January 3-15: Havana, Cuba

A lot was going through my mind as I watched the large Caribbean island of Cuba disappear from the view of my plane. This had been my first time leaving the United States, and I still haven’t fully processed the experience. As Cuba disappeared from view I thought back to when I first laid my eyes on the island. For someone who almost never flies, landing on an island and seeing a different world from a bird’s eye view had been an incredible experience. Despite the sheer terror I felt hoping the plane wouldn’t crash (it was a very smooth ride), I had felt something unlike I ever had before. This feeling remained present but had a tendency to evolve as the trip progressed, but can only be expressed through details of my experience rather than by a simple word.

I stepped off the plane in Cuba and instantly everything was different. The airport lacked much of what I had been accustomed to seeing in the United States and my knowledge of Spanish beyond the word “gracias” was non-existent. I found myself in a daze, partially due to only receiving a couple hours of sleep but mainly due to my unfamiliar surroundings, as I exited the airport and was surrounded by a new world. Everyone in our group was fairly quiet that day, perhaps because of a mix of awe and as well as the fact that we had only recently met. The bus ride into Havana, however, was the first real tease of what was to come. As we rode deeper into the city and were bombarded by sights massive posters of Fidel regarding the revolution, old cars only seen in period piece films, and weathering buildings each with their own personality. For the first time I became fully aware that not all nations are even close to being similar to our own.

Keep in mind, this was my first time leaving the country, and yes I’ve been told that Cuba is quite the place to do it. Being in this richly cultured and vastly different society felt very much like I was walking through a dream. Of course, this could be due to the fact that I was averaging four hours of sleep a night, but I assure you that there is a palpable feeling while present in this country that I truly cannot put my finger on. I can, however, recall moments where this feeling was particularly strong. I felt it as I stood like a cockroach amidst massive structures tributes to polarizing people in the revolution square, as I sped down the Malecon in an ancient pink convertible at night watching furious waves crash upon battered streets, and as I sat on the rooftop of our residencia, overlooking the city and smoking a thick Cuban cigar. On this island is a forgotten nation that is alive and seeking a chance to thrive.

The more time we spent in Cuba the more I tried to identify this feeling I had. I found that much of it could be embodied in both Castro’s revolution and the man, the myth, the legend: Jose Marti. So much of Cuba’s identity is these two things, so it should come with no surprise that they contributed to this feeling I keep referring to. But why? I knew nothing about the great Jose Marti before entering Cuba, but I can assure you, spend one day in Cuba and you will hear tales of his brilliance, writing, and ideal character. In fact, he was Fidel’s inspiration for the revolution, an event that many Cubans still regard as their greatest victory and their first real step towards becoming a competitive global nation.

Regardless of how brief this overlook of my experience in Cuba is, I still admit it to be incredibly vague. I assure you this is by no means evidence of a lack of substance during my trip, for it was quite possibly the most incredible experience of my life. The reason I have been so vague is simply because there is no way to put into words in such a short amount of time what I experienced. In fact, I am still taking it all in today. However, one thing I can say is that leaving that island on a plane I felt that I had just discovered a hidden gem that not only deserves, but is desperate for its chance to shine. To anyone who may be reading this, I encourage you to check out this nation yourself, and if you can identify a word for the feeling I described please let me know.

Cuba: January 12th

It was 12:57. I squeezed past the gate guard and stepped down into the ferry. I felt as though I had just woken up. The two museums on the Santería religion we had visited that morning felt like a blur. Would the rest of the day pass this quickly?

Bang! The entire ferry lurched as we hit the pier too hard. It felt like an electric shock, bringing life back into our day. We were in Old Havana – a quaint, colorful, and unsurprisingly older version of Havana. This part of the city is about a 15-minute drive from where we were staying in Vedado. Despite them being relatively close, geographically, the atmosphere of the two places could not have been more different. Vedado is the rich suburb of Havana. Houses do not sit directly on the street, and there is vegetation everywhere. In contrast, the narrow streets of Old Havana are hustling and bustling with tourist activity.

