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Havana-na-na-YES: Highlights of the Spring 2023 Study Abroad to Cuba

Gabrielle Lang

Rows of classic American cars, creamy pumpkin soup, and art featuring cats sporting jaunty hats are among the many reasons you MUST study abroad to Cuba! This past March, As part of the two-credit ‘Comparative Civil Rights’ course instructed by Professor Frank Rosenblatt, students had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the vibrant Cuban culture through a one week stay in Havana. This is a day-by-day account of the sights, sounds, and even smells experienced by one of this years’ students, Gabi Lang:

Day 1: Arrival at the Havana International Airport

Our first impression of Cuba was the airport parking lot, which looked more like a living museum for classic cars. (We later learned that, after the 1953 Cuban Revolution, the U.S. erected an embargo and Castro responded by banning the importation of American cars and mechanical parts). The cars were truly a time capsule from the 1950s.

Later that night, we had a group dinner which featured fresh fish or seafood pasta, pumpkin soup, and strawberry ice cream. We learned that pumpkins are a staple crop in Havana, which explains their prevalence. This evening presented our first taste, quite literally, of the pumpkin influence, but most certainly not our last.

Day 2: A trip to Cathedral Square

Our first full day was essentially one long walking tour throughout old Havana. As we meandered, the
smell of fresh espresso and cigar smoke pervaded the air. We ultimately found ourselves in Cathedral Square and learned about the various religions of Cuba; Cuba prides itself on its inclusivity of all religions. The highlight for me was purchasing a fresh coconut from a vendor dubbed, “coco loco”. Later in the evening, we witnessed El Cañonazo – the Firing of the 9PM Cannon at the Fortress of San Carlos de la Cabaña, a dramatic colonial reenactment that is performed every single evening. The smell of gunpowder added to the sensory experience.

Day 3: Ernest Hemingway’s House

For those English majors in the group, this day was one of the most exciting, as we got to visit the home where Ernest Hemingway resided. His collection of hunting trophies was impressive, and adorned every wall. While here, we were asked by a bathroom attendant, in broken English, if we had any acetaminophen. Due to the shortage of pharmaceuticals in Cuba, even something as commonplace to us as Tylenol, was inaccessible to the average local. We scrounged together a few pills for her from our collective first aid kit. Her gratitude was palpable.

Day 4: Dance Performance

After our morning class, we returned to downtown Havana where we attended a private dance

performance at Dance Group Retazos. The dance style was so unique, and it was evidence that the dancers practiced for hours each day. We were introduced to the dancers, and learned that, once selected to join the dance group, it becomes their full time job. The youngest of the dancers was only 14.

For lunch we had lobster (many of the students favorite meal) and, of course, pumpkin soup.

Day 5: Visit to Community Project Muraleando.

The building which houses this project was made out of old trash and recycled items, and it was like one giant masterpiece. It was fitting that the entire project was centered around teaching children the arts. While touring this project, the owner of the center imparted to us a beautiful tidbit of knowledge. He said, “love is the only thing strong enough to strike down intelligence….and where love and intelligence meet, anything can be done.” I thought to myself that this saying surely epitomizes the Cuban spirit.

Day 6: Proyecto El Divino

On this day, we visited Proyecto El Divino, a community services center located on a beautiful stretch of serene farm land. We ate lunch al fresco (lunch featured, you guessed it, pumpkin soup), and received a tour by the owner, through the lush greenery. The highlight of this day was our day trip to Santa Maria Beach!

Day 7: Last Full Day in Cuba

On our last full day in Cuba, we visited the art studio of José Fúster, a well known ceramist. His studio was full of whimsy, and was home to a turtle (seen here with student Hannah Eckel). We were served a family style lunch at the studio before departing to meet with local Cuban lawyers at the ONBC (National Organization of Collective Law).

We ended the night with an eagerly anticipated ride in a classic American car and a lavish meal at Café del Oriente. The group agreed that this was the best meal of the whole trip (see dessert flan below). Sadly, there was no pumpkin soup served.

Final thoughts: Although our Cuban adventure lasted but a week, the grit, creativity and beauty of the Cuban people have left a lasting impression on our hearts..not to mention a newfound appreciation for creamy pumpkin soup.

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