Authentic Cuba 2017
June 28, 2017
We spoke to the group and all is well in Cuba! The group arrived with all baggage, and has already participated in a cooking lesson. They were sitting down to a tasty lunch in Havana. More orientation activities are scheduled for this evening.
We will be sending updates along the way, and with each new update you will receive an email and a link to the Trip Journal. Stay tuned. NOTE: Cuba is one of the more challenging locations for us to receive & transfer photos. Some updates may come without photos. We will do our best on that front, and thank you for your patience!
-The GW Home Office
Today we made it to Cuba! I could tell because of the airport that WASN’T freezing. The people were honestly the sweetest. As soon as we exited the airport we saw a bunch of old cars. It was so dope! There we met our great tour guide, Marlon. He took us around Havana all the way to a cooking class. When I say cooking class I mean it! A waiter taught us all how to make a mojito. Then we had a great woman teach us how to make my favorite Cuban dish , ropa vieja. Since I volunteered to help her, I was given a certificate and with a little chef doll labeled “Cuba”. We finished that activity off by having a great lunch which included a virgin mojito and ropa vieja. During the bus ride to our next event, Marlon gave us fun facts about Cuba. Soon we arrived at our next activity… the Flamenco Dance show. The place was absolutely beautiful. We met the guy who designed it and taught all of the dancers how to play the congas. The women danced beautifully. They had great rhythm and the amazing part was that they were making music with drum sticks while dancing! Later we made it to the place we would spend the next 3 nights. Edward is the owner and he was extremely sweet. The place had air condition and was very neat and clean. Right before dusk we made our way to the Malecon. It was so gorgeous and we watched the sun go down over the water and it was wonderful. We came back to our house impatiently waiting for what the next adventures will bring us.
June 29, 2016
The second day in Havana has been marvelous. We were first woken up at 8am and had breakfast made by the house hosts. It consisted of muffins, eggs, bread, crackers, and bananas which were very delicious. After this at 9am we hit the road and took the bus to the market. In this market the people of Havana come to get their rations of food for their families which supports them for a month. We were given money and was able to buy food supplies such as fruits. We then headed to Old Havana in which we looked around 3 squares. In each square displayed different styles of restaurants and museum’s. It also showed the type of entertainment people did throughout the day. For example there was this one guy who was dressed up as a clown and had a dog with big goofy glasses on top of his head. Which looked pretty hilarious. So it basically showed me the sense of humor people had around that community.
We then went to a restaurant for lunch in that area which even had a little show with people showcasing their talents with instruments and singing. After that we were now headed to a school in which made restorations for places all over Cuba. The age requirement to be in this school was from 18-23 and they were being taught by former students who once went to that school. They told us how they got their wood supplies and how long it took for them to make these restorations. Also they spoke on the donations they received from foreign countries such as Belgium, and how they would be studied by Belgium and giving them information on their restorations which led to them making books. We then got back on the bus and got back to our house around 3pm. We chose this time to bond as a group and explore our surroundings. Lastly, at 7pm we headed to a community filled with houses made of art by a famous artist named Fuster. This one house we went to in that community was unique and very original. It had a dining area and a little pool as you walked in. As you went upstairs you could see that Fuster used tiles as the primary source of this art house and it was very attractive. The group took many pictures and enjoyed themselves on the roof top. We then had dinner which was great, it consisted of a main course of rice, chicken, and fish. Then coffee and coffee cake for desert. That was our last activity for the day and we were now headed back home.
Today basically made me feel like I was at home, it had me experience and look at the daily life of Cuban’s and participate in it. It also allowed me to admire the creativity in Cuba because of their expressive art pieces. This is something that you don’t see often in the U.S. so I’m appreciative of the beautiful culture I got to see. Finally the meals here are great, a variety of different meals that I never even had before. This is totally a day I’ll remember forever.
Day 3 of Global Works started with a bang. With the bus departing at 8:30, our group of 10 had an early (for teenagers) wakeup time of 7, with breakfast at 7:30. Although the cuisine could have been found at Denny’s, with scrambled eggs, loaves of bread, and coffee leading the way, the family style manner in which it was served made for a unique Cuban experience. After savoring our food, we quickly departed for our tour bus to begin today’s adventures.
First up was a visit to a community named Alamar, a self sustaining organic farm established in the 1990’s. At Alamar, a tour guide first had us do an hour of manual labor (ripping out weeds for future planting), then gave us a comprehensive tour of the farm, showing our group everything from the animals (rabbits to bulls), the unique blend of crops grown, and even the innovative techniques used to fertilize soil (such as the usage of layers of earthworms). After touring the farm, our group was hungry, so we stopped for a nice lunch at the playa, or beach in English, where we enjoyed the Cuban cuisine of chicken/pork and rice, and even met a few American tourists in the restaurant.