After a few minutes of wandering through the narrow streets we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. As a northerner, nothing drives me crazier than waiting around doing nothing. Therefore, Cuban restaurants are the bane of my existence. The food is generally good, but the service is so slow! It can easily be twenty-five minutes after you finish your meal before you see the bill. C’mon people, I could be exploring the city instead of waiting here!

Following lunch, we made our way back to the residence where we were staying. Just before I could go in, Nathaniel pulled me aside and asked if I wanted to join him and Mike in getting a Cuban haircut. Of course I did! What a perfect way to experience more of the Cuban culture! What is a Cuban haircut, you ask? A two on the sides, longer on top, and of course, the line. (A few days later, a waiter at San Cristóbal recognized the cut, and asked us if we had gotten it done at a Cuban barber).

We walked over two streets and took a seat in line. The barber was really friendly, and we talked about Cuba and the US. The theme was similar to many other conversations I’d had: “We love American people, it’s a shame our governments don’t get along.” Of all the things I learned whilst in Cuba, this thought will affect me more than any other. The Cuban people, not the government, are the ones suffering under the United States blockade. After we each cut our hair, Mike and I decided to get shaves as well. I had never had a straight edge shave before, so I was nervous. However, all my fears vanished when I realized the skill that the barber possessed. The best part about the haircut was the price! Nine dollars for the three haircuts! NINE! That’s cheaper than a single haircut back home!

After the haircuts, we hung low until after dinner. Then we went to one of the best dancing clubs in Havana, The 1830. The dance floor is outside, and sits directly on the water. There must have been over 200 people there, all dancing flawlessly to the beat. We hung back at first, but then decided to join the dancing. We quickly picked up the steps and within minutes were dancing like the pros. Okay, that’s a complete lie. We had taken lessons before, but they were of little help. I kept losing the beat, and stepping on those around me. I must’ve stepped on at least 10 people before the night was out. However, despite these mishaps, we all had a great time. Before we knew it the music had stopped and the lights were turned on. Where had the time gone? As we walked back I was so glad that the day had taken a turn for the better. Looking back on the trip, Thursday the 12th was one of the most memorable days.

Cuba: January 11, Day 9

Gran Teatro de la Habana

To begin our 9th day of adventures in Cuba, we gathered at Carlos’ residencia for breakfast. The breakfast included toast with guava jam (my favorite fruit), banana, watermelon, and pineapple juice. After the meal, we departed for Havana Vieja to visit the Gran Teatro de la Habana.

The theater, designed for an audience of 1047, was constructed in 1837 and integrates several architectural styles including French, Belgian, and Czechoslovakian. Upon entering the building, I was overwhelmed by the grand staircase that leads up to the four balcony levels. The theater hosts world renowned musicians, plays, ballet performances, and even Barack Obama when he visited Cuba in 2013. I was amazed to learn that the theatre does not rely on any microphones for performance because of its acoustic design. With much excitement, our next destination was the Havana Club Rum Museum.

Havana Club was established in 1817, and has been the largest rum manufacturer in Cuba since Bacardi was forced to relocate to Puerto Rico. As it is very relevant to my studies in chemical engineering at UMass Lowell, I found this experience to be my favorite thus far. Making rum is both an art and a science. Traditionally, the science of the rum making process, as with all other alcoholic beverages, was a poorly understood phenomena. It was not until the advancement of our understanding of the microbial world, that consistent and quality rum manufacturing required collaboration between science and art. The unique flavor profile of Havana Club rum is a direct result of a well established recipe. Primarily, this recipe includes a proprietary yeast strain, sugar cane, and pure water. The process is broken up into the following major steps: milling, brewing, distillation, and aging.

