIL: There are email spots around Habana, but the easiest spot that I found was in the lobby of Ambos Mundos. Buy an access card from the front desk.
LIFESTYLE: ABSORB CUBA! Simplicity rules. No keeping up with the Joneses, because nobody has a whole lot and what they do have often came from the government. But, as you observe their struggle to get by, you just may realize how materialistic American (and European) life is. Take that realization and hold onto it!
DEPARTURE: Assuming you've read even the slightest bit about Cuban travel, you should already know that there is a $25 departure tax. But, keep that in mind and don't get down to your last pennies before boarding that plane home!
Written by nik-nak on 29 Mar, 2005
Midway through the trip, we realized that, to an extent, we were getting the sugarcoated version of the Cuban way of life. Unless we made an effort to connect with the people on our own, it seemed as though we were kept at a distance…Read More
Midway through the trip, we realized that, to an extent, we were getting the sugarcoated version of the Cuban way of life. Unless we made an effort to connect with the people on our own, it seemed as though we were kept at a distance from the locals. From our perspective the only Cubans that really have access to the tourists are those that have something to offer them (ie, entertainment, tourism, arts, etc.). Although interaction wasn’t prohibited, for whatever reason, it wasn’t encouraged.
I recall an occurrence not unique to myself in which I stood outside of the hotel with my newfound friend, Jorge. Within minutes of being seen by the doorman, a policeman appeared to question him as to what he was doing there. When I asked him why the police questioned him, reality hit when he explained to me, "What would I be doing outside of a tourist hotel? It is my country, but I cannot go in there... I don’t know what would happen if I did, but I just don’t." Apparently, it is common knowledge that the locals are unable to stay in the tourist hotels and it’s even frowned upon for them to be in the lobby areas.
The economy of Cuba seems to be hanging on by a thread, feeding off tourism. For $10-$25, we were able to frequent the salsa clubs and see concerts; however, they were primarily filled with tourists. This, of course, contributed to the less-than-exciting ambience and, to us, amounted to a less-than-authentic experience. Contrary to other travels to other nations, the casual American "meet you at the club" social rules don’t apply in Cuba. We, as tourists, found the rule to be if you invite them, you pay their way in, for it is highly unlikely that they can afford the cover charge.
From the outside looking in, Cuban life appears to be a hard way of life. People work a lot for very little compensation, and the luxuries we take for granted aren’t even an option. We were even so "fortunate" to experience a couple of black-outs during our stay. Our disappointment at not being able to hear the audio portion of our lectures was met with comments of "now you know you’re in Cuba!" from our tour guides. Yes, education and healthcare is free; however, the trickle-down effects of the U.S. Embargo Act, as well as Communism, have resulted in their huge problems with housing and transportation.
All the classic cars, along with the buses and taxis, would lead one to believe that transportation isn’t an issue; however, as with so many other things, yet again, there’s lack. At first we thought it odd to see groups of people standing along the streets and running up to cars, but we found that hitchhiking is common in Cuba and very much considered a safe, if not the only, means of transportation for some people. This means of carpooling is the way of life. In fact, we were told that the cars with blue license plates belong to agencies and are obligated to pick people up.
Havana’s architecture is a mixture of crumbling and rebuilding, yet housing development is very slow in progress. There is no mindset of growing up and moving out on your own because it is very difficult to find homes available. People live with their families in less-than-adequate conditions, often using a portion of the home to sell items such as crafts, souvenirs, and T-shirts, etc. The sad reality is that the only way to move is to hear by word of mouth that someone is willing to trade residences. The homes are usually passed down from generation to generation.
It’s apparent to us now that traveling with a tour group is bittersweet. The group totaled about 88 people, but we were split up into bus groups of 12. Because we went with a licensed program, we were able to see and do many things…Read More
It’s apparent to us now that traveling with a tour group is bittersweet. The group totaled about 88 people, but we were split up into bus groups of 12. Because we went with a licensed program, we were able to see and do many things that we otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to do; however, the harness-like restraints of the schedule was hellish! There’s something about structure that we tend to buck against when it comes to traveling, hence our inability to make it to breakfast and be prompt for the bus departure times. Many a time did we hear our names in that sing-song way, admonishing us to keep moving. For Lourdes, Havana was a photographer’s heaven; for me, it was all about connecting with the people. C’mon, no one can take in the richness of a culture such as Cuba in a mere commentary and a glance! Needless to say, we were consistently the stragglers of the group — all in the name of a good photo op or chatting with the locals.
Our rebel stance was established our first day there. All was well as we strolled along the cobblestoned streets of Old Havana, taking in the ornate pastel buildings—until we were prodded back to the group by our tour guide, Nora who reprimanded us about wandering off. So much for protocol. We were released to take a picture, and within ten minutes, our group was nowhere in sight. Had it not started raining, I’d have preferred roaming around amiss anyway, but we decided to just go find one of the other tour buses and make the next scheduled event.
All the while, I had to chuckle because I kept hearing the cautious admonition of my mother who, knowing that I’m notorious for stumbling into adventures in foreign lands, had insisted that I stay with the group and "don’t go wandering off into someone’s house!" Nevertheless, ditching the group to do our own thing was inevitable as we neared the end of the trip!