After we finished lunch, our group then visited said beach, where we spent almost 2 hours talking, having fun, and taking ridiculous selfies in the water. After we were exhausted from our beach visit, we returned to our casa particular, where some of us took naps while others played card games for a few hours. Then, we were treated to a cuban concert, headlined by local artists, in the city square. By the time we left the concert, it was 8pm, so we decided to have dinner at our casa. Dinner was the fare of chicken and onion, mixed in with side dishes of chickpeas, rice, and veggies. To cap off an amazing day, we spent the rest of the night going over the ridiculous selfies we took at the beach and throughout the trip.
July 1, 2017
After our last night in Havana, we woke up ready for a day of traveling to our next destination: the town of Viñales. We said goodbye to our gracious hosts. Once we go on the bus, the ever-peppy Marlin told us we were headed to the Las Terrazas Biosphere on our way to Viñales. I couldn’t tell you how long the trip was, but we were lucky enough to enjoy not one, but two performances of the Zongs Bailando and La Gozadera by Marlin. We also watched former President Obama’s speech to the Cuban people regarding the normalization of relations between Cuba and the U.S. and the lift of the American Trade Embargo on Cuba, which Marlin tells us is referred to as the Blockade by Cubans because it prohibits trade between Cuba and any company remotely connected to America (which is pretty much every company in the world).
Once we arrived at Las Terrazas we recognized the place as something similar to a national park. We were greeted by “virgin cocktails” and our hilarious tour guide whose jokes were all told with a completely straight face. We took the bus up to a high point in the mountain range, and our guide explained that Las Terrazas was deforested years ago, and in 1986 the government began to reforest the area using the Terrace system to prevent soil erosion. The area has been transformed since then, and the former mountain peasants have moved into a sustainable and beautiful community in Las Terrazas where 70% of the 1400 person population works in Las Terrazas as a tourist destination.
We went up to Buenavista and saw the breathtaking view of the mountains and the diverse vegetation and wildlife. We also saw the old coffee plantation home and the place where the beans were dried out and crushed. We also saw the ruins of the old slave houses and discussed the dark past of slavery in Cuba. We then went down to the community and saw the artwork of Ariel. We then went to another exorbitant lunch with a beautiful view and enjoyed the coffee from the area.
After lunch, we went swimming in the river and then headed back to the bus to go to Viñales. On our way, we took a detour to a tobacco farm and learned tobacco is cultivated and dried and them how it is rolled into a cigar. Finally, we drove through the stunning cuban countryside and arrived in the adorable town of Viñales. The girls and the boys are sleeping in separate house tonight, but I can speak for myself when I tell you the girls had an amazing girls night looking out at the pink sunset over the mountains. We are all very excited to experience Viñales tomorrow!
July 2, 2017
Hola! This morning we woke up in paradise once again and had an amazing breakfast. After breakfast we met the guys on the bus and drove out to a community art center with a community garden. On the way we passed loads of horse drawn carriages, while listening to the musical talents of our guide, Marlin. When we arrived at the garden, it was so cute. We saw the artist’s art, which was gorgeous. We then split up into two groups. One was pulling weeds and the other painted pottery. The participants in the group that painted were battling for a piece of artwork. Caleb won with his Cuban flag painted plate. After getting back, us girls all went out to explore the town. We saw all kinds of cute shops and restaurants, then we came upon a square where music was playing. We danced and laughed, it was so fun. After getting back we all just chilled and talked. It was a great day, and I am so sad that the trip is half over but I’m so glad we have more time here in Cuba.
July 3, 2017
This morning, after we enjoyed our last breakfast in Veñales, we made the five hour drive south east to the Bay of Pigs area. Although we may have anticipated this long bus ride in a negative way (because of the beautiful weather we were missing), we were able to use the morning to relax while listening to fun Spanish music and to reflect on the past few days while watching the beautiful landscapes that we passed through the window. Five hours flew by as we thought about the visual diversity between the city of Havana, the small town of Veñales, and the beach area of our new destination, Playa Larga. Once we arrived, we had lunch at our new home for the night, which consisted of delicious fish, rice, beans, and vegetables. Then, we settled into our rooms and headed back out toward the water. The activity for the afternoon was snorkeling, where we had so much fun watching the fish and making memories that will last forever. After a long day, we came back to eat dinner at the house. We are definitely tired after a long, exciting day, but we can’t wait to head to Trinidad tomorrow!