Havana Club Rum Factory

The sugar cane is harvested from the plantations between November and May and transported via railroad to the mills where it is processed to molasses and sugar crystals. Next, the molasses is mixed with yeast and water in 22,000 liter stainless steel fermentation tanks. During fermentation, yeast metabolizes the sugars and converts them to ethanol and various aromatic products that contribute to the flavor profile of the rum. The product of fermentation, known as low wine, contains approximately 6% ABV, and is harvested after 24 hours. The low wine is then distilled in pot stills to both increase the alcohol content to a 75% fraction and a 95% and remove residues that negatively impact the taste of the product. Following distillation the distillate is passed through carbon filtration to remove fine impurities and subsequently aged in oak barrels. Last but not least, the group was taken to the tasting room for the one and only interactive exhibit. After raising my glass of Havana Club Añejo 7 Años for a cheers, I was struck by the taste of Cuban terroir. Initially, my nose was met with with a scent of roasted nuts and bitterness, and my palette with a sweet and toasty taste with notes of vanilla. This nationalized cuban beverage revolutionized my perception of rum. After the tasting, seven of us in the group went to Havana’s newest microbrewery for lunch, Cerveceria Antiguo Almacen. It was here that I had my first taste of Cuban private industry in the form of a Cuban sandwich.

Upon returning to the residencia for dinner after a busy day venturing the bustling streets of Havana Vieja, I learned of an opportunity for another round of salsa lessons. My tired legs were no match against my desire to absorb every drop of Cuban culture. To my surprise, the students from New York University also attending the lesson were at what I would call the “advanced level” and the instructor spoke not a word of English. Regardless, I was ready for the challenge. In this hour-long lesson I learned more about dance than I could have ever imagined.

Interactivo at Cafe Corner

To conclude the evening, I went out with some new friends from NYU to the Corner Cafe to see a local band called Interactivo. The performance and musicianship were out of this world! Interactivo, directed by keyboardist Roberto Carcasses, is described as a cuban fusion band, however it was like nothing I had ever heard. Their avant-garde style is a coalescence of jazz, timba, hip-hop, funk, and everything in-between. My experiences today validated my initial impression that Cuba is an enigma wrapped in a mystery stuffed into a Cuban sandwich.


Cuba: January 11th

Among many areas, Cuba is especially notable for its unique and distinct culture that is not replicated anywhere else in the world. From the food and drink to the arts and dance, Cuba has illustrated itself as a one of a kind nation that is extremely passionate about its own identity, with the city of Havana being a hub for this passion. Today, we witnessed first-hand Cuba’s distinctive culture by visiting the Gran Theatro de la Habana, or the Great Theater of Havana, the Almacenes San José Artisans’ Market in Old Havana, and the Havana Club Rum Museum.Gran Theatro de la Habana

The Gran Theatro was an old and opulent theater with grand staircases, marble floors, and elegant chandeliers, and could seat approximately 1100 people for its shows. The most popular performances are flamenco ballet, opera, and especially classical ballet, for which they were in the process of setting up the stage for an upcoming seasonal performance of The Nutcracker. There was also an exhibit celebrating the Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso, who is revered throughout the country, and the rest of the world, for her dancing talents and determination to keep dancing even after she lost her sight.

Gran Theatro de la Habana

The top floor of the theater was comprised of various art galleries, with one in particular being devoted to an artist named Moisés Finalé. Many of the works of art displayed in this gallery were painted within the past year and utilized unique methods to illustrate certain underlying meanings. For example, one painting contained layers of canvas sewn onto one another in a stack in the shape of a person as a visual depiction of how societies have developed and changed over time. Many other paintings in the exhibit were created with a combination wood, woven fabric, and canvas that blended together to create the inimitable Cuban art that can be seen throughout the city of Havana.

Gran Theatro de la Habana

This great interest in the arts was also observed when we visited the Artisans’ Market later that day. There, we saw numerous Cubans selling various paintings and hand-made items enclosed in an enormous warehouse along the Port of Havana. Each person that we spoke to showed great passion in their work, especially the Cuban painters. Some of these artists were even in the middle of painting their next work of art to sell when we approached their stalls. Although there were multiple stalls with paintings of the same iconic scene of a colorful car from the 1950’s on the streets of Old Havana, each painting contained each painter’s own artistic touch. Supplementing those iconic images were paintings of scenery in Havana and other areas of Cuba, figures of women dancing ballet, and portraits of famous political figures in Cuba’s history, such as Che Guevara and José Martí. Each work varied from artist to artist, with each using different painting methods and canvas materials, including some that were painted on pages of the Cuban newspaper The Granma. Other stalls were filled with hand-made wooden cars, planes, and statues, leather wallets and purses, and jewelry made from all kinds of metals. Each stall owner was very vocal when you walked by, trying to entice you to look as and purchase their wares. The market was a unique experience to see the type of artwork that is created everyday by regular Cuban citizens.

