A week in Cuba

On November 15, 2013 Carl and I traveled to Cuba for a week of amazing insight into a country that we had only read about. I helped organize the trip through The University of Washington’s Academic  Abroad program. The provost at the U of W, is Ana Mari Cauce, Ana Mari was born in Cuba and joined us on our trip making the adventure that much more interesting. We left out of Miami and flew to Havana on a charter flight. The group of friends that we had organized brought together great energy and offered opportunities for unique visits with artists and Ambassadors.

We arrived before noon and checked into the Saratoga Hotel, across the street from the capital building. We had a couple of hours to get organized before our first speaker joined us at the hotel for a brief over view of Havana and Cuba as a whole today. We had several lectures with time to ask questions and try and understand how the politics work or don’t work. Dinner that first night was at El Aljibe restaurant serving the basic Chicken, rice and great black beans. They had a cigar room so the men were happy to start smoking their first Cuban cigars after a little music and desert we headed back to the hotel. The bar in the hotel had good late night drinks and music.

After an early breakfast and another speaker we headed out to explore the old part of Havana that is being slowly cleaned up and brought back to its original grand style. Walking along the water to understand how the island was protected during the early invasions, the old cannons sit on the shore as a reminder of wars long passed.

As you wind your way through the streets and see new bars opening up and street performers entertaining to get a few extra dollars. You see the energy of the people trying to earn money. As we all have read the average person makes about $30.00 a month, it does not matter if you are a bus driver or a doctor. Your only hope of earning more is if you are an artist or work in the tourist industry.

We walked for a couple of hours with our guide giving us the history of the area and then had time back at the hotel to rest by the pool or go explore on our own. A couple of us went to visit a young artist that friends had directed us to  (Karlos Perez—–   www.karlospereze.com)  It was a wonderful visit and a couple of us ended up buying paintings from Karlos. Our piece is almost 10 feet long and will have a perfect wall in our home to always remember this trip.

That evening we divided up into smaller groups of 6 and visited 3 different palador’s

The first was  “La Guarida” on the 3rd floor of a walk up home with beautiful art and a good menu with local fish. The second was “La Atelier is a rooftop restaurant with a lovely view and creative menu that changes during the year. The last one was ‘Moraleja” dining in a courtyard with an outdoor grill cooking up local lobster tails and a lovely lamb stew.
The next morning we headed to the Museum of the Revolution an interesting history from colonial times. Then a short drive to the hilltop village of San Francisco de Paula to visit the house that Hemingway lived in for 20 years. You can not enter the house but it is open to view inside and sits much as he left it years ago. The boat that Hemingway used for years, the Pilar, sits undercover for you to see. The grounds were beautiful and you could imagine him writing in his study.
We headed to lunch at a local home/restaurant called Don Carmela–CalleJ-257e/13y15 we sat in the courtyard with many singing birds in cages and a lovely selections of small dishes to share.
That evening we were guests of the Swiss Ambassador for cocktails and a tour of the lovely gardens designed by Roberto Burle Marx. Then off to a lively palador–San Cristobal on San Rafael # 469.
Tuesday morning we were invited to watch the rehearsal of the Contemporary Dance Company of Cuba, then of course the tour of the famous Colon Cemetery. When they call it the largest sculpture park in Cuba you can understand why. We had a lunch at The Hotel Nationale. this hotel is worth a visit or lunch on the outdoor patio.
That evening there was a tour of the Ceramics Museum before we were hosted for dinner at the Ludwig Foundation of the Arts. There were 8 young Cuban artist joining us for a wonderful buffet dinner on the terrace of the penthouse. It was interesting to have a chance to talk with the different artists to understand how they work and sell their art.
The next morning we boarded the bus and headed to a beach town of Matanzas. Along the way we stopped at a most interesting village of Varadero to visit Ediciones Vigia where a group of artist were creating handmade books. It was a very special visit and many of us purchased books and cards to take home. Around the corner we stopped at a sculptor’s studio before heading out to lunch at the former Dupont Mansion built in 1930. The restaurant Xanadu served a lovely lunch on the terrace overlooking the white sand beach.
We continued on to Cardenas stopping at an artists home to see her photographs and then on to Varadero. We stayed at an all inclusive resort called Melia Paradisus on a beach that went on for miles. the ocean was warm and easy to swim in but the many pools with bars and lounge chair was the perfect spot for that afternoon nap.
The resort has several restaurants, a large spa and we all had large rooms with outdoor showers. The next morning after a walk on the beach and lovely lunch we headed back to Havana stopping for a private concert in the town of Matanzas. Upon returning to the hotel we had a quick change before we were invited for dinner at Ambassador Portorey’s home, along with Cuban Ambassador Alzugaray. They served a beautiful dinner and of course cigars for everyone to end our evening.
Our last day was busy with a guided tour of the National Museum of Fine Arts. Afternoon we were on our own to have lunch, explore the crafts market, stroll the building along Calle Obispo and of course make a trip back to meet with Karlos and pick up our painting. Karlos had taken the piece off the frame and rolled it into a tube for traveling. (Just a heads up at the airport we had to open up the work and fill in forms but no duty or issue after they examined the piece)
We did our farewell dinner on the rooftop of the hotel and then headed for the late show at the Tropicana.
The week flew by and of course there were many more questions and places we all wanted to visit, but this was an amazing experience with wonderful friends.
Tthe next morning we bid farewell to our great bus driver and guide and headed home on Sky King Airlines back to Miami.

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