I stepped off the plane, on a beautiful warm day, and the realization suddenly hit me. I had just set foot in the country that I have not been allowed to visit my entire life. Here as part of the Vermont Council on World Affairs’ 2nd Annual Cuba trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but images of Fidel, ’55 Chevies, cigars, and Hemingway ran through my mind.
For 8 sun-filled days, a congenial group of 20 curious Vermonters immersed ourselves in the culture of the Caribbean’s largest island. Our travels began with a relaxing morning on the beautiful beaches and aqua blue waters of Veradero. Then off to Havana, Cuba’s largest city and capital, where we spent the next 3 days exploring its bustling streets, visiting a local elementary school, attending the traditional Canon Firing Ceremony, and learning about the country’s intriguing history. Who had ever heard of Jose Marti before? Turns out he’s the greatest Cuban martyr/hero, from the late 1800s, stirring his countrymen to revolt against the Spanish. Evenings were spent in some great local eateries, followed by a relaxing time on the outside porch of the President Hotel, listening to the upbeat Cuban music of local bands. And no trip to Cuba would be complete without a visit to Hemingway’s home, Finca Vigia.
Next morning, after an interesting tour of a cigar factory, we headed south for a few days in the coastal city of Trinidad, best known for its well-preserved Cuban culture. On the way from Trinidad to Santa Clara, located in the center of the country, we stopped by for a morning visit and lunch at the El Nicho waterfalls. It was one of the highlights of the trip, taking us deep into the beautiful Cuban mountain countryside. Santa Clara is the place where the Cuban Revolution took hold, and where revolutionary hero (and honorary Cuban) Che Guevera is memorialized. The concept of revolution is deeply engrained in the country’s history, and while the presence and influence of Fidel Castro was everywhere, we were quite struck by the simplicity of his final resting grounds.
Looking out over the island as we flew back to Montreal, I wished I could have stayed a few days longer. The Cuban people were very welcoming and friendly, excited to see Americans coming to explore their great country. While it’s often been referred to as the country that got “stuck in time”, my sense is that it is destined for some big changes in the next 5-10 years. I guess one more reason to go back!
The Vermont Council on World Affairs (VCWA) is an affiliate of the Lake Champlain Chamber that helps bring the world to Vermont and Vermont to the world. You can learn more about the Vermont Council on World Affairs on their website.
Written by Tom Clavelle, Executive President/CFO at Engelberth Construction.