Almacenes San José Artisans' Market

Moreover, the Havana Club Rum Museum displayed Cuba’s passion for drink and the art of creating their prestigious rum. In the museum, we were taken through a guided tour of the entire process of creating the Havana Club rum, from harvesting and transporting the sugar cane all the way to the essential distillation and aging steps. The aging process is the most significant stage because it is the determining factor of the rum’s distinct aroma, taste, and more. This process can last anywhere from three years up until 50-60 years, and requires a specific oak barrel in which the aging takes place. One type of rum made by Havana Club even changes in taste and aroma every year. The devotion to the craft of producing rum stood out as we learned the level of attention to detail each process requires and the amount of pride these Cuban citizens have for the exceptional quality of rum they are crafting.

Havana Club Rum Museum

Havana is a city with a population that unanimously displays their passionate attitude in all facets of their daily lives and culture. From their unique ways of creating artwork to their patience and devotion to producing some of the highest quality rums in the world, this Cuban passion can be seen and felt wherever you turn in the city. However, this passion is not only limited to Havana and is expressed throughout the rest of the nation. Reflecting on this day, I believe that I will start to put the same amount of passion into my own hobbies and interests, hopefully exhibiting the same intense pride that the Cuban people have and continue to display.

Cuba: January 10th

The day began like all others at the residence; a breakfast made by Carlos served with freshly made mango juice. The bus picked us up and dropped us off at Centro de Estudios Martianos (CEM) for our last lecture while in Cuba. We took our seats in the small classroom and waited for our lecturer Rubin Morro.

He came in with a guitar case slung over his shoulder and a big pull string bag in his arms. By then we had already arranged ourselves in a circle and within minutes most of us had instruments in our hands. He taught us the different styles of dance and rhythm in the country like conga, rumba and the cha-cha. At the beginning, most of us were shy with the instruments we had never played before, but by the end we were comfortable with the support and enthusiasm of the lecturer.

Somehow the teacher had learned that there were some in our group who played back home. Even though we had already stayed past our scheduled time, everyone was more than happy to stay a bit longer for a jam session. Since we had spent the last couple hours playing and dancing to Cuban music, the lecturer wanted us to play and sing some American songs. We tried our best to come up with some we all knew, but all that could come to mind when we were put on the spot were songs sung by British bands. Of course, later that night we were all able to come up with more than a few. Mr. Morro was kind enough to play a song himself before we left for the day. I asked him to play a Silvio Rodriguez who is a Cuban artist known for his talent with a guitar. It was the perfect way to wrap up what I thought to be one of the best lectures we had at the CEM.


Later in the day we paid a visit to a local clinic. The building had a simple, clean look to it. Outside there was a bust of Jose Marti and a group of workers laying the foundation for a mini cement wall. A group of professors who were touring Cuba joined us for the tour of the clinic. We were ushered upstairs to a conference room for a short presentation.

The doctors giving us a small presentation about the healthcare system before the tour

The doctors giving us a small presentation about the healthcare system before the tour

Two doctors from the clinic explained that this was also a learning hospital. One of them had just come from administering a test to some students. The doctors explained the structure of the health system which sounded a lot like the overall structure in the U.S. I found it interesting that the doctor and nurse that were designated for any clinic or hospital were required to live in the area they serve in. If that were the case in the states, many people in the medical field would need to rent a U-Haul truck. Throughout the Q&A session of the presentation, questions were asked that pushed the doctors to find improvements that could be made to the system, but every time they only said things that were positive. Even though everything can be improved in some way, I appreciated the passion and love they had for what they did. That really came across when they explained that Cuba may not have all the new equipment in their clinics, but they had the love and compassion for people that made their system as successful as it was today.

The tour itself brought us through the lower level of the clinic. The doctors showed us the area for dentistry and physical therapy.

One of three chairs in the dentist area of the clinic.

One of three chairs in the dentist area of the clinic.

