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.
Cuba is a place where music and culture are valued beyond material wealth and acquisition, and as such, the sounds and rhythms of the country and its people, are never far behind. Outside of Havana, Santiago de Cuba is probably one of the best places to experience Cuba’s cultural diversity and the video below provides a snapshot.
The first scene is a group of men literally singing for their supper, to the tourists that visit Castillo del Morro (or more formally, Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca), and choose to stay for lunch.
The second scene is a singer at Casa de las Tradiciones. This is a very popular spot for both tourists and locals. The first part of the evening consists of solo (and typically older) singers with traditional tunes and the second part of the evening involves hot and sweaty salsa dancing.
The third scene is part of the musical rehearsal for the national closing ceremonies of the Feria de Libros (National Book Fair). This is my favorite piece because it reflects the strength of African cultural and linguistic roots in Cuba. When watching the dancer, imagine her arms holding up the ends of a long flowing traditional gown. This is the Ballet Folklórico Cutumba and for more info on them, click here.
Cuba has multiple faces that it presents to visitors:
- Those on packaged tours, get the – “Come see our awesome, virginal beaches with clean, clear blue waters, sun and relaxation.”
- Those on cultural tours get the – “Come see our awesome cultural heritage as represented by our musical traditions, and our Tropicana dancers. And don’t forget to check our folkloric music and dance troupes, which really keep the African spirit alive and strong here.”
- Those on medical field tours get the – “Come see what we accomplish despite the US blockade…but we still need meds and accessories.” And finally;
- Independent travelers often get the – “Do you have any extra change for me, leave me your lipstick, if you have any extra cloths…”
With all these varied images, how does one get a real feel for what Cuban life is like for most people? The best solution for real insight is staying in Casa Particulars. A casa particular is a privately owned home where the owners have decided to rent out a single room or an entire on-site apartment. While every casa is different, as every family is different, casa particulares allow one to live in homes and have unscripted conversations with both staff and owners.
Hands down, our favorite casa was Hostal Valmaseda in Trinidad at the home of Iris and Conrado. This home was special because from the moment they met us at the bus station, they treated us as family and by the end of our first day, we felt as if we had known them for years and this was more a homecoming than a tourist/cultural stop.
Iris works at Museo Romantico (to be covered in detail in a separate blog post) and Conrado tends to all the visitors during the day. Our bus arrived at 6:30 am and Conrado was waiting with a sign, so we could make a beeline straight toward him. He immediately took our large bag and given the option to walk or take a taxi, we chose to walk to his home. The day then proceeded as follows:
- My travel buddy and I took showers and a nap;
- We went down for breakfast, where I asked for the nearest clinic because I sprained by ankle 2 days before and now my foot was the size of a football.
- I left my travel buddy to play with the kids in the house, which she happily agreed to, and accompanied by Conrado, I went straight to the clinic for foreigners,
- Then I was put in an ambulance to the local hospital for x-rays and an orthodpedic consult, then back in the ambulance to the clinic for a final analysis, meds and $57 USD in total payments. (doctors recommended that I immobilize my foot for 15 days and stay totally off it…and of course that didn’t happen cause I was on my dream vacation….duh)
- Then back home for 1.5 hours of rest and repose with my foot up.
- Then the rest of the day walking about the city with Conrado, getting to meet restaurant owners, and enjoying the perks of having a well connected, not-a-tour guide, guide.
- Then back home for dinner
- And back out for live music and salsa dancing (which happens across the street every Sunday for the locals- definitely not in the guide books)
- Finally back home for the evening.
During the same day, I got to meet the entire family clan and my travel buddy completely abandoned me to tour the town and play stick ball with the other kids. Our first day in Trinidad could not have been more perfect.
So, if you plan on visiting Trinidad, Cuba, please consider staying with Iris and Conrado at Hostal Valmaseda (call 53 52770915 or email firstname.lastname@example.org). They are an amazing couple with two sons, 8 and 2, and their youngest has Downs Syndrome. They are the most loving family ever and I promise , you will not be disappointed. Check out the pictures below:
QUESTION – Little Lucie, why did you take so many pictures of school children?
RESPONSE – I think the school children here would be interested in them, because they would be really interested in how they look and how they dress.
Presenting Little Lucie’s Gallery of Cuban School Children
On one of our many walks through town, my travel buddy and I, armed with cameras, decided to take photos of the community around us.