By Betty Ball
I have always enjoyed adventure type vacations and had heard so much about Cuba that I decided to travel there for educational reasons. And it absolutely met that purpose. The timing to go to Cuba was determined by me so I could experience Cuba and its people before the Embargo is lifted. My observations and comments are from only one week, October 25 to November 1 and are therefore somewhat limited.
I chose the Pan Am Historical Society Tour from an ad because of the description of the tour and the time it went. I was unaware that Pan Am has a large organization that plans trips for former employees and most of the people were former Pan Am employees. It was a first class tour and the group had money. They came from Paris, France, Sweden, New York, and all over the US. There were some very strong Republicans and some very strong Democrats and it was best to discuss politics with someone of your orientation.
We stayed at the Hotel National of Havana, considered to be the most elaborate hotel in Havana. It was beautiful and our rooms were very nice with the exception of the bathroom. We were not allowed to put paper in the toilet but had to be put in a can. They have limited electricity and water but it was not a problem for us. The president of Italy came while we were there and stayed at our hotel.
The short history of Cuba is that Indians occupied the Island, warring among themselves, until Columbus discovered the Island. Then the Spanish came, developed Sugar Plantations and used the Indians as slave labor. After the Indians died off from the Small Pox that the Spanish brought they brought slaves from Africa. Slavery was outlawed in Europe in the early 1800’s. Cuba has been occupied by the Spanish, British, French, Russians, and the U.S. Thomas Jefferson offered to buy the Island but was refused. The Spanish – American War was started in Cuba with the explosion of the ship Maine. We were told the true Cuban is a mix of Black and Hispanic. There didn’t seem to be any discrimination among the people
The Cuban revolution was 1957-59 and was caused by the very wealthy, under Batista, who was very corrupt and executed and imprisoned dissidents. With the Revolution the wealthy became the dissidents and their homes and businesses became the property of the State – Castro’s state. Most left the country or became part of the country. Dissidents were executed or imprisoned. They left beautiful furnished homes which became property of the state. The ones who left thought they would be able to go back soon. The Bay of Pigs failed because Kennedy refused to fight their war and some believe the Cuban Mafia killed Kennedy.
Cuba is a country warped in time for 50 years. Education and Medical care is free and the medical program is considered a good one. They graduate many doctors every year. There has been food rationing for 50 years. The only obese people I saw were American tourists but Cuba has a big Diabetes problem.
The Cuban people appear to be content and happy. They are very friendly and helpful. Guns are not allowed and crime does not seem to be a problem. We had excellent lecturers who were surprisingly frank about the politics and condition of their country. They want the Embargo lifted but are concerned that Cuba is not ready for it. Some hope “that lady” will be elected President as they believe the Democrats will be more favorable to them than the Republicans. It is obvious that the Embargo needs to be lifted.
We went to Museums, walked the streets of Havana, had coffee in the lovely Plazas, and ate at very good restaurants – mostly beans and rice but I like beans and rice and they served it well.
My favorite day was the day we spent driving to the far end of Cuba and saw their beautiful mountains and valleys. They have cattle, horses, chickens, and goats but not wild animals (so we were told). They cannot afford much machinery so plow their land with oxen. They have beautiful four lane highways but few cars because the people cannot afford to buy them. The American cars seen on TV are primarily used for Taxi service and they repair them by using similar car parts from other countries and adjusting the part to fit the American car.
The buildings in Havana are lived in but there is no money to repair them. It can look like a bombed out city but is not – just deterioration from lack of money to repair them. The buildings had beautiful architecture with much marble – floors and winding staircases – but are falling apart. When Russia stopped making subsidies to Cuba the economic situation worsened.
This tour consisted of much walking and climbing up and down – I probably came back in better physical shape than when I started the tour. It was not for someone with a physical problem.
Basically, I found the Cuban people open and friendly and the country beautiful. I am glad that I went now.