Most of us went to Tropicoco beach east of Havana on Saturday morning and had an amazing time, especially since we rented paddle and banana boats cheaply. On Saturday night we all went to a hip place called Fabrica de arte Cubano which could easily compete with any trendy place in New York. There were several floors of modern Cuban art in a very cool atmosphere. It is where young affluent Cubans choose to spend their weekends. Sunday was a day of catching up on sleep and editing photos in preparation for classes next week.
We had another photo tour today in old Havana. We saw the Plaza de la Catedral, the inside of said cathedral, the Plaza de Armas which has many interesting Cuban knick knacks for sale such as vintage books, stamps, and coins, and then we ended at the Basílica Menor de San Francisco de Asís. During the evening a few students went to Shabbat services at a temple and stayed for dinner, and others went to a nice restaurant called Havana’s 21 for dinner. At the restaurant they have Italian pasta and steak on the menu which made for a nice change. We are all tired after a busy week and looking forward to the beach.
First Day in Havana Friday May 15
We had an expected delay at Miami airport, and ended up taking a small VIP plane to Cuba! It had more legroom than any other plane we had traveled on. We landed at Aeropuerto Internacional José Martí Airport (HAV) a few hours later than expected, but it was still light out for us to see to the city on the way in. We were met by friends from our educational center and we got a bus to our hotel in Havana! We are staying in the Vedado neighborhood, which is perfect because it has easy access to the sea wall, old Havana, and other neighborhoods. After settling into our rooms we went to a Cuban restaurant called “La Roca” for dinner.
After eating, the students enjoyed spending time by the Malecón, or five-mile esplanade on the water. This is where local Cubans spend their evenings talking and listening to music as most cannot afford to go to clubs or bars. Cubans spend time with their friends and significant others at the Malecón as most live at home with their parents. Everyone is already enamored with the Havana night.
First Weekend – May 16 – 17
Saturday and Sunday were free days for students to explore Havana and take some photos. A few students went to famous places such as the Plaza de La Revolución (Revolution Square) and the Cabaña (fortress). Others chose to walk around in the Vedado neighborhood where we are staying and got to know the streets a little better. On Sunday, three of us went to TropiCoCo beach east of Havana. The rest went to a local rhumba festival that takes place every weekend and took some great photos. We had our welcome dinner Saturday night at a nice restaurant called “El Ajibe” which is next to the meeting spot of the Havana Harley Davidson club. The club had a small rock concert outside the restaurant and Ché Guevara’s son was secretly in attendance!
First Day of Class & Photo Tour – Monday May 18
Today was our first day at the Centro de Estudios Martianos (José Marti Study Center).
We had a welcoming speech and learned about the history of the center and the background of José Marti. He is a Cuban hero, revolutionary, poet, and essayist and much research has been devoted to his life work. We are very lucky to have class in the center as it is beautifully maintained and has beautiful plants and architecture. There is a three-tiered chandelier in our classroom that was valued at $1,000,000 in 2005!
After lunch, we went to Havana Vieja (Old Havana) for our first photo tour! We saw the Fuente de la India fountain,
the national capitol building El Capitolio, and then walked along the large Paseo del Prado street. It is a very popular street for Cubans to walk down with a promenade that is perfect for skateboarding!
First Day of Culture Class – Tuesday May 19
Today was our first Cuban culture lecture by Profesor Alberto Faya. He is a Cuban TV and Radio personality, a talented musician, and a retired professor. His lecture on Cuban culture involved playing guitar and singing which the students enjoyed very much. His lecture focused on musical culture, evolvement of music in Cuba, and the process of transculturation in Cuban history. Preservation of music and language has been very important in Cuban identity, especially amongst former slaves who were forced to assimilate. It was Tali’s birthday today so we all went dancing near our hotel in the evening.
Wednesday – Thursday May 20-21
We have been working on photo critiques and using Adobe Lightroom software to edit and organize our photography. We are quite exhausted after an extremely busy first week, but this weekend we are planning a trip to the beach to relax! The students have been making great progress in capturing Cuban life in their photography and will definitely have a lot of high quality photos to show on their return. We had another Cuban culture class with Profesor Faya and listened to rumba and other styles of Cuban music.
Long day of travel… We have finally made it to Cuba!!! Everyone is checked-in the hotel and doing great. There will be a new update soon as we start class in Cuba Monday.
Yesterday was our last day of classes at the center. We spent most of the day presenting our final photo projects. The students’ work was extremely impressive and it was great to see how much everyone has learned over these past 4 weeks. After our presentations, we had a graduation ceremony where each student received a certificate of completion from the center. After the ceremony, we celebrated by dancing and dining on the patio with the wonderful people from the center. Tonight is our goodbye dinner and party in the city! Can’t believe the trip is coming to an end!