Sunday, Jan. 7
Hello from Havana. It’s day one, well, day two but we’ve all blocked the 5 hour flight delay and 10 degree weather from our minds. All we can think about now is the coming week and the stories waiting to be told.
We start our day with a walking tour led by Victor, an architect. It’s really more of a stroll and stop tour as Victor’s passion for the deteriorating buildings around us stop his feet from walking faster than his thoughts. He leads us to our next destination, the AP office in Havana. There we riddled a fellow journalist with questions off the record. Just outside the office we got the chance to take photos at the very spot where CNN frames their stand-ups from Havana.
After a full Cuban meal at a Paladar, essentially a non-state-run restaurant, we headed to Callehon de Hamel. There we found a peculiar street bustling with people and music. We squeezed through the crowd to get to a small gallery where we learned about Santeria. Cue the sublime song. From there we were taken a couple blocks down to where some Santeros live. We got a run-down on what this Afro-Cuban religion is all about. The eclectic mix of crosses, bright beads and figurines that fill the house showed us just how many religions have come together to form Santeria. It’s an unusual and interesting practice. Go check out my story on it to learn more.
Monday, Jan. 8
Our day began Monday morning around 8:00 am. Everyone came to the hotel lobby for breakfast. The breakfast was a buffet style, they had many tasty foods. Some were traditional Cuban breakfast foods, and some more Americanized foods.
We spoke to Camilo Garcia Lopez Trigo a Cuban politician who used to work at the United Nations, to get his political stance on issues. It was a long discussion.
Afterwards, we went to Playa de Barrio. The day was just beginning, and it was a steamy day. Fernando an owner of a beautiful house and a mechanic, showed us his cars. Jill , Mike and I were able to ride on this 1930’s car around his neighborhood. It was such a beautiful experience, especially since the weather was warm.
After 3 we had a free afternoon, to get some sources for our stories. Yingzi and I went to the Chinese embassy, since she is doing a story on Chinese imports to Cuba. As we arrive to the embassy, Yingzi spoke to a Chinese employee. The receptionist at the embassy is a Cuban, who speaks English, Spanish, and Chinese. From there it was a four-way conversation in 3 different languages. I was the only one who could translate to Yingzi, because the receptionist didn’t want to speak English. It was a funny experience to see everyone trying to communicate to each other, but in different languages.
Tuesday, Jan. 9
Don’t skip today’s blog or you are going to miss the most “wonderful” day of the trip and here is the little surprise for you on the bottom!!!!!
We woke up very early in the morning and we were excited because we have been talking about a cave club (a club in the cave) in Trinidad the whole night, and YES, it is where we were going to — one of the oldest cities on the island. It took us 4 hours to get to Trinidad by the taxi. Some of us were sleeping the most time. Professor Ricioppo tried to use the Slo-Mo mode on his phone to take a very nice shot of the antique car but I think he failed.:D After we arrived at Trinidad, we went to a very nice restaurant at Plaza Mayor, where is the only place that is able to connect to the Wifi in Trinidad.
After the lunch, we had some coffee and settled down in our casa. The casa was actually very nice. The building was very unique inside of our casa. Me, Jill and Kat finally sharing a room together even though it was not that big. After a little time of fresh up, we went to explore the city. Music, restaurants, and small businesses were all over the place. Then it started to rain. We walked back to the casa and get ready for the dinner and the CAVE CLUB.
After the dinner at a very delicious buffet restaurant, we went to the Plaza Mayor and waiting for the club to open at 11:00 p.m. However, it suddenly started to rain very heavily and almost everyone on the street ran into “the best mojito in the universe” store. It kept raining for an hour and it seems like it would not stop soon. So we were trapping in the store for a while and then we decided to run back to our casa because the cave must be flooded.
Wednesday, Jan. 10
Today we woke up for our first day in the casa particulares in Trinidad. It has been raining since last night when Kat, Yingzi, Luis and I went out to explore. When we came back, our room was flooded. It just so happened that the casa didn’t have a roof over some of the hallway and some of the seating area. As a result the water had bounced and slipped its way into our room.
