Me Encanta Cuba

Visiting Cuba this May was an off-the-cuff decision I made right after beginning my final year at Auburn as an undergraduate. I had just returned to the South after a summer in New York City, where my life and horizons had been completely altered through the city, culture, ideas, and people that I encountered; the likes of which I had rarely experienced growing up in Alabama. I felt totally ready to see the rest of the world, to become aware of these new perspectives, values, ideals that existed outside of my apparently small life experience. Although I had travelled to Europe and throughout the United States before, actually living in Manhattan made me realize that visiting a beautiful place, even partaking in beautiful experiences in a new place, does not necessarily cultivate an understanding of said place that extends beyond a few impressive photographs. Our trip to Cuba further instilled this theme for me, and I feel eternally grateful and lucky to have had the chance to be a part of it.

 

While flying the short 90 miles into Havana from Miami, I realized that I was probably completely unprepared for whatever would be greeting us in this new country. Yes, I studied history in school and there must have been a chapter on Cuba at some point in my education, and yes, I attended the Honors class with Dr. Sippial in the months before leaving. But my knowledge of Spanish didn’t extend past the number 15 and I still wasn’t totally sure who Che Guavara was…

 

This ignorance is no one’s fault but my own, so I decided to embrace it and instead allow what I saw and experienced to be pure – free of any preconceptions or opinions I could have formed had I been a model Honors student and actually done research on the country in which I would be spending my final time as an Auburn student. To my relief, Dr. Sippial’s friend and fellow professor Martina, who accompanied us on the trip, found validity in this approach one night at dinner and thought it could be a beneficial way to experience a country in Latin America for the first time.

 

When we did land in Cuba, and throughout the following days exploring the island, I knew I was right about my lack of awareness, but nothing in the States could have prepared me for what was to come anyway.

 

The people, culture, art, and natural beauty of Cuba were all absolutely incredible. Our guides not only provided us historical knowledge but also were also able to share personal experiences and anecdotes about the things we saw, and we were able to form genuine friendships with them through extensive conversation. On several occasions a question I had about something we did or saw sparked a deeper discussion about issues that the Cuban people deal with regularly that were foreign to many of us. The opportunity to speak with Cubans in this way – free from any governmental influences – was unique and enlightening.

 

My favorite part about travelling is learning about the differing perspectives of people from other countries, and the way this trip was set up was perfect for the exchange of this type of knowledge. I do feel that I gained more of an understanding of the country than I would have on another type of trip, but because of the history and environment of Cuba, this understanding really only made me more aware of how much more there is to learn. Cuba is a nation of such a tumultuous and distinct past and present that an 11 day trip could only ever skim the surface. However, I think that all of us that participated in the journey realized this, and want to return, to not simply travel and enjoy ourselves but discover and comprehend more about the people of Cuba and potentially make a difference in their lives.

 

Thank you to everyone that made the trip possible and to the friends I made! You’re all beautiful and I’m extremely grateful for you and for the memories we now share.

Muchos gracias a todo

xoxo

Madeline

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Cuba 2016

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Day One:

We arrived in Cuba at Jose Marti International Airport and we were introduced to our amazing tour guides, Domingo, Ernesto and David. After we got settled in, we went to lunch and had an “Intro to Cuba” discussion with a University of Havana Professor. That afternoon we walked through old Havana. Old Havana was beautiful and we learned about Cuban history. Our guide, Domingo explained the significance of certain places and the stories behind historic sites and buildings.

That night we saw Los Boys, a local band and we were introduced to a few Cuban songs.

Fun Fact: you have to buy wifi cards to connect to one of a few hotspots in Cuba.

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Day Two:

While in Cuba, one of my favorite things were the long drives we took.The drives allowed us to see snippets of Cuba as we drove by.  I saw agricultural activities and breath-taking sceneries.

On day two, we drove for a long time and we stopped to take a short nature hike. I realized that Cuba has huge lizards and really pretty forest.

At the Bay of Pigs Museum, I followed our tour guide ,David so he could explain the pictures and exhibits (they were all in Spanish … also, I do not speak Spanish but, over the course of this trip my understanding and pronunciation of basic words and sentences definitely improved!).

That night we were in Cienfuegos, Cuba and I ate paella (a common dish in Cuba) for the first time and I really liked it.

Day Three:

The Che Guevara Memorial and the Museum were very pretty (we were not allowed to take pictures of the inside) and it was very informative. The Memorial was a recognition of Che and many others individuals who were involved in the revolution. The museum had pictures and artifacts from Che’s early life through his adult life.

We also walked around Cienfuegos and explored the city and shops.

Fun Fact: you have to tip to go to the bathroom and occasionally you have to pay (a few cents) for toilet paper or bring your own (we usually used the small kleenex packets).

Warning: finding a toilet with a toilet seat was rare!

 

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Day Four:

WE GOT WIFI!

It was great we were all really excited and basically completely quite while we got reconnected. The wifi cards cost between two and five convertible pesos and they last an hour; they have a username and password so you can log into the wifi. For the most part, as long as you still have time left on your card you can use your wifi card at any hotspot.

After our wifi adventure, we drove to the city of Trinidad and we had a tour of the city (it is still very colonel looking, definitely my favorite city; after Havana).    

We visited the work shop of a famous pottery maker (His name escapes me, but he was very nice, patient and great at pottery making!) and he helped me make a vase (my pottery skills are definitely questionable, but It was a really great experience!).

Fun Fact: most wifi hotspots are in hotels (at least the ones I used were).

