Monday, July 11, 2016

Country Stuck in Time: Cuba 2016

I was given the opportunity from my school to go to Cuba with my peers. At first, I didn't give it much thought but then I realized that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. If I went to Cuba after tourism from the U.S. started, Cuba would have lost its old time charm and would become a capitalized tourist hotspot. Plus my two best friends were newly graduated and this was a great idea in spending the last summer we would have together before they started college.
I was counting down the days to Cuba and I couldn't wait. The first day we took an early flight to Miami. In Miami, we visited Calle Ocho and ate Cuban cuisine which typically consists of rice, beans and some sort of meat. The next day we had to catch an early morning charter flight and the next thing I knew I was in Cuba with the sun beating down on me.






This was the first time I had gone on vacation without my parents so I wanted to make sure I could take care of myself and be responsible, which proved to be successful.
Our first day was in Havana. We are a quick lunch at a local restaurant and then went to a few memorials and statues. We visited an art project for children and danced with the band there. In Cuba, it is hard to be a tourist without visiting some sort of community project that is benefiting some part of society. If you do not visit such projects, it is considered illegally traveling. We were traveling with People to People and Explorica, so we were in good hands. After, we checked into the Hotel Panorama, which was spectacular. The pool was nice and the hotel was very modern with people from all around the world.






The next day we went to a dance project which had amazing performances. We then went to downtown Havana for lunch at El Figaro. The food was amazing and it was even featured in Diners, Dine-ins, and Dives. After we went back to the hotel for swimming.






The third day was my birthday! It was my first birthday without my family but I couldn't have spent it in a better place. This day we were visiting the town of ViƱales in which we visited a beautiful farm. After learning about the plants and walking around we went for lunch and then back to the hotel for more swimming. I had an awesome birthday and I felt so lucky to have had spent it in such a beautiful country.








Finally, on the fourth day we checked out of the Hotel Panorama to set out for Cienfuegos. The drive was two hours and scenic. Once we reached, we visited a few projects and then walked around the city for a little bit. We then made way for the hotel. On the whole trip the Hotel Panorama was the best, the next string of hotels were more cognizant of Cuba and had bugs. Because it is still developing, an abundance of modern hotels is not as prevalent. But after a swim in the ocean we sprayed lots of bug spray and slept.




The next day we were driving to Trinidad. We first visited a beautiful botanical garden on the way where I had amazing, fresh coconut juice. After the mini excursion we drive for Trinidad. We were staying in little bungalows which were beach facing. The ocean was absolutely amazing, with a beautiful mountain view behind it. We spent about four hours in beach and then had dinner and slept. However, before sleeping we did face some problems involving roaches and lizards and other types of bugs. It was not pretty for me as a bug-hater but we braved the night out.
Trinidad is beautiful. The next day we had a lot of time to roam around and shop. The beautiful cobblestone streets and colorful shops were perfect for pictures and relaxing. We then drove for Santa Clara.







Santa Clara is another town which we passed through. We spent one night there and just saw a tower with a scenic view and a sugar plantation. We even learned some dance moves from senior citizens and enjoyed as a group. The next day we headed for Havana, and after a night in the Hotel Panorama, we flew to Miami and from Miami to Philly.


To get to Cuba we had to take a charter flight from Miami. The charter flights are smaller but the flight only takes up to one hour at the max. Visas are important when traveling. We had papers to fill out and had done it months in advance.
Because Cuba is still developing, hotels are not what we would expect in the states. I had quite some trouble with bugs in the one-night hotels but besides that we all had a wonderful time.
It was an overall new experience for me. I have never traveled without my family before this trip and in every corner of Cuba, I thought of how my family would love it here.
I am so happy I got to see Cuba just as things were changing. The old cars and old charm transport you back in time. The hot carribean sun was unbearable but I hope to come back to Cuba in the future!

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