It was an amazing glimpse into a quickly changing country and I felt fortunate to be there. The colors, the vintage cars, the incredible buildings were more than I could have hoped for. We made a stop at the Christopher Columbus cemetery on the trip from the airport as if the trip had been designed personally for me. The tour we joined was coordinated by Friendly Planet and billed as the Highlights of Havana and Varadero tour. Tours are still the way most US citizens visit Cuba but we fell in with a compatible crowd with a US and Cuban guide. My daughter joined me in Miami for the adventure and we soon discovered we were one of three mother/daughter groups.
Everything we saw brought up a question and every answer brought up another question. I was amazed to discover that we were to stay at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba where Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Tyrone Powers, Walt Disney (I stayed in his room) and Winston Churchill stayed. We sat on the back patio looking over the water with the wind blowing through the palm trees and drank the first of many mojitos. There were black and white pictures on the wall of former visitors and quirky bits of memorabilia laying out with "please don't touch" signs next to Peter Frampton's guitar and Jake Lansky's roulette wheel.
We explored old Havana, dropped by an elementary school, medical clinic and a ration store, We had a daiquiri in Hemingway's favorite bar and peeked in the windows of his home. We toured an art studio, visited with a fashion designer and ate lunch on an organic farm. We had a cigar, coffee and rum tasting at ten o'clock one morning and kept sipping rum for the rest of the week. We ended the tour with a drive through the countryside to Varadero at a beach resort which was an eye opening experience for me. Every time I turned around I was handed another rum beverage.
US tours to Cuba still need to have some kind of cultural or people to people theme although our guide said she could work with groups with special interests. I was stunned by how many tourists were already there. Bus after bus rolled up to the spots of interest. National Geographic, university groups, Jazz groups....when we pulled out the next bus pulled in. It was the perfect time of year to be there although it rained for a few days. Few places have air conditioning so I expect summer could be miserable. We stayed healthy, ate better than expected and handed out change to pay bathroom attendants for our scraps of toilet paper.
Here is a start on a few photos. More to come!