Cuba: An Intercultural Journey, Days 1 through 3

On February 17th, Intercultural Journeys patrons returned from an amazing educational and cultural diplomacy trip, “Cuba: An Intercultural Journey.” Planned in conjunction with TunisUSA, a travel agency specializing in people-to-people, cultural, and educational trips, eighteen Intercultural Journeys friends and patrons traveled to the largest island in the Caribbean, just 90 miles south of southern-most tip of Florida.

The trip to Cuba was planned for the purpose of understanding and connecting to Cuban culture. Intercultural Journeys co-founder and cellist Udi Bar-David also joined the trip, which afforded our group the opportunity to hear some great music as well. Yours truly took over 1,000 photos of the trip to Cuba! Below are photos from Days 1 through 3 of the trip. We hope to post many more photos in the coming days, so check back here to see more of our wonderful and enlightening intercultural journey.  

On Day 1 we arrived to Havana (La Habana), Cuba after departing from Miami International Airport. Right now, Miami is one of the only locations in the United States from which charter planes can make the flight to various cities in Cuba. After 45 minutes in the air, we landed and our group passed through Cuban immigration services to collect our luggage and venture out into Havana. We were met by our guide, Marta, and our bus driver, Jesús, who were with us for the duration of the trip. Since we arrived mid-day, we immediately went to lunch at a paladar, a local restaurant that is privately owned, in Old Havana (Habana Vieja). In recent years, the Cuban government has begun to grant more licenses for individuals to operate their own businesses. After lunching, our group was introduced to an architect named Daniel who works primarily in Old Havana and he walked us through the massive restoration efforts that the neighborhood has undertaken in recent years. In Havana, the government identifies buildings for restoration and then the tenants of a particular building decide amongst themselves who will go and who will stay while the building is being restored. Until the tenants decide, the government is unable to proceed with any building restorations.

Day 2 started with a visit to a health clinic (policlinico) in Havana. At the clinic we were treated to a lecture by the main doctor of the clinic. In Cuba, the entire health care system is government run and free of charge to citizens. Doctors are not allowed to work privately and thus, a doctor is not allowed to accept money for private visits or exams. The clinics in Cuba service a particular area or portion of the city and all citizens within that area must report to that clinic for their health concerns, unless they have received approval to visit a specialist elsewhere.

Following the visit to the clinic, our group met with an attorney named Doris who began our first discussions on U.S.-Cuban relations. During the course of our visit, we had the opportunity to engage in respectful discussions regarding U.S.-Cuban relations with a variety of people. Given the history between our two countries, we took our role as American ambassadors quite seriously; listening intently to our Cuban contacts and engaging in productive, enlightening, and most importantly, peaceful talks and relations.

In the afternoon, we visited the home of a Cuban visual artist and photographer named Lorenzo, who graciously opened his home to us (picture 3). His home also functions as his gallery and work space.  In Cuba, artists are not permitted to open their own private galleries, but may sell their work from their work space, which in this case also doubled as his home.  He pays a tax to the government on any works he sells.  The visit was made even more special as Udi played an impromptu piece in Lorenzo’s living room based on a large sculpture that the artist created.

Day 3 began with a visit to Muraleando, a community-based art project in Havana (pictures 6 and 7). Muraleando has been a driving force in revitalizing the community and provides a safe and productive atmosphere for local youth to engage in art projects. Muraleando, which largely reminded us of Philadelphia’s own Mural Arts Project, is funded by artists who not only work with the neighborhood children, but who also donate half of the proceeds that come from the sales of their own work.

Following our visit to Muraleando, we traveled back to our hotel, the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, for a visit with a local scholar and former Cuban emissary to the United States. We engaged in a two-hour dialogue on U.S.-Cuban relations and policy. In the evening, as we were preparing to drive to the Antigua Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula  to see Udi perform a special concert, our guide surprised us with a special trip in fully-restored, old-fashioned cars. Yours truly rode with fellow travelers Shel Thompson and Lou Oschmann in a pink 1955 Chevrolet (picture 15). Our driver gave us an even bigger surprise by playing Elvis Presley records during the entire trip. At the church, a packed crowd listened intently as Udi played a one-hour set, including a premiere of a work from a prominent Cuban composer, Guido López-Gavilán who was in the crowd that night! The finale was a great duet featuring Udi and a local student, a cellist named Alexander, playing “Dos Gardenias,” a Buena Vista Social Club favorite (picture 16).