By Traci Sanderson, 2nd Year Student.
On the United States’ day of independence an adventurous group of students from The Evergreen State College set off on a forbidden adventure to Cuba. The course was focused on environmental protection and sustainability in the country, centralized around the ninth Convention on the Environment and Development, a conference organized by a national environmental agency. We also enjoyed many outings in and around Havana.
Although the course was designed with an environmental theme in mind, it would have been impossible for us to ignore the significance of traveling to a country that has been mostly off-limits to Americans for over 50 years. For many in our group that cultural interaction was the highlight of the trip. It was especially poignant for me. I am originally from Miami, which is a popular destination for Cubans seeking to leave the communist led country. I have also traveled extensively throughout Central and South America and found the similarities and differences between Cuba and other Latin American countries to be fascinating. Cuba was really unlike any place I had ever traveled before.
To try to understand the point of view of Cubans many of us tried to interact with the locals and question them about their country and their beliefs. With images of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro looking upon us from building walls, we tried to pull out an understanding, but I feel that many of us left with more questions than answers.
The trip with the large group was amazing and completely full of activity, but the highlight for me was an adventure into the countryside to the west end of the country with one of my classmates, Krystle Keese. We acquired a rental car and headed out of Havana in a downpour. The truck in front of us was kicking up a wake! It did not take long to leave the hustle of Havana behind and enter the countryside where cars were few and horses and bikes were the most common form of transport.
After a long and wet ride, we arrived in Valle de Viñales and found ourselves a casa particular for a night. Casa particulars are one of the few private enterprises legally allowed in Cuba. It gave Krystle and me a nice room in a Cuban family home for a few dollars a night. I was able to have a wonderful conversation with the homeowner about the underground lottery system that covers all of Cuba…I gave her my lucky numbers and told her to email if she won, but I have not heard anything so I guess they were not so lucky. After a good night’s rest we wandered through the countryside trying to find a farm with a white fence, where we were told we could go onto the farm property for free and hike back into the forest. It took a while, and tested my Spanish skills, but we finally found it and it was worth the effort. The owner of the farm ran a small stand and sold us the coldest beer we ever had in Cuba and some fine Cuban cigars. I acted as a translator and we had a great conversation about sustainable agriculture in Cuba, but then it was time to go.
Our next stop was Maria la Gorda, an isolated resort on the far West end of the country. Here, I introduced Krystle to scuba diving, one of my passions in life. We also had a wonderful guide take us into the Guanahacabibes National Park, where we saw many endemic species and a beach where turtle breeding studies underway.
Krystle Scuba Diving
My time in Cuba was too short, but entirely memorable. It is some place I hope to go back to in the future after our two countries have come to terms with each other and trade and tourism can freely move across our borders.
Krystle and Traci in Cuba