Cuba 2012 Preliminary Tour Itinerary
January 13 (Friday) • Havana: Morning flight from Miami to Havana
Following our arrival, we’ll drive to the historic Nacional Hotel for lunch. The hotel opened in 1930 when Cuba was a prime travel destination for Americans. In 1955, Meyer Lansky managed to persuade Batista to give him a share in the hotel. The hotel was closed by Fidel Castro in 1960 but reopened in the 1990s.
We’ll drive to the hotel along the Malecon, a splendid seaside drive that runs from the San Salvador de la Punta fort to the entrance to Miramar. The sea crashing along the seawall here is a splendid sight when the wind blows from the north.
We’ll check into the Santa Isabel Hotel, ideally located in old Havana right on the Plaza de Armas. This is one of Havana’s loveliest hotels.
Before dinner this evening, Maria Cristina Garcia will present our first lecture, “How Close We Came: The History of Efforts to Normalize U.S.–Cuba Relations.”
We’ll enjoy a welcome dinner at a local restaurant. (L, D)
January 14 (Saturday) • Havana
This morning we’ll begin to discover the beauty of old Havana. Of all the capital cities in the Caribbean, Havana, once the most splendid, remains the finest example of a Spanish colonial city in the Americas. Many of its palaces were converted into museums after the Revolution. Restoration work in the old part of the city continues to reveal the glories of the past. Since the old city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, much work has been done to restore the historic center of the city. We’ll have ample opportunity to learn about the process.
We will learn more about how the revitalization of historic centers can become a motor for the entire city’s economy. Our discussion this morning will be directed by a city architect and will include a walking tour of old Havana, where there will be opportunities to talk with residents and merchants in the old city.
The final stop for the morning will be at the new model of Old Havana, which serves as an excellent introduction to the layout of the city, color-coded by the age of the historic buildings.
We’ll lunch on Plaza Vieja.
Our afternoon orientation bus tour of Havana will include Vedado, Plaza de la Revolucion, Miramar, the Malecon, and the Colon Cemetery. We will be joined this afternoon by Eduardo Luis Rodriquez Fernandez, director of the well-known journal Arquitectura Cuba.
In the evening before dinner we’ll drive to the Ceramic Museum, in its new location, where guitarist Luis Manuel Molina will perform traditional Cuban music for the group.Dinner will be at the Café Oriente Restaurant, located on one of old Havana’s most beautiful squares. (B, L, D)
January 15 (Sunday) • Havana
We’ll meet in the Antilles Room in the hotel for a round-table discussion directed by Professor Julio Carranzas on the “Changing Forces of Cuba’s Economic Structure.”
Then we’ll visit the new Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes: Arte Cubano (Cuban Collection). The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is actually divided into two sections, occupying two buildings: the Cuban Collection and the International Collection. The museum dates back to 1842 when the San Alejandro Art Academy started its collection, which forms the nucleus of the museum founded in 1913. It expanded greatly after Castro took over in 1959, notably with works from the private collections of Julio Lobo and Oscar Cintas.
We’ll lunch at the Prado y Neptuno, and then we’ll visit and admire the Gran Teatro de la Habana, Havana’s most important theater, home to Alicia Alonso’s Ballet Nacional de Cuba as well as the national opera company. If a performance is scheduled during our stay, we will assist participants in obtaining tickets.
We’ll end the afternoon at the home of artists Alicia Leal and Juan Moreira—a spacious, high-ceilinged house with pale walls and typical Creole inner doors that partition off rooms filled with wooden and wicker furniture. Alicia’s Leal work is of a markedly narrative nature; her characters speak intensely, not only amongst themselves, but with the onlooker, who becomes an active participant and even protagonist of the painter’s unsettling scenarios.
The surrealist paintings of Juan Moreira, Alicia’s husband, reflect many of the historical, religious, and cultural influences in Cuba. African myths and rituals brought to the island with the slave trade in the seventeenth century are predominant, as well as the social and political events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that shaped Cuban traditions and folklore.
We have also invited Juan Moreira’s daughter, Cirenaica Moreira, and Alicia Leal’s son-in-law, Novo, both cutting-edge artists.
We’ll enjoy dinner at La Chansonnier Restaurant, one of Havana’s best paladars. A paladar is a private restaurant, and recent changes in policies have loosened the regulations governing their operation. The group will meet and talk with Hector Higuera, the owner of La Chansonnier, and some of his staff. Mr. Higuera will talk about how the restaurant operates and how he views the future of his business. (B, L, D)
January 16 (Monday) • Havana
Professor Carlos Alzuguray will lead a round-table discussion on Cuban–U.S. relations at the hotel.
Then we’ll walk from the hotel to the Presidential Palace, a huge, ornate building topped by a dome. The history of Cuban political development is illustrated here from the slave uprisings to joint missions with the ex-Soviet Union.
A few minutes away by foot is the Granma Memorial, which preserves the vessel that brought Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and other revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba in 1956. The Granma, a surprisingly large launch, embodies the powerful, unstoppable spirit of the revolutionary movement.
We’ll then explore one of Havana’s urban farms to learn more about urban gardening in Havana. The effects of the Special Period and consequent food shortages have had the greatest repercussions in the city of Havana. With approximately 2.5 million people, Havana has about one-fifth of Cuba's total population. While Havana's urban agriculture has taken on many forms, ranging from huertos privados (private gardens) to state-owned organicponicos (research gardens), Havana’s huertos populares (popular gardens) are the most widespread and accessible to the general public.
