Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nursing and Health Care Focus

Cuba, anyone? After many trips, James Lewis in love with culture, people

James Lewis is a local man with a passion for exploring Cuba. He's made more than 20 visits to the country since 1999.
James Lewis is a local man with a passion for exploring Cuba. He's made more than 20 visits to the country since 1999.
Photo for The Union by John Hart
Ironic, isn't it, that of two southern neighbors in close proximity to the U.S., the drug cartels fomenting a reign of terror in a sizable portion of Mexico have made Cuba seem a much safer tourist destination?

And this is despite our having normalized relations with Mexico, while Cuba continues to be officially a communist nation with which the United States refuses to have diplomatic ties.

James Lewis is a local man with a passion for exploring Cuba. He's made more than 20 visits to the country since 1999.

Though the U.S. has made it difficult for its citizens to visit Cuba in the past, Lewis says the number of U.S. tourists legally traveling to Cuba is now at an all-time high.

According to Lewis' website on the subject, many Americans would be surprised to learn that “There are many licensed religious and educational groups that travel to Cuba on a regular basis. Even the AAA automobile association has conducted tours to Cuba in the past.”

Lewis retired to Nevada County in 1987, after having been an Intensive Care and Emergency Room nurse for 36 years. It is his medical experience that allows him to legally lead tours of Cuba for both tourists and health professionals.

The majority of his trips to Cuba have been associated with nursing projects and health research.

“In 1999, I was in Key West and met some Cubans there and I sort of assumed that all Cubans didn't want Americans to visit,” Lewis said. “But what I found out is that most Cubans do want Americans to visit. The Cubans that you hear about who do not want Americans to go to Cuba are in the minority, even in Miami.”

Lewis says his first trip to Cuba was prompted by an event that became front-page news around the world.

“I went to Cuba during the Elian Gonzalez affair and fell in love with the place and kept going back many different times,” Lewis said. “It's become kind of an obsession, really.”

Lewis admits to having had some apprehension during his first trip to Cuba.

“Landing in Havana and looking out and seeing all these Russian aircraft made it seem a very intriguing place,” Lewis said.

“But after a while, I realized that Australians and Canadians visit all the time. It's the Canadians' favorite place to visit.”

Though relations between Cuba and the U.S. are very complex and have been strained in the past, Lewis says big changes are taking place.

“The bottom line is that the Cuban government loves having American tourists and the United States is now encouraging Americans to go,” Lewis said.

“Most tours are now booked up to a year in advance and the prices are skyrocketing because of supply and demand. Much of this has happened in just the last year.”

Lewis seems to have fallen in love with both the Cuban people and their culture.

According to Lewis, Cuba has always figured prominently in American history, and it's interesting to see events like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion talked about and remembered.

“There is a lot of American history there,” Lewis said. “San Juan Hill, the site where the battleship Maine was blown up, etc. It amazes you how much Cubans appreciate Americans. You see lots of American flags there.”

Registered nurses making the trip to Cuba via one of Lewis' tours can earn up to 30 Community Education contact hours, he said.

“The Cuban universal health care system is romanticized in this country and it does have a lot of good things associated with it,” Lewis said.

”But it's a little overrated because there is a shortage of supplies,

though that's not a surprise given the embargo.”

Lewis emphasizes that tourists can go to Cuba without feeling threatened.

“I've found that you can really go anyplace,” Lewis said. “You can go there and pretty much do what you want, as long as you're not advocating bringing down the government.”

Lewis believes it is time for those who have been hesitant to even consider Cuba as a vacation destination to reconsider. His many trips there have only deepened his appreciation for Cuba and its people.

“There is now a lot of foreign investment in Cuba,” Lewis said. “At the Hemingway Marina there, the Chinese and the Cubans are co-partnering to build a super luxury resort. Its target is to be wealthy American travelers.”

Visit to learn more about Lewis and the tours that he leads.

Tom Kellar is a freelance writer who lives in Cedar Ridge. He can be reached at

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