Thursday, March 26, 2009


Aren't these gorgeous bird's eye views of Havana Cuba--a UNESCO World Heritage Site? I took these pictures from the 23rd floor balcony of the Habana Libre Hotel just as the sun was beginning to set. The round space-ship-looking structure is the Heladería Coppelia, where you can eat Cuba's homegrown delicious ice cream. My one week stay there went so fast! The trip to Cuba is over, and I couldn't blog while there. The US embargo limits the amount of broadband they have available. The two hotels where I stayed did not allow me to access the internet with my laptop, and their connections were very very slow and expensive. There are limited internet cafes in post offices throughout La Habana, but they too are expensive and slow. So, I'm blogging about this fantastic trip a week after my return.

I've wanted to go to Cuba for years; I wanted to visit while Fidel Castro was still in power, but I never got around to it. This spring, I received an email from Cuba Education Tours, and when my friend and colleague, Vicky, noted it too and decided to go, I joined the group. There were 19 professors, teachers, and some spouses from Canada, the UK and the US. The week was an amazing learning and fun experience. In this posting I'll give you background information, and in subsequent posts I'll describe what we did and learned daily. Below is the gist of our itinerary.

FOCUS Cuban Education System / Research duration 35-40 hours

Travel arrival day. Transfer to Hotel Habana Libre located in the heart of Havana's cultural district, Vedado.

Visit the Scale Model of the city of Havana (which took nine years to build and is the second largest in the world after the one of New York), and meet with world-renowned architect, urban planner and professor Dr. Mario Coyula, who is also the director of the Group for the Comprehensive Development of the Capital, Havana City.


Visit the Museum of the Revolution, in the former Presidential Palace, pictured on the left. Today it exhibits the history of the Cuban Revolution through documents and objects, among them the famous Yacht Granma that returned Fidel and his 82 guerilla fighters from Mexico to Cuba to launch the struggle for liberation from the Batista dictatorship. Discuss curatorial and museology methodology.

Walk/tour La Habana Vieja, and historic plazas there (Plaza de San Francisco, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de Armas, and Plaza de la Catedral); visit educational facilities.

Examine teaching methodologies for dance and music. Dance son, salsa, rumba, chachacha, mambo on the rooftop of an Old Havana house. Grupo Dulce María performs.

Meet with professor of History and Law Dr. Delio Carrera to explore university level pedagogy. He has hosted world leaders such as Hugo Chavez, Pope John Paul II, Jimmy Carter. Tour the University of Havana founded in 1728, especially the law library and the Aula Magna ceremony room.  

Bus/tour modern Havana: Capitol buildging, Grand Theatre, Central Park, Prado Promenade, Revolution Square, Coppelia Ice Cream Park, Plaza Jose Martí in front of the US Interests Section, Malecón seawall, Monument of the Battleship Maine, Hotel Nacional, Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón, Miramar, Central Havana, and neighborhoods in Vedado.

Lunch at the whimsical home and studio (in Jaimanita, just outside Havana) of famous ceramist and painter José Fuster. This picture of me is in the rooftop of his home overlooking the ocean.

Meet with the  Museo de la Alfabetización/Museum of Literacy’s director, Susana Morejon, to review the 1961 literacy campaign in Cuba and how its practices are being employed in Latin America currently. The museum exhibits relics of the 1961 literacy campaign. This campaign brought tens of thousands of city youth into contact with the country people, breaking down racial barriers and instilling a spirit of national cohesion.

Meeting at the Museum of Fine Arts to examine curatorial and museology methodology. There, see the evolution of Cuba's visual arts over the last 300 years. The collection accounts for the richness of Cuba's Spanish, French, Chinese and African cultural roots.

Early evening:
Walk through the open-air handicraft market in Old Havana.

Meeting at the Latin American School of Medicine/ELAM to examine training methods used to prepare foreign students to become doctors. Established in 1999 and financed by the generosity of the people of Cuba, ELAM is the largest medical school in the world with a current enrollment of over 12,000 students from over 29 countries. All its students are from outside Cuba, mainly from Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. The school also accepts disadvantaged students from the United States. Since 2005 ELAM has graduated 6,000 doctors, including 21 from the US.

