My husband Larry and I jointed a People-to-People excursion that American travel company International Expeditions is licensed to provide. The immersive itinerary uses local guides and offers visitors opportunities to interact with Cuban artists, farmers, and biologists as ambassadors rather than simply as tourists.
|Teatro Tomar Terry, an historic building in the beautfiful city of |
Cienguegos, our first destination in Cuba
Located just 90 miles off the U.S. coast, Cuba is the largest and westernmost of the West Indies islands. With the Caribbean Sea on its southern coast and the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico to the north, Cuba is in a strategic position for access to the U.S., a fact Russia took advantage of during the Cold War with the U.S. in the 1950s. When Cuba-Soviet relations soured in the late 1980s, Cuba lost its primary source of aid, and the economy further deteriorated as sugar cane plantations decreased.
|Sunset on the Caribbean Sea at Hotel Ancon near Trinidad|
As tensions increased, a politically-charged embargo was enacted by the U.S. After hurricanes in 2005 and 2008 devastated homes and crops in Cuba, some embargo restrictions were lifted in 2009, and attempts to restore diplomatic relations ensued. Official U. S. policy today is focused on encouraging democratic and economic reforms and respect for human rights, which are still culturally light-years from our own country’s ideals.
|A fifth generation member of the Santander|
family created beautiful pottery.
Rather than emphasizing politics, the People-to-People tour aims to engage participants in meaningful interactions with individual Cubans to foster a better understanding of the country and its people. Our young Cuban guide said she would tell us about the Cuba she knows and lives—her reality not necessarily what we may have thought before coming, That honest approach allowed us to accept her views and learn from them.
If you like to be among the first to experience new destinations and you appreciate travel off the beaten path, consider traveling to Cuba. Go with an open mind and a willingness to enjoy the good things the country has to offer—hard-working people, beautiful mountains, excellent bird-watching opportunities, lively music, and architecturally historic buildings.
|A young organic farmer is proud of his produce.|
Photos by Beverly Burmeier