The problem with traveling, and enjoying it, is that once you start, it’s hard to give it up. I fantasize about putting roots down and settling in one place…except, the reality of doing that some how scares me. I think of the routines and habits that come along with being “settled”, the consistent parade of familiar faces, sites and scents, and I run for the nearest airport and farthest/quick destination point. Why that is? I do not know…perhaps I do not want my roots to show. Roots being a metaphor for permanent settlement and not my socio-cultural /ethnic background.
So the constant question these days is, “Where are you going?” My standard response has become, “The Caribbean for two months and then we will see from there.” This is the plan that is not. Going to Cuba has slightly side tracked my Ecuador plans because while it’s markets are spartan, compared to Cuenca (Ecuador), Cuban people are really hard to beat. And in the end, isn’t the experience of being in a new place more about the people than the marketplace? Of course I can’t work in Cuba, so unless I create a project for myself, the Cuban adventure will last until boredom sets in and we move off to the next country.
So, this summer’s adventure is all about discovering Cuba, its culture, history, people and food. We will see where the adventure leads us from there. I am committed to spending at least the next 12 months abroad, so we will see. And if I happen to meet my prince and fall in love in [enter the country name], I may consider planting my roots in the ground and not simply in a portable/roll-away flowerpot.
Yes…every so often we record ourselves saying relatively random and superfluous things. And today we thought we would share some of those things with you.
Three things that the Cuban government does very well are (1) educate its people, (2) include cultural knowledge and the arts as part of the national curriculum; and (3) foster environments that are inclusive, from an early age.
The underpinnings of a society are best seen in the behavior of its children and Cuban children could not have been more engaging, enchanting and inclusive of a little girl who had no idea what they were saying. So below is a clip of three scenes: (1) Reflects the value Cubans place on providing an education that promotes critical thinking, strategic analysis, and active engagement (all children learn chess); (2) Reflects the high value placed on culture and the arts in Cuban society (this young girl attends a boarding school in Cienfuegos that specializes in classically trained musicianship (Cuban education is, by definition, State-run and free); and (3) Reflects the innate inclusiveness of Cuban children and how it extends outward to everyone (there is no fear here).
This is what makes Cuba unique in the world.
In Camaguey we got to see something incredible, a sight rarely if ever seen in the US. This week the Feria de Libros, the national Cuban book fair, has come to Camaguey and it is all about books for sale in every corner, kiosk, free space available in town. Books for children and adults, history and philosophy, epic and revolutionary – take your pick of literally themes and you will surely find them here, in Spanish. And folks not only are the books available, they are inexpensive and priced within every Cuban’s budget.
Cuba, which has the 2nd highest literacy rate in the world ( according to a 2011 UN report), is a country of readers and this was evident by the long lines and excitement around all of the book kiosks, bookstores, and corners of random shops, cultural centers, churches and pet shops, that had tables and shelves stacked with books.
Feria de Libros is an annual event that happens in every city throughout the country for a least a week. So it is not just the “big city folks” that get to partake, even those in more rural areas get a week to revel in the majesty of literary abundance, diversity and affordability.
Purchasing books can be a cost prohibitive endeavor for those on a tight budget in the US, but the cost of books at the Feria range from 2 pesos (national) to 20 pesos (national). This is the equivalent of 8 to 80 cents (USD).
I got so excited, I wanted to pick some books out as well.
The beauty of Cuba is that it is one of the safest places on the planet and the beauty of Cubans is that they are some of the warmest and friendliest people on the planet. While we were waiting at the Varadero bus station, we struck up a conversation with a woman who is from Camaguey (our next stop) and when I explained that we were just spending the day in the city to look around, she looked at all of our stuff and basically said your coming home with me… and she meant it. We left Varadero on a 9:30pm bus (Viazul) and woke up at 5:30 am in Camaguey. We then went to our friend’s home to drop off our stuff, wash up, change our clothes, have coffee (which in Cuba, is some strong stuff), and head out for the day.