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Day Five:

We also visited the 40 meter high Iznaga Tower. We walked up the stairs ( there were A LOT of stairs) and saw the beautiful Cuban landscape (pictured above).

We also went to the first private restaurant in Trinidad and we had a Son lesson (Son is another name for salsa)

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Day Six: (My favorite day)

We hiked a mountain and we went to a beautiful water fall! The hike was very strenuous, but it was definitely worth it and hopefully helped me work off all the bread and great deserts I ate in Cuba. (We mostly ate really healthy meals: fish, lobster, chicken, rice and beans… really fresh food).

We also went to a great coffee shop before the hike. Cuban coffee is very strong but it is great and gives you lots of energy!

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Day Seven:

We went to a church and played with some of the kids attending the church, we also visited the homes of a few families that have special needs children. We talked to the families and the children about their everyday lives and we also learned about the support system the church has set up for the families.

We visited an eco friendly farm and learned about how they grow crops with limited space and limited pesticides (baby pineapples are pictured above).

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Day Eight:

We went to a revolution museum and Domingo gave a very interesting and in-depth history lesson on the Cuban Revolution.

We also visited Fusterlandia which is a really cool courtyard almost completely decorated with mosaic tiles. It was beautiful and one of my favorite places to see!

That night we went to Buena Vista Social Club and I danced with one of the dancers there! I was dipped and tossed into the air (it was very unexpected, but also a great experience!).

   

Day Nine: 

We had a son lesson at “The House of Son”. It was a lot of fun dancing with professional son dancers and learning the steps and movements to Son! (this was also one of my favorite experiences!).

We went to an art museum and I took a picture because I didn’t read the “no cameras sign”… My bad! The art and the sculptures in the museum where extremely pretty and I enjoyed seeing multiple parts of Cuba. (We saw the everyday cities and towns, we explored the outdoors, we went to various museums and great restaurants!).

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We toured Havana in a cool restored old car!

At the end of the day, we had free-time and me and couple others went to China town and walked around Havana.

Fun Fact: there were not as many old cars in Cuba as I expected, there were arguably a good number of new cars… especially at the airport.

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Day Ten:

We went to Orquideario Soroa , an orchard, and saw many pretty flowers and learned about native Cuban plants and trees along with plants that were not native to Cuba.

We also went on another (significantly less strenuous) hike and saw another beautiful waterfall.

We had a private concert the last night! The private concert was given by Los Boys; the band we listened to on our first night!

Fun Fact: it’s illegal to kill cows (I’m assuming without permission from the government) in Cuba.

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Day Eleven:

We went to an eco-friendly place were we learned about organic foods in Cuba.

Then we headed to the airport and back to the United States! It was really sad to leave Cuba even though I was excited about being able to throw toilet paper into the toilet again.

Pictured above our tour guides: Domingo, Ernesto and David!

Fun Fact/Warning: you have to throw toilet paper into the trash in Cuba!

Must haves:

  • bug spray
  • sunscreen
  • bathing suite
  • tennis shoes
  • hat
  • sunglasses
  • kleenex (remember toilet paper is not always provided)
  • make sure you break your bills early ( it is hard to tip when everyone has twenties)
  • you must try the Chocolate Mousse cookies (I think they are made in Brazil… but I had them in Cuba so they are forever Cuban for me!)
  • learn some Spanish… at least know how to say thank you
  • have all the cash you want to use (when we went there were no ATMs)

Forever Missing Cuba,

Alisa Mobley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honors Study Abroad- Cuba 2016

¡Hola!

Welcome to the blog for the 2016 Honors College Study Abroad in Cuba! On May 9th, in just four weeks, 11 students and 1 professor from Auburn will travel to a country that very few Americans have been to in the last 50 years. In preparation for our travel we have spent the semester researching topics such as gender, film and literature, religion, sustainability, food, dance and music, energy, medicine, and transitioning foreign relations. Each student has done their own research and presented the topic in class. Just two weeks ago one student brought in authentic Cuban food as part of her presentation, and we tried delicious Cuban sandwiches and fried plantains! Our professor, Dr. Sippial, has been preparing us for Cuba with stories of her own travel, history lessons, and showing us the famous Strawberry and Chocolate movie.

Our trip will last 11 days as we cross Cuba, visiting Havana, Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Jovellanos, and the Pinar del Rio province. We will have the opportunity to visit many cultural sites such as Old Havana, Playa Giron (the Bay of Pigs), the Che Monument and Mausoleum, Hotel Nacional, and many sites related to Ernest Hemingway. We’ll also have lots of time in the outdoors as we visit the Cienega de Zapata Biosphere Reserve, Escambray Mountains, El Torre, Rio San Juan, Santa del Rosario mountains, as well as waterfalls and the beach! We are also excited for fun activities like salsa lessons, baseball, and nightlife!

I haven’t been able to list everything we are going to do on this amazing trip to Cuba, so be on the lookout for updates about our study abroad. Each of us will make individual posts to document our experiences! We are so grateful to have the opportunity to visit such a culturally rich, beautiful country.

“’Cultivo una rosa blanca.’ In his most famous poem, Jose Marti made this offering of friendship and peace to both his friend and his enemy. Today, as the President of the United States of America, I offer the Cuban people el saludo de paz.” –President Obama, March 22nd 2016

Best,

Kaitlin

Kaitlin Robb is a Senior at Auburn University. She is majoring in marketing and minoring in both sustainability and communications. She decided to study abroad to Cuba because she loves learning and feels there is so much more to Cuba than what she previously knew.