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Delray Beach, FL, Westport, MA, United States
Undergraduate degree, Colby College; MA in teaching, Columbia Teacher's College; former high school English teacher in three states; former owner of interior design co. with advanced degree from R.I. School of Design. Barking Cat Books published my first book in 2009 titled, MINOR LEAGUE MOM: A MOTHER'S JOURNEY THROUGH THE RED SOX FARM TEAMS. My humorous manuscript titled ELDERLY PARENTS WITH ALL THEIR MARBLES: A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE KIDS was published in June, 2014. In 2015 A SURVIVAL GUIDE won a gold medal in the self-help category at the Florida Authors & Publishers Association conference. In 2018 Barking Cat Books published my SURVIVING YOUR DREAM VACATION: 75 RULES TO KEEP YOUR COMPANION TALKING TO YOU ON THE ROAD. See website By CLICKING HERE.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Cuban Travelogue, Part I

Thirteen of us headed to Cuba for eight days with our Adventure Holidays International guide Amit, a U.S. resident and Tel-Aviv native, former Israeli Defense Forces officer, and tour operations/management director. The thirteen of us had responded to a brochure from Brown University describing the trip. Among us were Ted Widmer, Brown U. professor and author of Brown: The History of an Idea, as well as a former banking colleague of Charley's and her husband (a delightful coincidence!). Ten of us were New Englanders; three were from New York. The Red Sox-Yankee rivalry rekindled each morning, following a report of the previous night's game.

Our group at the U. Havana, minus our guide Amit 
The tour would meet U.S. requirements for "people-to-people" travel to Cuba, based on our scheduled events. Traveling with tour operators who have the necessary Treasury Department license makes visiting the island legal for citizens of the U.S. Cruises also dock at Cuba's ports, with limited time and/or access to mainland tours. From the southeastern coast through central Cuba to Havana and west, our days would be filled with museums, lectures, concerts, dance recitals, tours of elderly and maternity homes, educational facilities, artists' studios, a sugar cane plantation, a former coffee plantation, a cigar factory, Hemingway's home, an ecologically sustainable community, and, of course, the mandatory ride in classic cars of the '50's. We would eat in family-run paladars, state-owned restaurants, and at barbecues where pigs stretched on spits.

Amit informed us we would be flying into Santa Clara rather than Cienfuegos, because the latter had not been rebuilt after Hurricane Irma ravaged it in 2017 as a category 5 storm.

Upon arrival we were interviewed and photographed individually. A doctor and a nurse collected our health forms. Our Visa forms had been stamped in Miami and would be collected when we departed Havana. We met our Cuban guide, whose name I will not include. He traveled with us the entire week. In perfect English, he explained that due to regulations, Professor Ted and Amit would not be allowed to give us lectures. "I was a teacher of English as a foreign language," he told us, "before I became a tour guide. I earned the equivalent of $23/month in Cuban pesos as a teacher. Now I earn the equivalent of $20/month. We have to become creative." We assumed the change in professions was due to the tips he now kept. Our guide supported his wife and two children, as well as his mother and father. We appreciated his honesty and during the week asked any questions that popped into our heads. "I will try to answer you honestly," he said, "but I may not have an answer or you may not like the answer."
View from our window toward Bay of Cienfuegos on Cuba's south coast 
Cuba is almost 800 miles long, the largest island in the Caribbean. We drove two hours south to the coast and checked into the Hotel Jagua on the Bahia (Bay) of Cienfuegos. Our room cost around $150/night in the high season. By U.S. standards it would have been a three-star hotel. The door to our room had no bolt (however, there is never a safety issue, even at night on the streets - no guns are sold on the island and crime is nonexistent); public toilets in the lobby had backed up without a sign; SIMS cards for Wi-Fi were not available, "but maybe tomorrow."

Mansion confiscated by Fidel's revolution on the grounds of our hotel.
The following day we drove east along the coast to the town of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Foothills of mountains rose to our left and the Caribbean teased to our right. It was the land where Fidel had gathered his revolutionaries, hiding in caves. His portrait was universal, along with Che's. Despite reports of stark-white, deserted beaches, we didn't have time to savor them.
Art gallery, Trinidad
Local transportation, Trinidad

 Ration cards in a government redemption grocery
Local transportation and hat seller, Trinidad

We visited a government redemption grocery in Trinidad. Its shelves were almost bare, with the exception of a hefty supply of rum. "Our ration cards must be used in national redemption groceries, which have supplies and prices determined by the state," our guide said. "After age seven, no child receives milk on his ration card. The cards do not provide food for the entire month, maybe ten or twelve days." On a blackboard were the standardized amounts a half-pound of black beans or one cup of sugar cost in rations per person for the month. Twenty-five government pesos (used by Cubans) equaled approximately $1 or 1 Cuban convertible peso ("Cuc," used by tourists). Our dollars added a 10% tax to any item we purchased. Euros were more convenient, without any tax attached.

While in the redemption grocery, I tried to get a photo. I bent down to lean on the counter, where a scale rested for purchases. The counter was black with flies, feasting on the gritty sugar.

Flea market, Trinidad
Main square, Trinidad
Street scene, Trinidad
The birdman of Trinidad (with dozens of filled cages), selling hats from his three-room house.
Statue mimes, Trinidad

To be continued...


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