Bridge(t)toSomewhere

23rd November 2013

In the morning, we went hiking in the Sierra de Escambey with Felicia and Alejandro, who works in the city’s archives and does some nature guiding on the side. We first climbed up a lookout with a view of the whole valley. Alejandro explained that Trinidad and the surrounding valley were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Sight because the valley acts as a living history book. It is one of the only places in the country, and really the world that has preserved the architecture and landscape of colonial sugar plantations.

After climbing up an overlook and taking in an expansive view of the city and valley, my fellow study-abroaders piled into the car with Alejandro and Felicia. After 30 minutes of winding through the mountains, we arrived at the Salto del Caburni National Park. We were relieved to see that this park was indeed open after a mishap the day before. We took a taxi to the closer national park to the city, arriving at 4:10, to find that in classic Cuban fashion, the park actually closed at 4:00. From what we could discern, there was some military base on or near the park that does training after 4:00, so tourists can’t enter. After pondering weather or not the story of getting shot a by the Cuban military was worth the potential injuries, we decided to walk back to the city as night fell.

In this hike at the Salto de Caburni, we actually descended deeper into the valley in order to see the famous waterfall. After spending most of my abroad experience in a city of three million, I very much enjoyed the busy silence of the rainforest. The rustles of the trees, sounds of the birds, and the rushing of the almost cool water were just enough to transport me back to Maine before beginning the return trip to our home in Havana.

22 Nov 2013

I have to confess this was my second visit to Trinidad. The weekend beforehand I took a trip with my study-abroad program, but I only had about an hour in the town, just enough time to meet up with two of the contacts the Brunswick Trinidad Sister City Association gave me, so I rushed around the small historic center of the colonial city to deliver photos and gifts for the locals.

This time around, we planned for two days in Trinidad. The first day I spent mostly with Felicia touring the municipal library for Trinidad. Petite and serious, she and all of the other workers at the library studied library science. The resources of the library are rather meager. There are four total computers, none of which are available to the public due to infrastructural internet limits. Although the building is incredibly beautiful and served many purposes over the years, the structural integrity is failing. Because Trinidad is 500 years old this year, there is an incredible rare books collection. However, because there is no money to fix the air conditioners these centuries-old books are deteriorating at an alarming rate. The children’s area had to be moved to a small side corridor because the spacious rooms it previously inhabited had leaking roofs. The entire library is at risk of closing because the poor state of the building.

I also took a brief trip to the Casa de la Cultura. Every city receives funding from the state have a cultural resource like this, much like every city receives funding to have a library. Like the library, the Casa de la Cultura offers classes and programming for the students, but it is also a location where tourists can listen to music, watch dance performances, take salsa lessons, and buy art. The center its self and the director (a lovely man who helped past Brunswick delegations enjoy the city) enjoy much better compensation for their services. The building’s blue walls are freshly painted and the teens I watched practicing their dance routine have no risk of losing their enrichment opportunities at the Casa de la Cultura. Much like the rest of Cuba, there are two Trinidads: the one that benefits from the tourism wealth, and the Trinidad still trying to survive off the old communist system.

21st November 2013

 Cienfuegos is the largest city in the providence that hosts Trinidad. Founded by French colonists who left Haiti after their revolution and established the Cuban sugar empire, it is the home of Cuba’s best-preserved neoclassical architecture and about 140,000 people. We spent the majority of the day wandering the city and taking in the sights.

In the heat of the day, we bartered our way to brief to the botanical gardens which 14 miles out of the city. The history and location of the gardens are emblematic of the country’s story. Originally the pleasure garden of wealthy sugarcane barons, it is now available to the public, with an entrance fee of just cents for anyone carrying a government-issued ID. Also, the eco-attraction, containing over 2,000 species of tropical plants, is adjacent to a cement factory. Enjoying the sun scattered by the afternoon rainstorm next to royal palms and Chinese bamboo, I almost escaped the smell of industry and the country’s contradiction.

