BACK ARROW Back to Main Page   Travel Page To Main Travel Page Next Trip To Trip 2


Canada - Cuba
January, 1978

I never would have imagined that my first trip abroad would be to Cuba! I was a freshman at Alfred University which during the interim period between the first and second semester required students to take a mini-course of 6 weeks. One offering was on the history of Cuba, capped off with two weeks in the Havana area. I was lucky enough to have been chosen and won a scholarship as well. Knowing a little Spanish didn't hurt either.

Well, as it turns out, we were the first Americans legally allowed to enter the country on this educational jaunt, but since no American air carriers flew there, we would have to go through Toronto for an Air Canada flight. Leaving 15 degree weather and landing in 85 degree heat was just the first shock. The second was our armed guard escorts which tailed us the entire time we were there. Altogether, we were some 20 students, Gary Horowitz (an Alfred University history professor) and a former US ambassador to several South American countries and his wife, Max and Esther Krebs. It was certainly an eye opening experience.

Government officials escorted us to several community service projects, the major "showcase"hospital in Havana where service is completely free (which looked like something out of a 1930's movie set), and a youth pioneer camp (in reality a communist indoctrination center for youth).

Special memories of the trip for me included the Soviet cargo boats littering Havana Harbor, the cigar factory we visited, total urban decay of a once absolutely beautiful capital, the Angela Davis (remember her- the black power militant) honorary doctoral diploma proudly on display in Havana University, the old 1950's US cars of all amkes and models still in working order on the streets (proving that Cuban mechanics are among the best "patchers and fixers" in the world), the claim by an economic minister that Cuba had zero percent unemployment (true, but I don't consider having 8 "workers" (guised as guards) in every room of the Museum of Art as real employment), and the many natives who tried to pay us the equivalent of US $250 for our jeans and American logoed tee-shirts! With the strict monetary control at the time, we couldn't have spent it if we wanted to!

The Cubans near our resort village of Santa Maria del Mar 10 miles north-east of Havana were discouraged from mingling with us, but several did anyway, and we had a great time with them. And much to our surprise, love Americans! I played many a chess game with them at night outside in the tropical winter. Overall, it was a wonderful adventure, but I was sure glad to be back home when it was over.