Will the real Cuba reveal itself?


Patsy Pridgen


Life Columnist

Sunday, April 14, 2019

If I were asked for words that describe Cuba, I’d list communist Russian pawn, Fidel Castro, boat people fleeing to Florida, cigars and vintage cars.

My perception of this country has been shaped from various experiences such as watching the 1962 Cuban missile crisis on a black and white television, conversations with Cuban exiles when visiting Miami as a young adult and perusing recent travel brochures.

This spring, I’ll have a different experience to help form my impression of Cuba. In a few weeks, my husband and I will travel with friends on a bus tour of this island once closed to American tourists. Titled Cuba’s Charming Colonial Cities & Havana, the Globus trip will begin in a city called Camaguey and end seven days later in Havana.

We’ve had to jump through some hoops to sign up. Unlike other nationalities, Americans can’t get into Cuba on passports alone, so we’ve had to obtain additional visas. And Americans can’t visit Cuba just to hang out on a beach somewhere and drink rum. A stipulation of travel is that we enter the country under a people-to-people provision. We are supposed to be visiting to learn more about the Cubans.

That’s exactly what I want to do. I can lie on the beach and sip fruity cocktails lots of places. But getting into Cuba with a chance to see what’s actually going on is a rare opportunity. Reading through the itinerary, I’m excited about what the tour company has lined up to fulfill the people-to-people requirement. In Camaguey, we are to meet and interact with dancers, teachers and costume makers of a ballet company. We’ll visit King Ranch, where we’ll talk to cowboys and eat a barbecue lunch.

In Trinidad, described as “the crown jewel of Cuba’s colonial cities,” we’re scheduled to discuss private enterprise with the owners and staff of a bed and breakfast. In Cienfuegos, “the pearl of the south,” we engage with tobacco rollers at a cigar factory and visit with artists at a graphic arts studio to learn about their lives and work.

Once in Havana, we meet former Cuban baseball players over lunch to talk about the history of this favorite Cuban sport. We’re also to visit a community project to interact with children and volunteers.

In addition to all that visiting, meeting, discussing and interacting, we do have a guided tour of the Bay of Pigs Museum in Playa Giron. It will be interesting to hear the Cuban side of this 1961 failed American invasion. And I’m excited about seeing Finca Vigia, the home of Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Cuba for more than 30 years. Finally, no trip to Cuba would be complete without a ride in a ’57 Chevy or some such vintage car. We’re promised a spin before our farewell dinner in Havana.

I realize that much of what I’ll experience has been carefully orchestrated. Any country likes to showcase its best features. But I’m hoping that here and there the curtain will part, maybe accidentally, and I’ll see the people of Cuba as they really are.

Check out Patsy Pridgen’s blog at www.patsypridgen.com.