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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Joe and Susan's Cuban Adventure

What to call this time away from Newark-Granville Road? A vacation- in some ways yes, it was so much more than a trip, our travel south was truly an adventure far away from life on Newark-Granville Road.  Joe and I had the privilege to book with the Licking County Chamber of Commerce a "people to people tour" to Cuba. We are grateful for opportunity to access to this beautiful island Joe had always wanted to visit.  The experience was so much more than what I anticipated.

We were there for 8 days and 7 nights.  We were able to enjoy the afternoon before we departed Miami in South Beach.   Our getaway had some amazing perks that could put it in the vacation category- like swimming in the Atlantic Ocean- sooooo warm and beautiful shades of blues from indigo to midnight, cool white sand with tiny shells; no kids, no reservations to make, our own driver and tour guide and most of all no access to cell, Internet- we both relaxed and slept so well!  However the amount of learning and exploring we did (most with limited access to English- the tour guide did a great job with translation and explanations, however very little written English anywhere.  Even the book we bought on Cuba was in Spanish- oops.  Know Joe did so well- we even ventured off on our own many nights and engaged in rewarding and special conversations with those that wanted to practice some English and were pleased to help Joe with his Spanish!) it was really more of a learning opportunity.

Learning about so much more than a place.  We have a better understanding of political relations and the economic environment there - it weighed on me while we were there and still is to be honest.  It was hard to enjoy the glutenous buffets while seeing the lack of food available to most of the population.  Our accommodations were fine, nice by some definitions if you could look beyond the mold on the bathroom door or shower issues; but compared to the thousands of homes we looked into on streets and alleys and in the countryside we had high end luxury.  Know that we felt extremely safe as we walked dark streets- empty and crowded both in the evenings.  Know that the people were thrilled to talk with us and were happy to engage and host us- there is great pride on this beautiful island.

Despite Cuba's poor run down appearance- so much has been left to just fade to nothing and deteriorate.  The island is filled with riches- items we could not return with I'm afraid- items from the "blockade" as they call the embargo. Rum, sipping rum- didn't even need much lime or mint- although the original daiquiri and mojito are lovely!! Cigars- yes Joe smoked one most evenings- we found the perfect spot at the National Hotel's veranda nothing like what it must of been in the 50s and far from today's Greenbrier - but lovely in its own way.  The visit to the cigar factory, tobacco farm (a small 3 acre homestead with coffee tree, cacao/chocolate tree, peach tree, banana tree) to see the drying barn and smoke a cigar rolled from the tobacco grown and cured there. And the coffee- every morning, every meal the espresso was full and mellow, dark and strong.  Also know the food was really very very good!  We dined mostly at state renovated and owned/operated restaurants. Most in historic buildings and always at well set tables with a welcome rum cocktail, vegetable salad (cabbage, cucumbers and something else), bread with butter (first couple butters a bit off and the dairy farmer from Norway whom we sat with at breakfast one day agreed the milk just tasted different.) The Spanish influence is everywhere in Cuba - feel of the cities, food tastes- much more European than island or Mexican-South American.  We loved the Creole food that was provided a few times- roasted chicken, black beans and rice.  This month's Food and Wine magazine has an article "Havana Homecoming" that summarizes our visit wtih food very very well!  We had a great deal of seafood-warm water lobsters, shrimp, delicious meaty filets.  The beef was always yummy and often had a sauce that accompanied the meal with perfect balance.  I even was treated to soft boiled eggs most mornings on the breakfast buffet!

We traveled to Havana, Santa Clara, Cienfuegos- our favorite and in the best shape as far as we could tell, Pinar del Rio- breathtaking valley! We toured factories, learned a whole lot about the Revelution and Che Guevara- who is everywhere there, much more so than Castro. There was music at every turn and every meal and quite quite good!  Our hotel- the Havana Libre was the Havana Hilton and played a key role during the revolution- Castro and group taking over several floors.  Russian embassay setting up base there too at one point.  Our other hotel was an all inclusive resort that gave us a sample of what we've heard the Europeans enjoy taking in- not our thing but we found ways to enjoy it- primarily the opportunity to get to know our fellow travelers and tour guides, take in the amazing night skies filled with stars. I was able to be the conductor on a steam locomotive- my cheeks hurt from smiling the whole way and yes I did sing "casey jones" both versions Cash and Dead. The art was wonderful- local/nieve and the National Museum of Fine Arts- opened in 1954- Omar the tour guide was a highlight and treat!! Joe was the one who danced with the locals this trip (I LOVED my dance in china) and that happened at one of my favorite stops- the older folks in a community group called- joy of life- shared with us their activities, crafts and way of life in Cuba of today. Positive attitudes are inspiring in a place like Cuba!! At the beautiful cemetery- almost nicest place we visited - I learned about recycling of coffins and burial processes. Hemingway's farm was an inspiration and beautiful change of pace.

I can't give you all the nitty gritty details of this trip but am happy to answer questions and I encourage you to read our leader's blog:  Cheri is doing an outstanding job sharing her perspective from the adventure!

We didn't get to see baseball directly. We almost did and that will be a story for another day.....know that we loved this adventure, loved being together and would love to answer your questions and discuss this fascinating and beautiful place with you...preferably with rum and a cigar!!  I also must say that more than ever I'm grateful for our freedom- that freedom that is protected daily by our military and government. Life on Newark-Granville road is beautiful and I take way too much for granted. The balance between our public and private sectors have to allow for opportunity and growth amaze, inspire and fuel me more than ever after this Cuban adventure.

Photos can be found on our photo site:  or email me and I can send you them-

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