Just like the outside of the building, the inside was simple and very minimalist. While some may see that as a red flag for the clinic not having the resources they need to treat the people, I looked at it as money being used for the right things even though the latter may be the case. Seeing this clinic made me appreciate what we have back home, but also left me wondering why hospitals in the states put so much money towards aesthetics.

A poster listing the prices of procedures that the government pays for if a citizen needs it.

A poster listing the prices of procedures that the government pays for if a citizen needs it.

Cuba: January 9th

With eleven inches of snow on the ground back home, it seems unjust to complain about the temperature on this small island in the Caribbean. But it was indeed another (I admit, relatively) chilly day here in Havana. We started off our day a little earlier than usual, eager to arrive at the Centro de Estudious Martianos (or CEM, as we call it in the business). Awaiting us was a lecture on the history and evolution of education in Cuba, delivered by none other than Senora Ana Sanchez, the director of CEM herself.


As it turns out, Cuban education has several nuances none of us would have anticipated. In 1959, before the Triumph of the Revolution, the Cuban education system was in utter disarray. With only three universities nationwide, a low education budget, ludicrous amounts of corruption in the Ministry of Education, and an average level of school completion of third grade, the distress of the education system was not far behind that of the social and political structure. After seizing control in the Triumph of the Revolution, Fidel Castro declared that the future of Cuba had to be the “future of men of science and thinking”, and began to establish massive educational reforms throughout Cuba. Today, through the efforts of the Cuban government, Cuba now has 48 universities, an illiteracy rate of only 7.2%, and a school attendance rate of 99.3% in children between 6 years and 11 years old.


One aspect of Director Sanchez’s lecture that stood out to me was her description of how the United States is portrayed in Cuban education. In U.S. classrooms, Cuba is mentioned in context of three other topics – Fidel Castro as a historical figure, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Bay of Pigs Invasion. But the Cuban academic curriculum takes their portrayal of their longtime political enemy a step further. According to Director Sanchez, the United States history is taught with a focus on its origin, the American Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution. However, the intriguing part is that, when teaching students about the United States, a very clear distinction is made between the U.S. people and the U.S. government. This is a philosophy we have heard many times from a wide variety of Cubans, and it gives me great hope for a future of peaceful relations between our two countries.


Later this afternoon we had a couple of hours of elusive free time, so we wandered 23rd Street, taking in the sight of the shops, restaurants, and homes lining both sides. There was a noticeable distinction between many of these establishments and those we often see on the more traditionally tourist streets – you can often tell with little more than a glance if they deal in CUC (Cuban convertibles) or CUP (moneda nacional). It was intriguing to walk through this area and see the contrast from our normally-traveled path.


After 23rd Street, we meandered down Paleo en route to the Malecón, where the ocean waves were slamming the wall and exploding upward with force and vigor. The ocean was in great upheaval as far as I could see, and they rolled in a dark blue, turning turquoise as they neared the stone wall. Some of the waves hit the Malecón with such force that they flooded the drainage system under the street and exploded up through the manholes, rocketing the manhole covers airborne, flying over to the other side of the median. We gave that area a wide berth when departing for the Residencia. Later in the evening, as the expansive dinner Carlos fed us began to make us feel sleepy, several of us sat on the terrace and told jokes until we were laughing too hard to speak.


And that is what I believe this trip has been all about: learning how to coexist peacefully and joyously with those with many differences. Cuba has taught me much about what it means to be part of a community, on both a minute and a global scale.

Cuba January 8th

After being able to sleep in for the f1irst time since arriving in Havana, we traveled back into old Havana for the day to learn about Ernest Hemingway, when he visited Cuba in the 1940’s. As we drove along the Malecon, everyone watched as the waves crashed against the wall spilling over onto the road. This was the first time we witnessed the power of the ocean as it crashed into the sea wall. The winds were a result of the previous night’s storm and brought cool air in from the north. The ten foot waves hit the Malecon with enough force to send water above the tops of the streetlights.