We quickly put all our suitcases, previously on the floor, on top of our nightstands and the floor was essentially lava. As I woke up in the morning I found myself stretching to reach my socks in my suitcase to put them and my sneakers on in order to walk to the bathroom. The floor was still wet, it was still raining.
All this was pretty funny.
Chris walked in and mentioned there was an artist down the street so both I and Luis separated from the group to go cover a profile of Yonny. His place was amazing, covered in artwork.
At lunch, a band played just for our table. One person on guitar, one on maracas, one on base and one person on bongos—all were singing.
Later that day we had some down time so Yingzi was trying to teach us some Mandarin. We failed miserably.
We had dinner on our own but we decided to have dinner as a group except for Professor Calvi who turned in for the night. There were two different tables at Restaurante Cubita. The “kids table” filled with all us college students and the “adult table” with Professor Ricioppo and the tour guides.
We went to the plaza to get our semi-daily dose of wifi and then it was off to a club—in a cave!
Kat, Yingzi, Mike, Luis, the two tour guides and I went down the most sketchy, dark path in the world and climbed a steep rock-filled hill just so we could go down into the cave.
The crowd was huge, but we luckily got there first—the club opened at 11pm. Down steep stairs the cave opened up into a cavern with a dance floor and a fully stocked bar. We got a free drink with our ticket. A LOT of people at the bar!
A night well spent, off to an early morning wake up to head back to Havana.
P.S. A cat and a dog are on the roof…I think. The cat would scream and the dog would ferociously bark, seemingly chasing the cat, which would set off the rooster. I love Trinidad, Cuba.
Thursday, Jan. 11
We set out to Havana from Trinidad around nine o’clock in the morning. After a night at Disco Ayala, there wasn’t a single student who didn’t fall asleep at some point during the six-hour drive.
Our professors, being adults, were slightly more well rested. Our driver Daniel, accompanied us to and from the nightclub, was not.
We got pulled over by police who wanted to check our travel itinerary. The whole interaction was calm, no “license and registration,” no “hands where I can see them,” just a man in a uniform talking to a taxi driver. If this is a police state, somebody should really tell the police.
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean, home to 11 million people. The countryside is beautiful, but there’s a sense of futility that comes from travelling through it as a journalist.
Whatever our articles focus on, Journalism Without Walls is meant to give people a picture of a place they might never visit. Capturing Cuba’s essence in one week is like catching a meteor with a baseball glove, it’s just not possible.
I wound up interviewing an old man, a 73-year-old retired construction worker named—I swear to God—Erraldo Jessie James Dile. Dile is no friend of the revolutionary government, and he told me he’d gladly join his sister in Miami if he could afford to treat his bad ear in the US.
Later that night, we ate dinner at a Russian restaurant clad in Soviet artwork. The owner is Canadian, the pastry chefs are babushkas, the speakers play dance music and we finished the meal with espresso.
There’s no room for black and white on this island, Cuba is nothing but nuance.
Cuba is just Cuba, and God bless anybody who thinks they understand Cuba.
Friday, Jan. 12
Our day started at eight in the morning. After we had breakfast in the hotel, we went to meet a famous television journalist named Cristina Escobar. In the meeting, we talked a lot about politics in Cuba and United States and how it affects the relationship between these two countries. Escobar mainly discussed the efforts that President Obama put in to fix the problem with Cuba. We exchanged our opinions and that was a pretty impressive meeting. As there was still a lot of reporting work to do, we split up to work on our own stories.
I went to Chinatown to look for a newspaper named Guanghua, it was the oldest newspaper in Chinese community. I failed to find it because it no longer existed, however, I did find another interesting story about the Confucius institute in Cuba. I interviewed the dean in the afternoon. After I finished my work, we grouped up at the hotel again and rode in classic cars for a tour through Havana. Later, we went to a famous restaurant that President Obama visited before. After dinner, we went back to our rooms and packed up for tomorrow’s departure.