Once the ship landed in Havana, we bolted for the countryside. With a rental car, we drove to Trinidad, a colonial town on the southern coast, now protected as a historical landmark. Cobble stone streets, old houses, horse carts, and really friendly people.
We purchased our souvenir cigars from this tabacalera. She rolls 100 cancer sticks a day (a factory person produces 300 a day), strictly for tourists like us. A few days later, we were able to see the tobacco production process at a rural cooperative (Pattis first faculty directed practicum).
On our way out of Trinidad, we realized we needed gas. At the only station in town, we were told they were out. Conveniently, a friend of the attendant just happened to know where we could find gasoline on the parallel market. He hopped in the back of the car, and two blocks away these three guys filled our tank from their plastic jug in record time. As quickly as they appeared, they were gone.
As we left Trinidad and headed for the deserted mountainous back roads, we hoped our gas tank wasnt filled with water. After a scenic and uneventful drive, we spent our second night in Santa Clara, a provincial town in the center of the country. We stayed in a fantastic casa particular (B&B) with this incredible courtyard garden. Our host was great -- bitter about the Revolution and all the changes, yet working the system to his full advantage. His father, who still lives in the home, lost his farm after the Revolution. The former family servant acquired part of the house and now works as a car watcher for B&B guests.
Upon our arrival back at the ship on Friday afternoon, we saw the signs announcing that Fidel Castro had invited all of us to hear him speak at 4:00 oclock that very afternoon. We boarded 20 buses and were accompanied by full police escort to the national conference center. The two of us were in the 7th row!!!
Fidel was impressive. After introductions and a short welcome, he opened the event up to questions from the audience (about 1000 people, 700 of whom were S@S folks). The first question -- about Guantanamo Bay -- took an hour and a half to answer, an answer that went quickly from his Revolution to 17th Century French history and anything/everything in between. As you can imagine, he didnt get to too many questions. One student asked for a hug and another for his autograph, both of which Fidel happily gave. And a S@S professor of Latin American politics was able to hand deliver his book on the subject to Fidel.
Although we had little time in Havana, we did manage to do some exploring in Habana Vieja (the old city). On our last night, with less than 2 hours of time remaining in port, we stumbled across the Tango Center. As we walked past the open doors of a massive colonial building, we heard a spectacular operatic voice, an accompanying piano, and a strumming guitar. We peered inside and saw a group of six sitting on stools around a bottle of rum. Above them was a massive mural of a couple dancing the tango. We tried not to stare as we walked inside, to the interior courtyard and bar. After ordering our first mojitos (the Cuban national drink, made famous by Hemmingway), we asked the barkeep if we could sit in the front courtyard to listen. Immediately after sitting at a discreet distance, the opera singer (and president of the tango association) invited us to join them! Words cant describe the next hour it truly seemed like we were in a movie. What an incredible end to an incredible visit.
As of January 27, classes still havent met. We both think this is a terrible beginning for what is supposed to be an educational voyage. Students thus far have the impression that they can drink and party their way around the world! (Of course, we did dance a little salsa and drink a little rum ourselves in Cuba). All that should change tomorrow, January 28, when the academic classes begin for real. Patti is mostly over her stage fright thanks to the fact that she gave two short lectures on Cuba (with roughly 6 hours notice) to an assembled audience of 700 students and faculty. Nothing like trial by fire! Dean is hoping that his class enrollment stays near its current manageable number (12) so that hell be able to do creative activities that would be impossible with a class of 35.
We have a 10 day voyage to Brazil ahead of us full of classes, add/drop, lifeboat drills, and lovely cafeteria food (we hope that the balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, and spices we purchased in Miami should last that long).