We’ve had a wonderful tour so far with only minor glitches. I am writing this at the end of our 4th day in Cuba. I can’t begin to mention all we’ve seen, but my fellow travelers seem to be having a great time. Our guide has been very open, helpful and educational. We’ve walked around Old Havana and saw Hemingway’s room—now a mini-museum—at the Ambos Mundos Hotel. We ate lunch at his favorite restaurant—Bodeguita del Medio.
We met with government representatives of ICAP—the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the People of North America. The speakers were friendly, informative, and didn’t preach to us. They said they were looking forward to the time when our governments will get along as well as our people do. Another group of Americans attended the conference with us. Their focus topic was mental health. Afterwards we visited a polyclinic (small hospital) in Old Havana and met with medical staff. Later we took our bus to the area across the harbor from Old Havana, where two massive fortresses were constructed centuries ago. It reminded some of us of fortresses I’ve seen in places such as Milan. The wall of the Forteleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña—the larger fortress facing Old Havana across the Harbor–is almost a mile in length along the harbor entrance, and about a third of a mile deep. It is hard to imagine how something so large could have ben constructed in the New World so long ago.
Today we visited La Castellana Mental Health Center, along with the other group of health professionals. We also visited Revolutionary Square, and ended our afternoon at the iconic Hotel Nacionál. We visited the bunkers and tunnels that were dug immediately after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. Castro believed that the next step for the US was a full-scale, D-Day-type military invasion. (Decades later, this was determined by historians to be true. It would have been an unbelievably bloody and costly war. The only thing that prevented it was the introduction of Soviet nuclear-tipped missiles. When JFK pledged not to invade Cuba, the Soviets removed the nuclear weapons, ending the Missile Crisis. At the time, Americans were told that Soviet Russia had arbitrarily moved the missiles to Cuba just to be provocative).
We read newspapers that were printed during October 1962 around the time of the Missile Crisis. (Note–It was only referred to as the “CUBAN Missile Crisis” in the U.S.– Cuba did not have any missiles of their own. In every other country in the world, it is referred to as the “Caribbean Crisis” or simply as the “Missile Crisis.”)
Afterwards we visited the Celebrity Bar–which had a display and photos of all the world’s celebrities who visited the hotel since it was opened in 1930. There were heads of state, athletes, musicians, movie stars, captains of industry, bankers, and anybody who WAS anybody. It was especially interesting to note all the famous Americans who continued to visit Cuba after the embargo was enacted. It didn’t keep famous and wealthy Americans away; it only deterred everyday Americans from visiting. To this day, most Americans still believe the nonsensical concept that they cannot visit Cuba legally without special permission from the American Government. This is NOT TRUE!!!, as my fellow travelers have learned. They cannot visit as tourists, but they can travel here to research tourism (or any other topic)! Go figure!
We are getting ready to go out to dinner at a local paladar—an in-home restaurant. The weather has been wonderful, and so far we have had a really pleasant research expedition. Tomorrow we will take a day trip to Viñales National Park to the west.