News from Cuba – Update #1

Greetings, folks back at home!

We are starting to figure out a little bit about Old Havana, which in part means that we finally found the one working internet spot (not really a cafe, more accurately a hotel attic). Yay!

Life is very good here. People are unfailingly friendly, and the atmosphere in the city, while busy, has a wonderful community feel to it. People call and shout to neighbors from their balconies. Couples kiss each other goodbye on the street, shopkeepers greet their customers, and friends wave enthusiastically when they pass. Admittedly, this is Habana Vieja, the old part of the city, where the streets are each just one lane wide. There are occasional cars, trucks, and motorcycles passing, but primarily people get around by walking and bikes. This makes for quiet, friendly streets even when they are bustling with activity.

We have settled into several casas particulares, which are essentially bed-and-breakfasts — homes with spare rooms opened to travelers. They are all within a couple of blocks of each other, and while there are many crumbling old buildings, those we are staying in are generally well cared-for and our hosts are friendly. One of the casas, Casa Dania (Dania’s House, literally, with Dania the host) has a lovely and spacious rooftop terrace that we have settled into as our base camp. Dania and her friend Yosvani do a terrific job of feeding and caring for us, and are as friendly as could be hoped for.

We have had full days and are working hard. We have been talking to people, interviewing, writing, discussing, observing, and in general keeping very busy with our research projects. The group is getting along well, and maintaining good spirits despite the full workload. It certainly helps that every Cuban we have encountered has been so helpful, interested, and generous.

Here are a couple of reflections from team members:

Ariel writes:
We went to the Museo de Antonio Nunez Jimenez in another part of Havana during our first full day in Cuba. I had no idea what to expect, so I was quite surprised when we were led into a room with a large canoe in the
center, artifacts, animal skulls, and erotic pottery!  Our tour guide, Roberto Perez, then led us into a room filled with books and photo albums. Everything you could ever want to know about Cuba was on those shelves.

Roberto showed us two short movies that he produced, one featuring mangrove forests and encouraging their protection, and the other pitched at children focusing on preservation of sea grasses. Overall, it was a wonderful experience and I hope to do something like it again.

Michael writes:
We’re in Cuba! The flight was long and hard. It’s not easy to calculate with the time changes, but I think we spent about nine hours on planes. Flying into Varadero was magical. Seeing the difference in the trees and the distinct change in topography with sharp cliffs and river beds, cutting deeply into the flat surface of the land. Getting into Varadero, we were hit by the sticky air of the place. There was dust that would cover a sheet of paper before you had time to write down a few sentences. We headed for the bus to take us to Havana but it was packed with no room for us. Instead we took three taxis to Havana which I was later grateful for due to the long ride. There were long patches of fields opening before us, tracts of land dotted with exotic trees and plants. There were cows and horses on the road, which had nearly no cars. Looking upon the coastline, the land was studded with oil rigs, although they appeared idle. Finally getting into the city, it was very apparent that there were many cultures and layers in the city, with crumbling buildings right next to bright shiny steel. I had to crane my neck to see the full scope of the buildings. There is no garbage anywhere! The people actually sweep the streets of dust every day.

We will send along more news and reflections when we next get an opportunity. Our best to everyone in Bellingham and to all our friends, families, and supporters!

Thanks for making this possible!
— Daniel

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