By: Christine Whittle, Travel Consultant and Sunny Lewis, Senior Certified Travel Associate
Although Cuba is so close to the United States, it is like visiting time past. We had no idea that we would be experiencing one of the most wonderful Islands in the Caribbean! First we had a night at the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables, Florida so that we would be provided with all the necessary information required for the experience of a lifetime.We boarded our charter flight from Miami to Cuba to immediately begin the tour with our amazing tour director, Ronny and local tour guide, Alicia. We visited the Museum of the Revolution then were taken to our first class hotel, the Melia Habana located in the Miramar section. This area of Havana is on the water but not what we would refer to as beach accessible. It is a charming area with beautiful architecture that has fallen to ruin and is now being restored where possible. You will see many of the 1960’s American classic cars, many restored by owners with what little they have to manage this. We found the people of Cuba to be so welcoming and have great pride in sharing their culture.
Our experience with the large portions of food provided by local privately owned Paladar restaurants was wonderful, the food was truly fresh and noticeably without preservatives. We were always welcomed with the traditional mojito which never went to waste.
We were taken to local tobacco growers to learn how they process the finest leaves that are used to make the world famous Cuban cigars. They showed us how everything is worked by manual labor, very few machines are used. Samples were always available.
Baseball is one of the main sports in Cuba and many great players have come from Cuba. The children have strong pride in playing the sport and it was quite impressive to see the youth practice, I did not see one child miss hitting the ball. We were fortunate to have Rolando Macias speak to our group of the difficulty he went through as a major player, having to make a choice of being drafted and never seeing his family again or staying home to play the local teams and be with his beloved family. He is known as the Willie Mays of Cuba.
It was like stepping back in time seeing the beautiful farm fields from the coach as we drove by, they did not have machinery to plow the fields. They still use cattle and manual labor to do all the heavy work in those fields.
We also had a wonderful opportunity to visit a school for after school activities offered to children. It was quite obvious that they wanted to learn as much as possible and it was impressive that most could speak more than one language. We learned that the education is quite advanced and provided free to all, including university education.
Many people have degrees in the highest form and still work more than one job to provide for their family.
One of the highlights of the tour was being exposed to the arts of Cuba. We visited an arts collective where we met local artisans and musicians. Although lacking in the latest art supplies and instruments, they are able to make beautiful art and music.
We highly recommend this tour. It was a trip of a lifetime. Go now and see the real Cuba! The hardships are many and obvious but the people have an abundance of love and family wealth.
Senior Travel Consultant, CTA
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