That night my fellow students and I attended our first Cuban baseball game. We sat and chatted with Alejandro, one of the young players in the Cienfuegos baseball academy and his coach. We learned that Cienfuegos had been one of the best teams in Cuba for many years, but recently six of their youngest and best players (including Yasiel Puig playing for the LA Dodgers) defected and were signed by US teams. Cienfuegos scored the only two runs of the game in the first ten minutes, securing their second win of the 10 games they had thus far played. This made for more exciting people watching than baseball. Nine innings of commercial free hair jell, creative use of union jacks in male clothing, and elevator eye exchanges later, we left the stadium.

Outside we chatted with Alejandro for a few minutes. In that time, all of the professional players trickled out of the same exit the spectators used. Alejandro directed the better players and the players he was better acquainted with for some awkward pictures with his new American friends. Cuban baseball players are paid about the same as any other professionals, anywhere between $15 and $40 dollars a month. Despite their fame, I found them to be amazingly down-to earth, far more than 90 miles away from the egos of the professional players in the US.

Weekend trip(s) to Cienfuegos and Trinidad

Here’s one of the articles that made it to the Brunswick times record. You can read it on their website ( http://www.timesrecord.com/news/2013-12-24/Front_Page/Full_with_cerdo_asado_and_Cuban_hospitality.html?print=1 ) or below:

20 nov 2013

I left for Trinidad in a an unorganized hurry, calling bed and breakfasts until the last minute, virtually putting on my shoes as we left the residence. We (four other students in my study abroad program and I) had gone the week before to the two colonial cities, Cienfuegos and Trinidad, but felt we wanted to see more. After taking a public carpool to the bus station, the other students took a last minute bathroom trip while I bartered with the taxi drivers. One agreed to take all of us for about 12 dollars per-person in his black 1950s ford sedan for a trip that should have taken about three and a half hours, but the search for black-market gasoline (siphoned from state shipment trucks) made it just short of five.

In reality, there are far fewer trucks that ship goods than I expected. Trucks with dozens of faces peeking out of not so delicately re-purposed trailers far more common. The larges highway in the country, six lanes total, was only illuminated by the occasional state owned truck stops and lights from the small family businesses trying to capitalize on hungry travelers. The stars were the best I have seen since leaving Maine, a thick milky way, with occasional red lights from abandoned sugar mills intermingling with tropical constellations.

We arrived at about 9:00 in Cienfuegos and checked into our little bed and breakfast. After checkout the owner, a small woman in her forties with matching royal blue spandex shirt and capris, told us we might have butter the next morning, because her husband was driving to Havana to pick up tourists (a nice example of small-scale vertical integration in a country without MBAs). Although it was late, we were all pretty hungry. Wandering around the small city, there were few options still serving food, so we had to eat at a place with high prices. However, left the kitchen to personally offer us discounts, right in tune with the Cuban hospitality and respect for education. Full with cerdo asado and Cuban hospitality we returned to the B&B to rest for our long day in Cuba’s little Paris.

Blah! sorry for being away!

Hey followers! I returned to the US December 24th safe and sound, and was thoroughly overwhelmed with culture shock, holidays, visiting family, etc. from now on, it will be mostly a game of catch-up with photos yet to grace my blog. Since I’m no longer there, I’ll try to avoid making too many broad statements, as my mind is no longer there. I’ll also be uploading some pics from friends of events I didn’t document. stay tuned for some copies of columns that will be printed in the Brunswick Times Record (Brnswick, ME happens to be sister cites with Trinidad! who woulda Thunk?). I’ll post the links for the articles if you want to give a little traffic to a local newspaper website!

Hey everyone! Sorry I’ve fallen off the face of the tumblr earth. I came home safe and sound December 14th, and despite some absurd culture shock, have made it through the holidays. I promise Ill do a flurry of posting once I’m done traveling the US visiting family.

In the meantime, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE check out my compañera’s blog! She did an amazing project in which she handed out 8 disposable cameras to Habaneros of different socio-economic levels, education levels, genders, ages, and neighborhoods. It’s truly amazing!

