We arrived in Havana on an early morning flight with 18 other Road Scholar participants, meeting up with 2 guides—1 Cuban and 1 half Cuban-American—and the Cuban driver of our comfortable, Chinese-built, state-owned tour bus. We were immediately plunged into the bustle of the busy city. Our home for the next 4 days would be the imposingly grand, historic Hotel Nacional, also state-owned and operated.
Despite its small failings (it is old and things don't always work) and the occasional sewer-ish odors wafting from the plumbing, we came to love the beauty of the old building, the views from the vast lawn, the history and the unfailingly helpful, friendly, good-humored staff. This is where I first observed that there is live music around every corner in Cuba, from breakfast onward. Here I observed a timeless, joyful Havana spirit, hard to describe, but palpable. My daughter and her husband visited Cuba about 12 years ago, when they lived in South America. My son-in-law told me, "Cuba has this special—thing—something—." Words failed him. "You will see—" he finally said. I saw.
Americans may currently visit Cuba, not as "tourists" but as visitors with a purpose. Ours was education, so each day began with a lecture by a local expert in some aspect of the history and culture. Each was exceptional, my favorites being the speakers on architecture and religion. Both were retired university professors, and each unexpected and fascinating. Following the lectures, our days were spent visiting areas of the city, museums, and meeting with arts groups and observing their work. In my next post we explore Havana.
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