We had a fabulous experience touring Cuba with CIT, from the first day to the last. Mostly this was because of Cuba–a place like no other, with warm, talented people–but it was also because of our great guides. Patricia, who chaperoned us our first two days, was warm, friendly, and knowledgeable. The experience that stands out was dancing with her and the members of the Afro-Cuban collective Beyond Roots to the drums and singing of the group members. We are neither Yoruba nor believers in Santeria (well, maybe now we are), but the spirit and the rhythms really took us to a different world. Another amazing experience–and I can’t remember if it was still with Patricia or our 2nd guide, Karel–was the concert we were given by a group of children singing and playing guitars in their classroom, some of the kids as young as five or six, up to older teens. They attend an after-school program called Clave de Sol and they are so talented.
Karel took over as guide on our third day and he was extraordinary. He’s a university professor and all-around expert on Cuba, its history, landscape, politics, beliefs–the works. It was like being in a roving school, riding in the van and soaking up experiences while Karel taught us, so easily, just by talking with us. We rode across the island to Trinidad where we had an educational and fun walking tour with local guide Rafael, who seems to know every building in the city! Walking around the picturesque streets we stumbled across a man and his grown son–not anything planned–who invited us into their Santeria shrine inside their house, and talked animatedly with us (translation by Karel of course).
There are too many highlights to recount, but back in Havana we were wowed by the Habana Compas Dance Troupe and their incredible energy. It was an all-woman dance and percussion ensemble and they mesmerized us. We were also treated to an extraordinary concert in the home of the saxophonist Carlos Miyaures and his drummer [a well-known Cuban drummer whose name I didn’t get] and bass player. It was an intimate and engrossing hour of sophisticated Cuban jazz. As proof of the warmth of the Cuban people, Carlos invited our 15 year old drummer-and-pianist grandson to “sit in” and play the drums with them. The founder of the Compas Dance Troupe, Eduardo Cordova, also invited our grandson to play.
I haven’t even talked about the art we saw in galleries, which was spectacular, including an exhibit of album covers for famous Cuban and other Latin American musicians. We also enjoyed the mysteriously beautiful nightscapes of the artist Carlos Mata. And we got a “twofer” when Karel arranged a visit with his friend the Cuban jazz drummer and composer Ruy Lopez-Nussa. While visiting in Ruy’s studio and hearing him play an impromptu drum solo, we also saw the artwork of his late father, Leonel Lopez-Nussa, who should be famous! Again showing us the warmth of the Cubans, Ruy invited our grandson to play the drums, and autographed a copy of his book for him.
Our trip to the biosphere/ecological nature park Las Terrazas on our last full day was a final treat. Our local guide, Otis, spotted and pointed out to us beautiful birds, including the Cuban national bird, the trogon. The park, created 50 years ago on barren land, is now a lush and bird-filled paradise where people live and work in harmony with nature.
We would go back to Cuba in a heartbeat. But right now our task is to do what we can to get the US government to end its embargo of Cuba and stop punishing the Cuban people. Thanks to Cultural Island Travel for educating and entertaining us. What a week.