The wonders of Cuba
By Cheryl Wilson Kopecky ’72
During a 2015 Björklunden seminar, my husband, Rob, and I heard about the Lawrence trip to Cuba. Our first reaction was, “Sign us up!” Later we began to wonder. We wondered about the kind of accommodations we would experience. We wondered if we would be free to take walks early in the morning or later in the evening to capture photographs. We wondered how much of the unvarnished part of Cuba we would see. We wondered if our guide would present a programmed, Castro-style dialogue throughout the tour. When friends who previously traveled to Cuba told us to bring toilet paper, we wondered just how big a problem it would be. We did a lot of wondering before we left!
Our concerns began to fade when Professor of Spanish Gustavo Fares provided us with extensive lists of resources and articles in the months preceding departure and mini-lectures while we traveled in Cuba on our modern motor coach.
Soon we learned we should not have underestimated the Cuba experience, especially when the trip was planned through Lawrence and led by Fares and Associate Vice President of Alumni and Constituency Engagement Mark Breseman ’78. The presence of Eli Edelman ’14, who studied percussion in Cuba and knew the music, culture and language of the people, also enriched our experience. Our local guide, Gretel, made sure every aspect of the trip ran smoothly, which was not easily accomplished. Many changes to the itinerary were required because President Obama arrived in Cuba just a couple of days after our tour arrived. However, the 34 travelers in our group demonstrated great flexibility!
We visited several Cuban cities, including Havana, Varadero, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santa Clara. Our hotels in Havana and Varadero were modern with beautiful accommodations and amenities. In Cienfuegos, our hotel was established in 1869 but was very well kept and included scenic courtyards and a fine restaurant. We visited the other cities as day trips.
Much to our satisfaction, our days, and some evenings, were active and comfortably scheduled, but we also enjoyed free time to visit other places of interest on our own. We did not experience any restrictions if we wished to explore independently and nothing was off-limits for interested photographers.
As for the toilet paper, carrying tissue came in handy several times when we were away from our hotels!
During our tour days, Gretel explained not only the sites on our schedule but also her history as a Cuban and her life in Havana. She spoke candidly about what she saw as the strengths and the mistakes of the Cuban government during the past 50 years. Gretel and our group agreed the people of our respective countries may hold many misperceptions about each other due to limited communication during the past decades.
For us, the disparity between the quality of life for the average Cuban and the luxury hotels available for tourists was very clear. We also learned the Cuban people feel deep pride in their country and are hopeful about a future of independence and an improved economy.
Thanks to our Lawrence tour we found answers to the many things we wondered about before leaving and can now say the whole experience was wonderful!