Iowans on the Go: Cuba is land of contrasts
10:50 PM, Jan. 14, 2012
Special to The Register
Our dream to travel in Cuba came true in November. An adult Road Scholar People to People Program, “Cuba Today: People and Society,” made it possible.
We spent four days in Havana after an hour’s chartered flight from the Miami Airport. We stayed at the historical Hotel Nacional. We spent another four days in Cienfuegos on the southern coast. The weather was always sunny and about 85 degrees.
Our trip consisted of coach excursions, speakers and cultural performances, assisted by the Cuban government Tourism Bureau.
We have fond memories of Cubans. They were friendly and as curious about us as we were about them. Because English is taught as a second language there, we were able to speak with Cubans.
Our first evening in Havana, the head of Architecture spoke about the restoration work being done in Havana. Many public restoration projects were seen throughout the city. We toured a private restoration project — the Patranato Synagogue and Jewish Pharmacy.
Havana transportation provides a multitude of choices from horse-drawn carts, pedi-cabs, two-seater gas cabs, new Chinese coaches to foreign automobiles. American autos up to 1960 are still seen and kept running on Cuban ingenuity.
At the Museo Municipal de Guanabacoa, we met followers of the Santeria religion and witnessed a colorful performance of energetic dancing and music. Santeria is saint worship by Afro-Cubans. We then visited the Church of Regla, site of the Black Madonna.
Yearly pilgrimages are made to the San Lazaro Church, named for the patron saint of the poor. Barefoot pilgrims drag stones many miles. Flowers and religious items are sold outside.
Nearby is a leper hospital run by the nuns. We learned the history of the hospital and care of the ill. We were invited to tour the hospital and meet patients.
Later we visited Ernest Hemingway’s home. It looked like he just stepped out.
Our first day in Cienfuegos we visited the Benny More Art School. Students age 9 and older proudly performed ballet and guitar music.
On our walking tour of Trinidad, we discovered cobblestone streets lined with sugar baron-built homes. Artists create and sell their work there now. Our group of 22 was invited into a home of a 90-year-old woman who still cleans her own house.
Returning to Cienfuegos, we traveled through the picturesque Valley of the Sugar Mills. In 1988 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once there were 43 sugar mills. We visited a site with a human powered cane press and shared some raw sugar cane juice. The press was made in 1864 in New York.
One evening we were serenaded by the Cienfuegos Cantores, an a cappella choir. Their repertoire included “Shenandoah.” Truly, music communicates the soul of people.
Cuba is a land of contrasts, much potential and natural beauty. We were pleased to be guests for a week.