The Cuba Fellowship is the opportunity of a lifetime, and it’s a unique experience on multiple levels. First, there’s the group of people traveling with you. You’ll be in good hands with knowledgeable staff who have carefully planned the details of your trip and are there as a resource for you during your stay. And then there is the group of fellows--if your trip is like mine you’ll be surrounded by smart, talented adventure-seekers who make exploring Cuba even more fun, all while becoming new friends. Then there’s Havana. It’s a stunningly beautiful place. From the vibrant colors, to the architecture, to the old cars that roam the streets, its visual appeal is unmatched. There’s also a great local art scene, tons of live music, and a variety of food and drink options. The prices are beyond reasonable. You can “eat like a Cuban” for about $2-3 USD per meal--things like bistec (steak), black beans and rice, plantains, etc. were all common (and delicious). And you’ll also have opportunities to spend a little more on upper-end restaurants if you want, though you’ll still find them much cheaper than in the US. Taxi rides, souvenirs, and anything else you’d spend money on, are also much cheaper than their US equivalents. Lastly, Havana is incredibly safe. I was amazed at how helpful and kind the people were, along with how non-threatening the environment was. Even when we traveled in smaller groups, we had total peace of mind the entire trip.
I took away so many good memories from the trip, so it’s hard to narrow it down to a few favorites, but I’ll try. Our group had the privilege of scheduling a private meeting with the US ambassador to Cuba. The whole process of getting into the Embassy was intense (multiple security checkpoints), and just by entering the building you were reminded of past US/Cuba tensions. The ambassador talked to our group for 30-45 minutes, giving us a summary of the relationship with Cuba and his hopes for the future. It was a rare opportunity to get such insight from someone of his position, especially in such an intimate setting. Another important takeaway came from our trip to the Museo de la Revolucion. The exhibits here document Castro’s takeover and the government’s accomplishments since. While informative, it was interesting to read materials that were intentionally propagandistic and at times ran counter to the opinions we had heard directly from locals. There was also a significant portion of the museum dedicated to criticism of American government. Again, this was fascinating and an important reminder of the history of our country’s relationship with Cuba.
All in all, it seems like Cuba is changing quickly. We heard a lot about the transition from government-run to private businesses in multiple sectors and, combined with the influx of tourism, it seems like there is positive economic momentum there. Many of us wondered how quickly Cuba might change, and that remains to be seen. Not only is it an amazing place, but now is the time to see it, while you can catch a glimpse both of what it was and what it will be.