Yesterday’s flight from Miami was uneventful, except as soon as we touched down in Havana, there was loud applause throughout the cabin. It wasn’t because we had an especially smooth landing. It was because so many of the Cuban-American passengers had returned once again to their homeland. We met businessmen who travel back and forth every week. There were also women who haven’t been back in over fifty years. Typically, their husbands refused to allow anybody to go back to Cuba and provide any money for the Castros. Now, their husbands have died, and their children have encouraged them to return to see family members for the first time in over half a century.
Customs was rather uneventful, except a young and apparently new customs investigator nicely grilled me. She asked numerous questions about our group. She asked to see my travel license and itinerary. Finally, she pleasantly indicated I should go ahead through the first window.
I’ve been through this several times before, and I wasn’t worried. My theory is that customs agents in Havana are thoroughly bored, and welcome the chance to talk with somebody from the outside world.
After clearing the last hurdle with our checked baggage, we walked outside and met our new guide. She directed us to our mini-bus. We loaded our bags, and headed to our hotel—the Melia Cohiba, located just across from the Malecon. This is a 7-mile long seawall walkway built along the ocean by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers early in the 1900’s. We checked-in, then headed for dinner at El Templete Restaurant in Old Havana.
Today we walked around Old Havana and visited the Fine Arts Museum. Many of our travelers were surprised at the quality of the museum as well as the caliber of art. In the afternoon we visited the Presidential Palace Museum of the Revolution. There were many interesting historical exhibits, beginning with Columbus. He discovered Cuba on his first trip. There was also an emphasis on the Cuban Revolution, which finally succeeded on New Year’s Day of 1959.
There is also an outside display of military equipment used during the Bay of Pigs invasion, including a Russian tank and a Sea Fury fighter, built by the Brits. There were also remains of an American U-2 spy aircraft, which was shot down during the height of the Missile Crisis. (This two-week period is known as the “Cuban Missile Crisis” only in America. It was a Russian missile that blew up the spy-plane.)
In the afternoon we rode in the tunnel under the harbor entrance to the fortresses around Morro Castle. The fortress that faces Old Havana is almost a mile long, and about a half-mile deep. It is hard to imagine how difficult it was to construct such a massive structure in the 1700’s.
These are only some of the highlights of our expedition. Our group seems to be getting along very well together. We are looking forward to tomorrow, when we will be meeting with a representative of the Ministry of Health.
The weather has been fabulous, and the food has been quite tasty so far. We expect this week to continue to be very interesting and educational.