W2e started off our day in Old Havana in the lobby of the Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Hemingway had always stayed before buying his house. The lobby had a pleasant atmosphere with someone quietly playing the piano by the entrance. People were scattered throughout the lobby occupying almost every seat with quite a few enjoying mojitos and other mixed drinks. The hotel seemed like a very relaxing place to stay and demonstrated the relaxing Cuban lifestyle which Hemingway enjoyed. After spending a little time in the lobby, we walked through the streets of old Havana visiting several noteworthy bars.3

Our first stop was at La Bodeguita del Medio, which is known for its mojitos. Inside there was a small band playing for the crowded room and everyone waiting to get in to get a mojito for themselves. Although they were good, my opinion was that they didn’t taste any better than any other mojito even though they cost twice as much. While waiting for the drinks to be made, we admired some of the art bring sold nearby by local vendors in small rooms or a staircase up to the second floor of a building. Most of which were paintings consisting of a Havana street with a brightly colored old car like the ones which are used for tours.

Since our day had a focus on Hemingway, we went to his favorite bar, El Floradita. The bar was extremely crowded with tourists that it made it almost impossible to walk inside to see the beautiful room with a band performing to the left as you walk in. A statue of Hemingway sits at the bar in the corner where he often enjoyed the lively atmosphere​. El Floradita would have been a great place to hang out and slowly enjoy a drin4k for a quiet afternoon, but due to the number of tourists it was too busy and loud. Everyone who was visiting Havana seemed to want to go to the bars which were famous to get a drink and experience Havana the way they had read about, but with all the tourists the experience was dampened. The bars unfortunately felt more like tourist attractions than anything else.

We finished the day with a discussion about Hemingway on top of the Hotel Ambos Mundos. Fortunately, the discussion was cut short because everyone became very cold due to the wind and sixty degree temperatures (which seemed cold to us even though back home it was close to zero) that no one was prepared for. Everyone was expecting it to be warm the entire time we were in Cuba. On our way back, our bus had a slight mechanical issue, but by the time everyone had noticed, our bus driver had already opened a hatch in the floor and fixed it quickly. Since Cuba had been cut off from the rest of the world for so long it isn’t surprising that many cars break down in various place and the drivers need to know how to fix it wit5hout too much trouble. Although it makes sense that anyone who owns a car would know how to fix it (more so than everyone in the United States), it still surprised me how quickly he could find and address the problem. The cold and the bus breakdown were two surprises that I didn’t expect to encounter during the day which made for a more interesting day along with the surprising number of tourists throughout all of Old Havana. Even with the busyness from the tourists, the city had a very peaceful feel with no one was rushing around and worrying about being late, instead people just wandered around enjoying the day. Except for the wind and cold, it was a beautiful day to wander around Old Havana and experience life as Hemming way did in the 1940’s.

