Getting to Know the Spirit and People of Cuba

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Sep 29, 2014 / 0 comments

Have you always wanted to go to Cuba? I have. This long desire has been fed by tiny bits of Cuban goodness – recipes, photos, even a segment from Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations: Forbidden Detour. And, of course by the Hemingway of Cuba, where he wrote the Pulitzer-prize winning The Old Man and the Sea, A Moveable Feast, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. You can visit his house, Finca Vigia, although read the background from his daughter in law and secretary first to get a true sense of history and place.


Hemingway Home, Finca Vigia. From Getting to Know the Spirit and People of Cuba

Finca Vigia


Hemingway Typewriter at Finca Vigia. From Getting to Know the Spirit and People of Cuba

Hemingway Typewriter at Finca Vigia


Or maybe you have long been entranced by the Buena Vista Social Club, as I am – having played that cd almost to pieces. The Buena Vista Social Club was a Havana music club in the 1940s; the Cuban musician Juan de Marcos Gonzalez organized local musicians (including some that had played at the club) for the recording of Buena Vista Social Club. It’s been a wonderful introduction to Cuban music and history for countless listeners.



Think Cuba, and you might also focus on history, culture, cigars, beautiful colors, old cars, baseball, stunning island sunsets, and nature untrammeled (including 30 species of endemic birds!). But what has struck me most about Cuba is the friendliness of its people.


Now, US citizens CAN travel to Cuba, through an educational exchange with strict regulation by the US government.


But how do you get to Cuba? And how do you interact with locals?


One way to do so is to go through International Expeditions with their People to People initiative. International Expeditions was one of the founding members of The International Ecotourism Society, and has essentially had the same mission statement since they were founded in 1980: "The purpose of International Expeditions is to stimulate an interest in, develop an understanding of, and create an appreciation for the great natural and cultural wonders of our Earth." The company was founded on the belief that those who feel a deep connection to an environment and its people are more compelled to preserve those wonders. This influential company has been named among the Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth by National Geographic ADVENTURE and one of the World's Best Tour Operators & Safari Outfitters by Travel + Leisure.


Old Chevy. From Getting to Know the Spirit and People of Cuba


Cuban sunset. From Getting to Know the Spirit and People of Cuba


International Expeditions notes, “The people-to-people initiative allows Americans to travel to Cuba, via a specific license, issued by the Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control. Every program operating under this license includes a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities, including interactions with Cuba’s musicians, artists, naturalists and new generation of entrepreneurs. As the name suggests, International Expeditions’ people-to-people travel license means that our itinerary focuses on cultural exchanges that will be as educational for the Cubans we encounter as they will be for you! IE’s itinerary allows participants to visit a wide scope of organizations, institutions and community projects, which will provide a deeper understanding of Cuban culture through people and places that the average tourist rarely sees.”


Musician in Havana. From  Getting to Know the Spirit and People of Cuba


So what can you see in Cuba, when you visit?

Well, our friends at Green Global Travel interviewed International Expeditions Leader Ana Maria Perez, a Cuban native, about visiting Cuba. She shares, “The People to People way of traveling, while also visiting must see places, truly focuses on that human interaction that allows for Americans to understand the why's and how's of that Cuba they don't completely get, the simple yet intricate way of thinking of its people; while also allowing Cubans to see the other side of the coin and comparing their reality to that of the rest of the world. There's priceless experiences from the trips I have led that I otherwise would have never lived: like one time when interacting with high school students in an arts school in Matanzas, after a magnificent spontaneous performance, one of the students overcoming her shyness dared our group to play something for them, and Herm, a teacher and musician who was a member of our group, stood up and went to the piano and played an Americans classic song. We were all in awe and silently singing to his music.”


Guest in Trinidad. From  Getting to Know the Spirit and People of Cuba


Do you want to explore Cuba?


There’s a giveaway from International Expeditions to help you do just that:


Explore Cuba with International Expeditions


Giveaway Prizes:

Grand Prize:   $500 travel certificate & Gear Pack

2nd prize: Gear Pack valued at @$100 – two hats, two memory foam travel pillows, Eagle Creek packable daypack, luggage duffle, collapsible water bottle, daypack first aid kit

3rd-5th Prize: $100 Travel Gift Certificates

Deadline: October 31, 2014.


Havana Square. From  Getting to Know the Spirit and People of Cuba

Ana Maria says, "Be open: open your mind and your heart to Cuba, and you will understand, accept, and inevitably letCuba captivate you. Life as you know it will not be the same after Cuba; you will learn not to take for granted several everyday facts like running water on a tap, a shelf full of products in a grocery store, new shoes every time the old pair is getting uncomfortable. At the same time, you will likely get to work and want to hug your colleagues and play music to spice up your day. You will hopefully become an even better human being, and care and do even more for our common Mother: planet Earth."


What will you bring home from Cuba? What new friends, colors, food, and worldviews will influence your life?






All photos courtesy and copyright International Expeditions

Note: this post was brought to you by International Expeditions – but the desire to learn from the people of Cuba is all mine.