As our trip approaches, I get more and more excited about what I’m going to end up experiencing in Cuba. Not only will I be meeting new people, but I’ll also be seeing new sites. To avoid being the typical ignorant American, I want to know a little bit more about what places we will be visiting. I’ve been learning a lot about Cuban history in my Latin American History II class this semester, which is a good start. It gives me a foundation to build upon, but I feel the need to look at not just the general narrative but also the specific buildings, monuments, castles, etc. that we will see. As soon as I received our daily itinerary, I began to research a lot of the places listed.
The first day we will have to ourselves to explore Havana, Cuba. Looking at the rest of the itinerary, I noticed that we would have time to visit specific locations throughout the week during the day, and free time at the end of most nights. That being said, maybe the first day should just be spent walking around Havana and exploring the streets around where we are staying at the Hotel Riviera. This way we would be more familiar with where we are staying and will be less likely to get lost later. Don’t get me wrong, part of exploring is the thrill of not knowing where you are, but coming home late at night or when we’re on our way to a scheduled tour is not the time we want to be getting lost. We might as well get that out of the way when it’s safer during the day.
The second day, we will be visiting the Callejon de Hammel (Hammel Ally), which was described as and open-air flea market kind of place. There will be all types of artwork there and vendors to speak to. The walls are covered in bright street art, just bursting with color. It is said to be very beautiful there and has live music on Sundays, but can also be crowded and a very touristy place. Right after that, we will visit el Morro Castle which guards the mouth of Havana Bay. It was built in 1589 under the Spanish rule. The Spanish originally colonized Cuba because it was strategically located, and were able to make repairs to their ships on their way into the New World. In 1756 though, Great Britain invaded and captured Cuba during the Seven Years War. They captured El Morro Castle in 1762 and returned it to Spanish rule at the end of the Seven Years War in 1763.
The next day we will be visiting an Afro-Cuban museum and will be learning about the vast history of, obviously, afro-Cubans. From what I learned so far in my Latin American History II class, Cuba was a big slave country. Once Cuba was taken over by Great Britain during the Seven Years War, their trade was opened up and liberalized. The Spanish had restricted and closely controlled Cuba’s trade before Great Britain seized Cuba. Once the British were in control though, Cuba experienced an economic boom. Their main export became sugar, which was a very dangerous, labor intensive, and brutal process to harvest. Because so many people would die from harvesting sugar, an easily replaceable work force was needed—i.e. slaves. Slaves were shipped from Africa, and when the Haitian slaves revolted in 1791, many slave owners fled to Cuba and brought their slaves with them. This integration was one of the main reasons there are Afro-Cubans in Cuba today. We will be learning more about their important history once in Cuba.
Not only will we be learning about Afro-Cubans, but also about the Indians native to Cuba. When we travel to La Cueva Del Indino in Las Viñales, we will be visiting one of the remaining Indian caves in Cuba. The Guanajatabey Indians carved the caves out of limestone to make their homes and shelter them from both natural elements as well as the Spanish conquistadors. Inside are murals and carvings as well as old bones. It’s one of the largest underground caves in Cuba and is said to be beyond beautiful.
Among other places, we will be visiting the famous Finca Vijía. The author of many spectacular novels like The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway, moved from the US and made Cuba his home. He lived with his wife in the type of peace and quiet that he couldn’t find in America. His writing style was short and sweet, and full of details. When reading The Old Man and the Sea, which was written in and based on Cuban life, I felt like I could actually see what was going on. His writing is easy to understand, and I’m eager to be able to stand in the same rooms where he wrote the book.
Reading about all the amazing places we will be visiting, makes be really excited to actually be there in person. I like being surprised, and in that sense don’t like looking up too many things before visiting a place. A general history or background is good, just a little taste to hold me over until it get to experience the real deal. I can’t wait to finally be in Cuba after all this preparation and knowledge. I won’t really learn anything until I’m there doing it. Only eight more days!