Cuba: January 7th

Today started out bright, warm, and sunny, which means it was a great day for baseball. Back home baseball isn’t played during January since it is always too cold. After we were all done eating our daily breakfast with Carlos at the Residencia, we took a bus ride to Cojimar to see a youth baseball game. On the bus ride, our Cuban translator and tour guide, Ana, told us a story about how Ernest Hemingway helped to create the first children’s baseball team in Cuba in 1938. The team name was Las Estrellas de Gigi. Hemingway bought the property his house sits on in 1940 and promptly allowed the neighborhood kids to play baseball there. He even paid for errands to help out all of the kids’ families and he paid for most of the water supply. When we got to the baseball field, Ana also told us a lot about the current baseball project being held at this baseball field. It started 5 to 6 years ago and it now has a total of 60 kids from ages 5 to 10. They don’t have any funding, it’s free to play, and nothing extra is given to their program. However, good grades are needed in order to remain in the program. Back in Hemingway’s time, he used this field and drove kids there to compete with other kids in numerous baseball games. Jorge was the instructor of the youth baseball league and he let all of us play baseball with the kids. Stepping onto that baseball field brought back many memories for me. I played baseball throughout my childhood and when I was their age, I enjoyed playing baseball. I don’t play it that much anymore because I got hit by pitches too many times for my liking. But when I stood behind the plate playing catcher, I got a flashback to my childhood days as I saw all of the happy kids around me enjoying the sport of baseball. When I went up to bat and drilled a line drive down the 3rd base line, I saw the kids run after the ball so fast to try to get me out. When I was in the field, I loved running after the ball to get the batter out and I loved talking to the kids in the field with me as if they were my actual teammates from my childhood baseball teams. While my favorite baseball team is the Red Sox, my second favorite team is the San Francisco Giants. One of the kids had asked to try my Red Sox hat on, and I asked if I could try his Giants hat on. Seeing that kid with a wide smile on his face when he tried on my hat was what really made my day worthwhile. Baseball is such a great sport, and it’s a common language between Cuba and the U.S. We have been enemies for quite some time and only now are our countries fixing the relationship. Baseball is a key part in making this relationship better and Obama going to Cuba to watch the Tampa Bay Rays play a Cuban baseball team was a big step forward. It may be an old cliche, but making a kid’s day can really go a long way, especially when he and I have never met each other before today. We returned our hats to each other and I gave him a Babe Ruth league baseball before I left. There aren’t too many great Cuban baseball players in Major League Baseball, but who knows what may happen with these kids. Maybe one day one of them will be the next Big Papi. Or better yet, maybe one of them will be the next Aroldis Chapman, who is the best Cuban-born player in the MLB and is one of the best, if not the best, closers in the entire league. And like Big Papi and Aroldis Chapman, maybe one day they can be the ones that break the so-called “curse” for their respective team, in which they help their franchise win their first World Series Championship after a long history of losing. Cubans take a lot of pride in playing and watching baseball, so seeing one of their players win a World Series Title would be huge, and especially for their family. I have no doubt that I will remember this moment the most out of all of the events that we do in the two weeks that we are in Cuba. I wish I could have played baseball with them for the entire day. It was such a blessing to be there today and be able to relive my fun childhood. And we must always remember, Mel Ott hit 511 home runs.







Por La Luz y El Amor! – Cuba Trip Blog Entry for January 6th

After my trip to Cuba I will have spent time living, taking classes and doing service work in Argentina, Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Cuba, and will have spent much of my college education concentrating on the studies of peace and conflict in Latin American countries. I’m not from a Latin American country so I can’t possibly completely understand the sorts of ideals and philosophies that are present there. In my opinion, there are overarching themes of liberation present in every Latin American country. And to really understand how that philosophy functions in that country in everyday life it’s especially important to travel there and be able to understand the people and their history.

Student movements and solidarity based on nationality are iconic in most Latin American countries and stem from a philosophy of liberation. Cuba is a great example of these sorts of movements. We were able to experience the power of the Cuban student movements through our guest lecturer of the day, Jorge Lozano, who might be the most passionate person I’ve ever met. What was the most interesting thing to me about this lecture and all of our lectures is that the professors who are lecturing us were part of the history that they’re teaching. They completely encompass living history in a way that makes it feel so real for us as students. Talking to the professors or talking to Ana, hearing their stories, you realize that all of these terrible and wonderful and inspiring things that have happened in Cuba’s history don’t feel like history at all, not when you’re hearing about it like it happened yesterday. Lozano actually told us a story in which he spoke on behalf of the entire student movement and Fidel Castro responded directly to him. To me, it’s hard to wrap my mind around the things that so many Cubans have experienced, but to them they’re just doing their national duty as Cubans.

We were also able to experience an amazing organization called Quisicuabo, where almost a hundred people volunteer their time to cook food for those who can’t obtain food themselves. They are able to do this in the most graceful and beautiful way imaginable, going out of their way to ensure that all of their patrons continue to feel dignified and not like a charity case. They also emphasized that we could take pictures, but not to post pictures of their patrons anywhere, because it’s inappropriate and unnecessary to publicize human suffering to gain sympathy.

The entire experience from that day brought me back to the Latin American philosophy class I had taken the semester before. One of the philosophers we learned about theorized that the best kind of philosophy is the kind that comes from the periphery. Meaning that those who are on the outskirts, and not in the center, can see most clearly. This allows them to write philosophical thought which is of a higher quality than those in the center. While in Cuba, I thought about this concept a lot. If we’re looking at Cuba and the Cuban people as a whole, they really have been pushed to the peripheries for most of recent history due to it’s relationship with the U.S. If we imagine the United States as the center of the modern global world, and especially of the Western world (which most U.S. citizens likely do), then Cuba has been forcibly left out and moved to the outskirts of international relations for generations. I thought about what that does to a people and a government, and realized that Cuba has been experiencing life in the periphery since before the time of Jose Marti.