The majority of the government owned establishments we ate at were outdoors and there was some form of live music. We were always met with a welcome drink, and although the choice of beverage was limited, we’ll say that rum was the drink of…Read More
The majority of the government owned establishments we ate at were outdoors and there was some form of live music. We were always met with a welcome drink, and although the choice of beverage was limited, we’ll say that rum was the drink of the hour. It was at our first lunch at La Mina (a girl’s convent-turned-restaurant) that we had the first of many mojitos, the tasty national drink made from sugar cane, mint leaves, and rum. Oh, did they fill us up with lots of rum. For our nights out, every table was allotted a bottle of rum and a Coke.
Typically, the restaurants were steeped with Cuban flavor — usually pertaining more so to the music than the food! Every meal started with a somewhat-of-a- salad, sometimes with vinegar, which consisted of shredded lettuce, cabbage, and carrots. We were lucky if we got tomatoes. Our main entrees of lamb, chicken, beef, or fish were pre-determined, and we had our share of rice with black beans. Meals were appetizing for the most part, with the exception of one inedible dinner of cold rice and a piece of unidentifiable chicken (a pigeon perhaps?).
Desserts were frequently ice cream. We don’t know what they do differently in how they make it, but it was the best we’ve had. We declined to partake, but traditionally, the meal is sealed with a cafecito, some of the most pungent black coffee in a miniature cup. It’s no wonder--a full cup of that stuff and you’d be wired for days!
Midway through the trip, I came to the conclusion that although we were accommodated with three meals a day and the food was decent, I just kinda still felt empty. It was as if you ate for nourishment’s sake but weren’t satisfied. Our American comforts (ie, appetizers, menus) and comfort foods (ie, soup, pasta, and anything cheesy) were nowhere to be found — that is, until we got the invite to the paladar.
A paladar is a private restaurant run out of a home and by reservation only. For the price of decent cuisine in the States, you get to indulge in Cuba’s version of fine dining. The one we went to, La Esperanza, was an eclectically decorated mini-mansion of sorts, owned by two men in the neighborhood of Miramar (home to many of the ambassadors and diplomats).
After almost a week of monotonous banquet food, we were all as giddy as children getting popsicles. Honestly, in America, we don’t realize how blessed we are to have options when dining! I appeared to be in a drunken stupor after tasting my appetizer of plantain stuffed with grilled tuna, topped with cheese and seasonings. "So this is where they’ve been hiding the good stuff!" my palette rejoiced. The repeated "mmms" and rolling eyes signified the impeccable meals we had. There were no words. This was utterly the best food we’d had all week.
The quality of music in Cuba was consistently of the highest caliber. This being a jazz tour, we were given a foundation of the origins of Cuban music by way of lectures, and the level of talent we were exposed to was phenomenal, whether it…Read More
The quality of music in Cuba was consistently of the highest caliber. This being a jazz tour, we were given a foundation of the origins of Cuban music by way of lectures, and the level of talent we were exposed to was phenomenal, whether it was at restaurants, concerts, jazz clubs, or just on the streets. Our ears were infused with jazz, classical, and even American classics, but of course, we had a healthy dose of Latin music genres such as salsa, cha-cha-cha, son, guaguanco, charanga, and rumba. As a minority who has studied classical music, I found it refreshing to see so many people of color playing classical music — a rarity in the States.
Even more amazing were the young up-and-coming musicians we encountered. We took note of how confident, yet grounded they seemed to be. Perhaps it’s partially due to the fact that in Cuba, education is free, and there aren’t as many options for distraction. Thus, you have well-rounded, classically trained musicians and vocalists who dedicate their lives to mastering their craft. In Cuba, their craft is their life.
Our experience included seeing jam sessions at the popular jazz club La Zorra y El Cuervo, where we unexpectedly ran into actor Danny Glover and chilled with the musicians. We managed to see several concerts as well. Los Van Van was most memorable for me, but for Lourdes, the highlight was meeting Pio Leyva at the legendary Hotel Nacional, where members from the Afro Cuban All-Stars were performing. It was astounding to hear the dynamic voices and flawless playing of those musically inclined!
Because our place of residence, Hotel Presidente, was such a good location, we were in proximity to a lot of points of interest. I awoke every morning to the sound of the sea waves crashing against el Malecon, a Cuban icon known as the "smile…Read More
Because our place of residence, Hotel Presidente, was such a good location, we were in proximity to a lot of points of interest. I awoke every morning to the sound of the sea waves crashing against el Malecon, a Cuban icon known as the "smile of the city". This wall stretches a little over 4 miles long and separates the land from the sea. Along the Malecon, you’ll find couples having romantic midnight strolls, locals hanging out, arts and crafts markets and, of course, music and dancing. Speaking of which, it was a treat for me that we were only a few blocks away from the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Also nearby was the Museo de Danza, which I found to be quite the shrine to Cuba’s renowned prima ballerina, Alicia Alonso.
Although this trip primarily focused on music, it could be said that we were on an excursion of Cuban culture in general. It was astounding to see the infusion of the old and the new within the architecture. Taking the walking tour of Old Havana was good in the sense that we were given a lot of the colonial history as we strolled through the squares of La Plaza de la Catedral and La Plaza de Las Armas. We saw plenty of historical sites such as San Salvador De La Punta, the defense system of the city and Castillo de la Real Fuerza, the oldest stone fort. The conga musicians and dancers on stilts in colorful garb were a pleasant disruption to the lull of a Sunday afternoon.
Along the same lines, we were given a good foundation of the Cuban music through lectures given by music industry experts and visits to the Museo de Musica (Museum of Music). We were even able to go into the Abdala recording studio where some of Cuba’s greatest entertainers have recorded. What was most enjoyable was the visit to the School of Music, where we got hands-on training with the instruments.