The farewells and au revoirs begin over breakfast, and then one more passport distribution, one more immigration control and airport security check, and then a fond greeting and final meal (and wine) service just to remind us that “flying commercial” will never be the same. Well, at least not until next time we all get together! It has been a great pleasure traveling with and getting to know all of you fellow The World Less Traveled adventurers. Fondly, JSW & ELW.
After breakfast, we are all eager to get out and explore old Havana, founded in 1514, with a rich (and more recent) history known to varying degrees by all, and now designated as a UNESCO old Heritage site. An interesting “social experiment” notes a guide, having been a colonial country for 50 years, and then a booming capitalist country for 50 years, and for the most recent 50 years, one of the last remaining communist countries in the world.
We divide into three groups to explore this fascinating capital. The withdrawal of Soviet bloc support in the early 1990’s was economically devastating for Cuba, and many turned to “urban farming” to sustain themselves. One group explores the effects of this “Special Period”, the consequent food shortages, and the creative farming solutions. A second group visits the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and then visits the studio of local artist Jose Fuster. Art and culture are well supported in Cuba. Our last group spends an hour walking the old city, and then takes the ferry to the island of Regla, a suburb of Havana, and the center of the Santeria Religion in the area.
From Wikipedia: Santería is a system of beliefs that merges the Yoruba religion (which was brought to the New World by enslaved West Africans sent to the Caribbean to work on sugar plantations) with Roman Catholic and Native American traditions. These Africans carried with them various religious customs, including a trance for communicating with their ancestors and deities, animal sacrifice and sacred drumming and dance. In Cuba, this religious tradition evolved into what we now recognize as Santería. Fascinating.
Tired, we all return to the hotel to prepare for our festive farewell reception, which turns out to be a The World Less Traveled Social Club, complete with live music, dancers, and Amadito “Golden Sticks” Valdes, percussionist, from the actual Buena Vista Social Club. Tremendous.
The evening winds down with thank you’s from our tour leaders, gifts for our faculty (and the doctor ; ), and slow realization that our grand adventure is coming to an end. What a wonderful adventure it has been!
Up before, as one passenger commented, the chickens had even laid the eggs. We fly over Cuba within the hour, but then continue on to Miami and then spend many hours trying to get back. After being in many airports literally all around the world, the one which brings us the most heartburn was in the … US. But at last we’re off, and 55 minutes later we land in Havana. And our preconceptions hold – beautiful old city, in poor repair, late 50’s Chevy’s (with Russian diesel engines by now), and no advertising except for government sponsored billboards (Mas Socialismo!). Our first stop is the beautiful, old, San Francisco Church where we are treated to a concert by the Camerata Romeu, a world renowned, all-female, Chamber Orchestra.
Our schedule pushes us on to our hotel, the Parque Central, right downtown. The sunset view from the rooftop bar is lovely.
Then just when we thought things were settling down, we’re off in a fleet of vintage cars (see videos!) for a ride down the Malecon by the ocean to a local “paladar” for candlelight dinner (power outage, common), live music, and of course, Mohjtos!
After breakfast (terrific cappuccinos!) we divided in to four groups for day. Perhaps the most adventurous drove to the Volcan de Totumo to jump into the 65 foot tall volcano and soak in the volcanic mud known for its skin-enhancing properties. Another group took a city tour including horse drawn carriage, with stops at the Gold Museum, the San Pedro Claver Church, and the Santa Catalina Cathedral. Lastly, a boat ride out of the surprisingly modern and developed harbor (shades of Miami?) and then a 45 minute ride out to the Rosario island archipelago for a quick dip, shop, beer, and snorkel. We are all enamored with Cartagena, and celebrate the city and the country with a sunset cocktail cruise complete with pirates and live music! Another terrific day.
Up and out, and past the 49 meter tall, bronze, African Renaissance Monument en-route to the airport. With the monument in the background, along with Russian Anotov and US AWACS planes (French / Mali assistance?) we jet off for our longest travel day to date, nearly 10 hours of flying time to land five time zone later in Cartagena, Columbia. A brief tour of the La Popa Monastery, with its spectacular views of the city below, precedes our trip back to the old town, to check in at the fabulous Sofitel Hotel, Santa Clara. Roof top dinner, with cocktails and a beautiful sunset, end this lovely day.
23 Toyota Land Rovers greet us and we divide ourselves up for the roughly 90 minute ride to the small village of Keur Simbara where we have the opportunity to witness firsthand the outstanding work being done by Tostan, and award-winning human rights organization that aims to bring about sustainable development and social transformation (read also, end to FGC, or female genital cutting) in West Africa. We are given a warm and heart-touching welcome and village tour, and are all impressed with the education program, and the “solar engineers”, village grandmothers (less likely to leave the village than the younger folk) who have been trained in solar panel installation, system maintenance, and repair, all the way down to the component level. Impressive. More impactful to all of us is the long term work being done via eduction on limiting the practice of FGC. This work will be outlined in founder Molly Melching’s book, However Long the Night (HarperOne) being released this April, 2013. We then drive a short distance to the Tostan training center for another festive greeting, complete with group dance, before lunch and then back in to our caravan for the ride back to the city. Wow, what a day.
After a very short break, we are treated to a welcome presentation by the US Ambassador in Senegal, Mr. Lewis Lukens, and then local music and dinner, before we retire to get ready for another long travel day.
Most of our travel days on the jet feel “too short”, if anything, but this day was the exception. We flew almost four hours to Tunisia where we stopped for fuel, and then onwards an additional 5 hours to Dakar, Senegal. Africa! We enjoy our ride though the city to our coastal hotel, the Radisson Blu, Dakar. Cocktails and sunsets before our private buffet dinner, and then bed.