July 4, 2017
Happy late Fourth of July from Cuba. We went to a cenote in the morning that we were planning on going to the day before, but after several group photo attempts, it became a ce-nope-te as we left due to gnats and mosquitos. After a short bus ride, we went to Museo Giron in Playa Largo to learn about Cuba pre revolution (including the fact that 8-18 year olds were able to get permits to go to the countryside and help teach farmers to read in order to combat illiteracy in Cuba) and the Bay of Pigs invasion (which happened two years after the revolution won when Fidel Castro declared that Cuba would become socialist).
After I took some photos outside for my history buff friend, we drove about an hour and a half to Cienfuegos an UNESCO heritage sight, famous for its historical and cultural influence. After walking on the bottom floor of a house built by a sugar baron and seeing the yacht club that all Cubans can use the services of, we finally got to see some artistic spaces in the form of an artist’s studio and a print making factory. At the art studio we saw paintings and photos, that show a side of Cuba that isn’t normally seen. Both the art studio and print shop showcase murals with designs that the artist are selling be it paintings, photos, or prints. My favorite thing about the print making factory was that it offered classes for people with autism and Down syndrome.
The final thing we did in Cienfuegos was walk around the town center and souvenir shop. We then left one UNESCO heritage sight for another. After another hour and a half bus ride, we arrived in Trinidad where we took a BiciTaxi to our casas particulares, showered and ate dinner as it started pouring rain. And by pouring I mean thunder, lightning, and slight flooding of streets. In an after dinner group hang out, we declared the lightning to be our fireworks. Once again happy belated Fourth of July!
– Taylor B.
July 5, 2017
Today the group, led by our guide Marlon, took a short bus ride to the old sugar plantation in the vast valleys, which has been recognized as a UNESCO heritage site for its beautiful landscape. There we climbed an old slave watch tower where at the top we were rewarded with a breathtaking 360 degree view of the whole plantation. After climbing down we returned to the bus which brought us back to the old town of Trinidad. We explored the picturesque streets full of colorful houses before we visited the church and learned about the local religion called Santaria, the most popular religion in Cuba along with Catholicism, which is unique due to its African roots. From there we visited a women’s co-op where we learned to crochet and make friendship bracelets with the help of some of the local teenage girls. After bonding through our activities and practicing our Spanish we met up with our new friends again in the afternoon at the main plaza to hang out and make some more bracelets.The highlight of today, however, has to be our salsa class. All of us, including the rhythmically handicapped, learned the simple footwork and dance thanks to the help of our awesome instructor and got a taste of some real Cuban culture. Tonight has been designated for rest as we prepare for a day full of activities tomorrow.
– by Fred
July 6, 2017
After a much needed day of rest and recovery for a few travelers, our group was ready to go off to the outdoors bright and early. A short bus ride brought us to a beautiful national park and rainforest just outside the city of Trinidad. A hike of nearly 3 miles through hills and across rivers ensued, but was well worth it at the destination: a gorgeous waterfall. Not only could we experience its breathtaking view, but we were also able to venture through the caves and take a swim in the crisp, clear water. It is one thing to look at a waterfall, but to experience its power firsthand was something we will never forget. After cooling off, the hike alongside the river and back to the bus was filled with laughter and fun. Once back in Trinidad, we enjoyed a lovely rooftop lunch amidst being serenaded by traditional Cuban music. Next, we were back on the bus where our tour guide Marlin sang and danced to one of our favorite reggaeton songs called “La Gozadera”, and before we knew it we were at the beach. A few hours of swimming, tanning, and fresh coconut water felt very rewarding after our morning hike and travel. In the evening, some chose to spend their last Cuban dollars at local shops, and shortly after dinner was served at our hostels. As the sun set, we set out to a local square where we practiced our salsa dancing with local Cubans and enjoyed each other’s company, as we will head back to Havana tomorrow.
– by Caleb
July 7, 2017
On our last and final full day in Cuba, we began the day leaving the town Trinidad in which we stayed in for the past 3 days. We made about a 5 hour drive to Havana stoping in between time for lunch at a local pit stop. There we enjoyed really good sandwiches in which the bread was carved into a Cuban crocodile. At around 3 o’clock in the afternoon we reached our destination stopping at the Jesus Statue which overlooks all of Havana. There we took photos and took a stroll down to the fairy in where we sailed to heart of Havana. We made our way to the hostel in where we were staying in for the night relaxing until dinner. Everyone had showered and beautified themselves for our final dinner at “La Chucharia” where people ate spaghetti, pizza, salad, and burgers. After our wonderful meal, we enjoyed a very super entertaining dance show which included the vibes of salsa, rumba, and break dancing. When the show had came to a conclusion, the dancers involved in the show invited the group on to the stage to dance with them. To conclude the night, we all met in the front of the hostel where are leader Tyrone made a very inspirational speech and we all said our views on the trip. This trip has been a life changing experience for all of us which was full of fun, excitement, and change.
– by Andres