When we think of Cuba we often think of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara as the most prominent political and historical figures. And they are extremely important. But after visiting Cuba it was clear to me that the ideals of Jose Marti have a much greater influence on the modern daily lives of Cubans. His philosophy speaks the most clearly to them. Which is especially interesting considering he spent so much of his life in exile in Spain, New York and other foreign countries. I realized again that he was writing about Cuba, as someone who was seeing in from the outside but had a close connection within. Maybe this is why he was able to connect so deeply with the hearts of the Cuban people, he was writing from the peripheries.

After both of these experiences I realized that to be Cuban is to be a part of the struggle for independence, for freedom, and it doesn’t end, because there is always suffering and repression. Cubans are constantly being forced into the peripheries of life. And it’s so important to always feel that fiery passion that causes you to need to do something to stop it.

Cuba January 5th

I woke up on January 5th with my first thought “Happy birthday to myself.” I thought today would be another birthday away from family. I didn’t really tell anyone that I was turning 22 today so I had not expected what the day had to hold.

This day started with breakfast at Carlos’, our host family, like usual. Carlos and his wife, Neida, came up to me with a “felizidadez” and a hug. For a moment I lead myself to believe they were as my parents wishing me like every January 5th for the last 21 years.

After breakfast we had the opportunity to visit hotel Nacional, one of Cuba’s newly named national monuments. The hotel was busy with guests and tourists coming in and out. With high ceilings and original furniture, the hotel was quite an amazing view. You could still feel the ambiance of the 1930’s when the hotel was first opened.  The tour guide had showed us around the different floors pointing out famous celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Kate Moss who have stayed there before. We were able to see the location of where the mafia had conferences and stayed while in Cuba. We saw with our own eyes what we had read about only a month before in Havana Nocturne. hotel

When we walked outside to the garden, you could see the Malecon and ocean only a few yards away.

We were led down further to see the bunkers of the Cuban missile crisis. The bunkers were very narrow and stuffy. It is so hard to imagine that only a few decades ago Fidel Castro himself and others ran back and forth in these small tunnels. There was barely any light and I had to hold on to Ania in front of me to make sure I wouldn’t trip on this trail.


During this time, Eileen our API instructor asked me if I wanted to make a call home since it was my birthday. To me, this was the best present I could receive. I called my twin sister to congratulate her however she did not pick up so instead I called my mom and she became my messenger to my sister that day. Even thought we were out and about exploring Cuba, I was very homesick.

After dinner a group of us went upstairs to smoke the cigars we had gotten a few days back. I have never really smoked before Cuba nor do I find myself wanting to back home but there is something about being up on the terrace with a cigar and lighter in hand that really makes you feel like you belong in Havana. I sat there looking out at the sky. Although the sun had already set you can see outlines of houses in the distance as well as hotels. I don’t usually take time for myself to just sit and enjoy the present but Cuban culture started to grow on me because I was doing just this. The whole ambiance in Cuba was living in the moment. It is not like we could use our phones or had internet. We were completely disconnected.

Out of nowhere, my moment of relaxation was interrupted by the entrance of the rest of the group as well as our professor Julian and Carlos who was carrying a cake. I was definitely not expecting this gesture but it was really sweet of them. The cake itself was huge and more than enough for all of us. I officially felt like I had turned 22 as it was welcomed with a cake and the birthday song in both English and Spanish.

We then went down to 1830 a salsa club by the Malecon as part of our iteniary. At first we all sat and watched as the experts stole the dance floor. Eventually we were able to muster up the guts to dance with some Cuban natives.

“Right, Left, right” that’s what they keep saying but I couldn’t keep up. Our official salsa class would not be until the following day. Eventually I let go of the insecurities I had about my bad dancing and was able to enjoy the night dancing poor salsa.

I ended my birthday night celebrating with my temporary family in Cuba.