Popular gardens are small parcels of state-owned land that are cultivated by individuals or community groups in response to ongoing food shortages. The program for popular gardens first began in Havana in January 1991 and has since been promoted in other Cuban cities. In 2009, there were an estimated 30,000 popular garden parcelas (parcels) throughout the forty-three urban districts that make up Havana's fifteen municipalities. Our visit will include opportunities to talk with workers at the farm as well as meeting with the production manager of the garden.
We’ll end the day at Ernest Hemingway’s home, lovingly preserved by the Cuban government. The house is just as Hemingway left it, with the books on the tables and many of his favorite photographs on display. Although one can only admire the home from the outside, it is a fascinating visit.
Dinner is on your own and at leisure this evening. Those who would like to hear music like that of the Buena Vista Social Club will have a chance to hear such a performance. (B, L)
January 17 (Tuesday) • Trinidad
We’ll drive along the autopista to Cienfuegos. We’ll stop en route at the Bay of Pigs where, in 1962, about 1,300 heavily armed CIA-trained Cuban exiles came ashore fully equipped to provoke a counterrevolution to topple the Castro regime.
In Cienfuegos we’ll visit the campus of the Beny More School of Art, which trains students in the visual and musical arts. It is one of the top ten middle-level art schools in Cuba. Students with a high aptitude in the areas of dance, music, or fine arts are chosen to attend. The Cuban government has a clear vision of the importance of the arts and takes pride in its arts education programs. We’ll have a chance to talk with students and see how they work with outdated instruments and tools but still produce wonderful music and art.
We’ll enjoy lunch at the fabulous Palacio del Valle, which originally belonged to Celestino Caceres but which was given as a wedding present to a member of the local Valle family, who added to its magnificence.
We’ll continue to Trinidad and our hotel for two nights. Dinner this evening will be at the hotel, after which Maria Cristina will lecture on “Cigars, Art Deco, and Mambo: How Cuba and the United States Have Shaped Each Other’s Cultures.” (B, L, D)
January 18 (Wednesday) • Trinidad
We’ll spend the day exploring Trinidad, the fourth of the seven cities founded by Diego de Velasquez in 1514 as a base for expeditions into the “New World.” Today it is maintained as a living museum, just as the Spaniards left it in its period of greatest opulence. It is the crown jewels of Cuba’s colonial cities. The whole city with its fine palaces, cobbled streets, and tiled roofs is a national monument and, since 1988, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Trinidad’s prosperity rested on the sugar industry, which was introduced in the eighteenth century. As a result of the wealth that the sugar industry brought, Trinidad’s cultural life flourished. Schools of languages, music, and dance were opened, and a wide variety of artisans set up businesses, including gold and silversmiths.
In 1827 the Teatro Candamo opened its doors. The well-off patricians built huge mansions for themselves (now museums) and sent their children to European universities. However, during the second half of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution and increased sugar beet production in Europe led to the decline of Trinidad’s slavery-based economy. Construction ceased, and the city remained frozen in time.
We’ll walk through the town and admire the maze of cobbled streets lined with houses in soft pastel colors with terra cotta-tiled roofs. Much of the architecture is neo-classical and baroque, with a Moorish flavor reflecting the town’s heritage of conquistadores. The exquisite buildings are fronted by mahogany balustrades, fancy grills of wrought iron, turned wooden rods, and massive wooden doors with postigos (small windows) that open to let the breezes flow through cool, tile-floored rooms connected by double-swing half-doors.
We’ll stop in at Trinidad’s Library, where we’ll learn more about the important role of libraries in Cuba. As we meet with staff at the library, our discussion will focus on the subject of intellectual freedom—a passionately debated issue. We’ll learn more about how books are selected and what censorship occurs. We recommend that you bring a copy of your favorite novel to donate to the museum!
We will also visit a maternity home to see how care is given to pregnant high-risk mothers.
After lunch we’ll drive a short distance to explore the UNESCO area known as the Valle de Los Ingenios. This is a living museum of the sugar industry, featuring seventy-five ruined sugar mills, summer mansions, barracks, and other facilities related to the field. The famous Manaca-Iznaga Tower, built in 1816, is forty-five meters high, and the tolling of its bells once marked the beginning and end of working hours on the sugar plantations.
We’ll return to Trinidad in the evening for dinner with local entrepreneur David Alamar, who recently opened a private restaurant in Trinidad called Davimart. Mr. Alamar has taken advantage of the relaxed regulations regarding private enterprise in Cuba and has opened a restaurant with seating capacity for fifty diners. He employs and pays several Cubans who are not family members to assist him in running this restaurant. Group members will have an opportunity to engage with the staff. (B, L, D)
January 19 (Thursday) • Havana
In the morning we’ll drive back to Havana and have lunch on our own and at leisure, and in the afternoon we’ll have a briefing at the U.S. Interest Section.
Maria Cristina’s final talk will be “Where Do We Go From Here?” It will be followed by a wrap-up discussion.
We’ll share a farewell dinner at a local restaurant and will stay once more at the Santa Isabel Hotel. (B, D)
January 20 (Friday)
Return to Havana airport for a return flights home. (B)