Tour Ernest Hemingway’s house and writing study, pictured on the right. Visit Cojimar, the town where he met Gregorio, the fisherman who became the captain of his boat called Pilar, and after whom he modeled Santiago, the main character in his novel The Old Man and the Sea. Gregorio died at age 106.

Visit Casa del Niño y la Niña/House of the Boy and Girl, a Central Havana neighborhood (Cayo Hueso) sponsored learning facility for young Cubans seeking to expand their academic options following the regular school day. Meet with Director Rosa Sardinas for presentation on her outreach work for kids in the community.

Visit Callejon de Hamel, an alley where all the buildings display murals inspired by Afrocuban culture and religions, for example, Yemayá pictured on the left. Meet alley artist Salvador Gonzales at his studio.

Visit preschool, Circulo Infantil Mi Pelota, a typical neighborhood program where working parents can leave their children (age 1 to 5). It opens at 6:00 AM and closes at 7:00 PM, Monday through Saturday, and serves snacks and lunch. Children learn colors, basic shapes and math, and perform activities that prepare them for school.

Ferryboat ride across Havana Harbor to the Municipality of Regla, famed Cuban writer and intellectual Alejo Carpentier's favorite city. This Afrocuban community has a long, rich and still active tradition of African-inspired religions. Visit Regla's church dedicated to the black "Virgen de Regla" and her AfroCuban counterpart, Yemayá, the African goddess of the sea in Yoruba religion and the patron saint of sailors. And, visit Regla Municipality Museum to learn about Santeria and the origins of this unique community and its Afrocuban cultures.

Meeting with representatives of the National Union of Teachers to discuss Cuban education system and practices.

Attend music performance at elegant Hotel Nacional de Cuba designed in 1930 by the famous New York firm McKim, Mead and White.

Morning departure to Las Terrazas, in the Sierra del Rosario mountain range west of Havana in the province of Pinar del Río.

Tour rural village called Rancho Curujey (their lilly pond, a lá Monet, is pictured on the left), a self-sustaining community established in the 1980s that is focused on reforestation, historical preservation and environmental balance.

Visit a childcare program, Republica Oriental del Uruguay, in the agricultural region of Las Terrazas village; talk with teachers and students who live in this community about the integration of farming and environmental issues into the curriculum.

Tour the restored remains of Buena Vista French Coffee Plantation, built in 1801 and worked by African slaves.

Meet with local artists and craft workers in their homes and studios.

Swim in the fresh waters of San Juan River, and explore the surroundings of this lush tropical paradise.

Spend the night at charming and rustic Hotel Rancho San Vincente deep in the lush tropical surroundings of Viñales Valley.

Explore the rural agriculture-based Viñales Valley. Examine the spectacular natural landscape featuring the most interesting and varied geological formations in the Caribbean. The valley is particularly famous for its great freestanding rock formations, called mogotes, from the Jurassic to Paleolithic eras that are designated as one of only four UNESCO Cultural Heritage Landscape.

Visit a local farming family and learn first-hand the process of tobacco cultivation, an essential and famed commodity for Cuba's US-blockaded economy.

Followed by a magical walking and boat tour through the limestone Cueva del Indio used by Guanahatabey Amerindians as a burial site, and later as a refuge from Spanish slavers. Within, witness earth's natural and social history from the Jurassic to the Paleolithic era and beyond.

Visit area that is four kilometers from the village, where, on one side of the Dos Hermanas mogote, the Mural de la Prehistoria (pictured on the right), a 120 meter-high fresco was painted in 1961 by Cuban artist, Leovigildo González, a student of the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. The mural depicts animals and other creatures that lived in the valley in prehistoric times; it pays tribute to the Darwinian perspective of evolution.

Dine at Casa de Don Tomas Restaurant in the oldest building in Viñales Village.

Dance in Viñales's central plaza at the Parque Marti, and explore the open-air craft market, the Church, and other interesting sites in this charming colonial town.

Travel departure day:
Early morning transfer by bus to Havana's José Martí International Airport for return home; departure lounge pictured on the left.
Pay 25.00 CUC departure tax.

1 comment:

  1. Everything sounds so beautiful there.
    The pictures made me imagine that the air smelled of fruit and felt of warmth.
    Seems like such a wonderous place to be.