Our April expedition, featuring Cuba’s Health Care System, just wrapped-up. We attended a conference with a representative of the Ministry of Health. The speaker was Dr. José Portilla, a former combat surgeon who served in Africa in the Angola War. We also visited ICAP—an institution that has spent years coordinating activities and fostering relations and activities between Cuba and the United States.
We also visited clinics and hospitals, including the international medical center that treats patients from all over the world—the Frank Pais Orthopedic Hospital:
In addition, we had an active schedule of non-medical things to see, beginning on our first morning at the Presidential Palace Museum of the Revolution, and ending on our last night with our Farewell Dinner at Café del Oriente, located on the beautiful Plaza de San Francisco. A lot happened during the 9 days between these events—I’ll try to elaborate on our April Expedition with future posts.
It is amazing to see how quickly things are changing in Cuba these days. I have visited every 2 months since November, and it is quite dramatic seeing the accelerated pace of change, as well as improvements in Cuba’s infrastructure. Cubans joke about wanting President Obama to visit every month, because they had never before seen so many laborers working so furiously cleaning, painting, and sprucing-up the buildings around Central Park before his visit.
Increasing numbers of Americans are visiting Cuba these days. I am probably going to scream if I hear one more comment from an American such as: “we want to see Cuba before all the American tourists overrun it and destroy it.” In my opinion, these comments do not reflect an understanding of Cuba’s situation and problems. I believe more American money and influence will be good for Cuba overall. There will be many bumps and hiccups along the way, but the situation today is encouraging the Cuban government to lay off numerous workers, while stimulating more private businesses with more individual workers & employees having more direct contact with American visitors. It is fascinating watching the economies of our two countries headed in opposite directions. If things continue like this, in five years, we may see Cuban-Americans in Miami throwing inner tubes into the Atlantic, then paddling south towards Havana with the hopes of finding a job!
My last post was from the beach at Varadero. The weather was wonderful—as it was on almost all of our trip. We had a terrific time at the beach, then headed back to Havana on Sunday afternoon. We checked into the Central Park Hotel. Several of us took off to meet with friends or Cubans that we met during our first few days in Havana. We had plans to meet up for our Farewell Dinner at the Café del Oriente. http://www.habaguanex.ohc.cu/restaurantes/restaurante-cafe-del-oriente/
I realize the name sounds like a Chinese fast-food place, but it was actually quite nice. Many of our past farewell dinners have been held here, located on the beautiful Plaza de San Francisco. This restaurant is often used as the last meal for various groups visiting Cuba. We joined the others upstairs who had arrived earlier. At the next table our guide noticed an energized group, headed by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis. He and his entourage had just arrived in Cuba, and this was their first meal. He graciously posed for photos with our guide and several members of our group. (We later found out that he was in Cuba to discuss an emerging crisis of Cuban migrants stranded in his country. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-costa-rica-idUSKBN0TW0UZ20151214. The migrants want to go to the US, where they can claim to be political refuges. Cuba wants them returned, and wants the US to change its policy of accepting all Cubans who arrive at the border—thousands of Cubans have died trying to get to the U.S.. I think it is fascinating that a foreign country such as Cuba has a much better (and obvious) solution to this problem than our own Congress.)
After dinner, some of us ended up at a combination night club and art gallery. The next morning we rode our bus to the airport, said our “good-byes,” and flew off through the time warp back to Miami. As usual, no customs agents asked to see our licenses, and none of our group had their bags inspected. This was one of my best expeditions yet, with few glitches. My last 2 tours have been especially therapeutic, so in addition to April 16-25, I’ve decided to add one for the summer—June 11-20th.
It has been very interesting traveling to Cuba several times each year. In spite of some obviously-predjudiced articles claiming nothing has changed, it is quite apparent that rapid change is definitely happening, and the pace of this change is accelerating. I think we will eventually see that 95% of it will be for the better. Perhaps most important—this change is becoming widely understood, accepted, and supported in Miami.
It’s early Monday morning—our bus will be here soon to take our research group to the airport. Yesterday we had free time to research the beach, research shopping, and research tourism in Cuba. It’s too bad we couldn’t just come here as tourists—that would be illegal, according to the U.S. government. (Technically, tourists can come here, but cannot spend money. Researchers are exempt from that regulation, so most of our travelers successfully researched the process of buying artwork, Christmas presents, and gifts.)
After researching lunch, we rode in our bus along the north coast for 2 hours back to Havana. We checked into our same hotel–the Santa Isabel. We had more free time to walk around Old Havana and finish our shopping.
At 8pm, we walked a couple blocks to our Farewell Dinner at the Cafe del Oriente. It was great to have our guide and driver have dinner with us. We passed out certificates to all the researchers in our group. It was also the birthday of one of our travelers–Julie. Our guide had ordered a birthday cake, so our “Last Supper” was a nice ending to our research expedition.
Today we’ll go to the airport, say “good-bye” to our guide and driver, clear customs, and wait for our flight back to “The Empire,” as it is called by many Cubans. We had a few glitches on this trip, but overall I think it was one of my best expeditions yet.