Leaving all of this in four days! You can guess what I will miss.

From the 9th to the 17th of November my parents and two of my sisters came to visit through a National Geographic tour.

Because of traveling restrictions, they had to be booked solid, giving me little opportunity to spend time with them or show them my favorite sites in Havana. I accompanied them some of their various planned shows, dinners, and lectures. Overall, it was a nice visit, but I wish I could have shared some of my favorite places with my family. Pictured is the Tropicana show. It is an incredible quality cabaret in an amazing out-door garden theater, involving several stages. Although not as bad as the Varadero cabaret, was still a problematic glittery projection of “cuban culture,” featuring an “africa” section despite having no black lead dancers.

November 2nd

 Part 3 (again, here’s the caption for the pictures so you don’t have to search for the first post to read it.)

With our Familia y Ciudad class (family and city) we went with one of our professors (a young woman studying sociology and religiosity) to an Afro-Cuban religious center in Centro Habana. Named Asociación Quiscuaba, along with offering a space for worship of several of the Afro-Cuban traditions (Santería, Palo-Monte, Espiritismo, etc.) they also offer dance, music, and religious education classes for the children and adolescents in the neighborhood. The center also offers general educational classes for the adults. However, because the state does not sponsor religious organizations, one has to pay for all of these services. In general, Santería can be a very expensive religion to follow (initiation can sometimes cost 1000s of dollars). However, when compared to the costs related to Catholicism and other religions (first communions, tithes, etc.) the costs are not so outrageous. Also, because Afro-Cuban religions are relatively localized and have little overarching structure, the money will go directly to the religious centers / leaders instead of being distributed within a large hierarchy. 

We attended their celebration that occurs the first Sunday every month. More of a talent show than a religious event, all of the youth and adult dance /musical groups performed in the street outside the center. It had many of the familiar aspects of any type of recital/talent show in the US: a proud mom section, an audience composed of neighbors and family friends, the resident slightly crazy lady who involves the visitors, etc. The sound system often turned on and off pretty frequently, but the dance groups would always keep going with their routine, without music, until the problem was fixed. At the end of the celebration all of the young dancers invited the crowd (including the funny-looking US students) to dance. We tried our best to follow along with the coordinated line dance. Luckily, the celebration broke down into a giant conga line, allowing us to bounce around with the far-more coordinated 12-year-olds.

November 2nd

Part 2: (here is the text from the first post if you don’t feel like searching for the caption.) 

With our Familia y Ciudad class (family and city) we went with one of our professors (a young woman studying sociology and religiosity) to an Afro-Cuban religious center in Centro Habana. Named Asociación Quiscuaba, along with offering a space for worship of several of the Afro-Cuban traditions (Santería, Palo-Monte, Espiritismo, etc.) they also offer dance, music, and religious education classes for the children and adolescents in the neighborhood. The center also offers general educational classes for the adults. However, because the state does not sponsor religious organizations, one has to pay for all of these services. In general, Santería can be a very expensive religion to follow (initiation can sometimes cost 1000s of dollars). However, when compared to the costs related to Catholicism and other religions (first communions, tithes, etc.) the costs are not so outrageous. Also, because Afro-Cuban religions are relatively localized and have little overarching structure, the money will go directly to the religious centers / leaders instead of being distributed within a large hierarchy.

We attended their celebration that occurs the first Sunday every month. More of a talent show than a religious event, all of the youth and adult dance /musical groups performed in the street outside the center. It had many of the familiar aspects of any type of recital/talent show in the US: a proud mom section, an audience composed of neighbors and family friends, the resident slightly crazy lady who involves the visitors, etc. The sound system often turned on and off pretty frequently, but the dance groups would always keep going with their routine, without music, until the problem was fixed. At the end of the celebration all of the young dancers invited the crowd (including the funny-looking US students) to dance. We tried our best to follow along with the coordinated line dance. Luckily, the celebration broke down into a giant conga line, allowing us to bounce around with the far-more coordinated 12-year-olds.