Honors student Sam documented his recent trip to Cuba with a video blog. Learn more about his experience:
Honors student Lindsey dubbed her recent trip to Cuba "the trip above all others." Keep reading to learn why:
It was an early morning start at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, but I had finished finals and was about to embark on a trip that I had been dreaming of for years. At the airport, our group was able to all meet for the first time. The group included four college students: Sam, Mac, Julia, and me, and a handful of adults that included Auburn University professors, the Dean of Liberal Arts, and Honors College faculty. After a short two hour flight we got our first taste of Cuba by walking off the plane onto the hot tarmac of the José Martí airport. Our tour guides David and Alpi lead us to the bus we would be using all week and took us straight to lunch. We all spent the time on the bus getting very excited about the old cars and the beautiful scenery. Everywhere you looked there was a new art piece, murals, and graffiti. Alpi explained to us that the Cuban government promotes the arts and sees graffiti as artistic expression. Post food and a quick trip meeting, we were taken to our lodging. The college students stayed at an amazing apartment with a rooftop terrace. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the terrace before dinner at Fabrica de Arte Cubano. The four-course meal was delicious and included a traditional Cuban experience. Right as my main course of fish was placed in front of me, the power went out for the whole block! Ending dinner in the dark was an interesting experience. Generators quickly worked to power up the essential lights, but that meant we could not experience the club and art exhibit that Fabrica de Arte Cubano is famous for. When we left to go back to the apartment, the line to get in was around the block and looked to be a half of a mile long. Though we did not to see a lot on the first day, I was already in love with Havana.
Cuba runs on a different time than Auburn. I am not talking about Central versus Eastern time zones, but instead I am referring to the slowed pace that all Cubans subscribe to. We started the morning by heading to a restaurant within walking distance from the apartment for breakfast. After drinking some Cuban coffee and waiting for a while, we found out that the restaurant did not have any breakfast food. It was common to find that places had run out of certain foods or places to be randomly closed. So after a breakfast of granola bars back at the apartment, we visited Callejon de Hamel, a street that is covered in art and is also the home of the Sunday Santeria street celebration. Santeria is the Afro-Cuban religion that emerged from the Africans that were brought as slaves to Cuba. On Sundays at twelve they dance the rumba and the street is filled with people coming to watch the dancing and listen to the music. We went before the dancing started so we could see all the beautiful murals and art pieces on the street. For lunch we had a cooking lesson at Villa Costa Habanera. The house had turned into a bed and breakfast and the cook gave cooking lessons back in the dining room/kitchen. The lesson started with learning to make mojitos. We were then split into pairs to learn how to make the rest of the dishes. Sam and I were put on beans while the others made the pork and tostones. Before we were able to eat we had an exam with the winner winning a prize. The others decided I should be the winner and started laughing when the prize ended up being a shot of rum. I don’t drink and it was hilarious that that was the prize. I ended up sharing it with everyone because I did not like the taste. The food we made was some of my favorite from the entire trip and I am looking forward to making the food again at home. After lunch we went on a walking tour of Old Havana and we saw the four plazas. We ended the night with another delicious dinner, a walk down the Malecon (the sea wall where everyone meets to hangout) and a trip to my first ever bar, King bar. Our first full day was full of surprises and lots of firsts for me and I could not wait to see what other things I would see over the next week.
The sound and smell of someone cooking breakfast is a perfect way to wake up. I don’t normally eat a lot for breakfast, but in Cuba we did not eat lunch until two or three so a large breakfast was necessary. A lady came into our apartment and made us a fresh breakfast of omelets, ham, cheese, fresh fruit, bread, and papaya juice. Our guides picked us up and we headed to the Partagas Cigar Factory for a tour. The original factory was under restoration so we toured their temporary facility. The building was very hot and had very little air flow. We got to see the different stages of the cigar from the sorting of leaves and removal of the leaf veins to the building of the cigars to sorting and packing. They also had tasters and quality control rooms that we did not visit. Post-learning about cigars our group went to a salsa lesson. Each person was paired up with a dancer. I got to dance with Irwin and he really helped me understand the counts and where my feet were supposed to be. I had a lot of fun counting 123 567 as we spun around and did the combination of eight steps we learned. After the lesson we were all starving, so we headed to our longest lunch the whole trip and the one place I had WIFI the whole trip. The meal of pumpkin soup, shrimp in tomato sauce and a dessert of chocolate mousse was delicious but dragged on for over three hours. Once we finally were done with lunch, we headed to the Museum of the Revolution before it closed. The city of Havana is 500 years old in November of this year, so a lot of places were under restoration to prepare for the celebration and the Museum of the Revolution was one of them. All the exhibits had been moved around and were not in a easy to figure out order, but were written in both Spanish and English so we were able to piece together the history. It was interesting to read about the revolution from the side of the revolutionaries and not through an American lens. The museum’s building was previously the Presidential Palace. After we went through all the exhibits inside the building, we headed out to the backyard to look at some of the vehicles used during the revolution and behind glass was the yacht, Granma, that Castro, Che and 80 other fighters rode from Mexico to Cuba. We ended the night at a local community project called Muraleando. We met the founder, an eccentric man whose catchphrase became an inside joke for the rest of the trip, “and I NEVER lie!” The site was originally held a water tank for the steam trains but turned into a trash dump before Muraleando moved in. The entire place had been turned into a giant art project using items found when they were removing the trash. Kids in the community can come and learn art, film and music skills for free. We had the opportunity to listen to two of the bands that were formed at Muraleando. The first band played traditional Cuban music while the second played music that was closer to American classic pop. That night we learned who was good at dancing and who enjoyed dancing. The night ended in lots of laughter and smiles.
We left Havana for Cienfuegos and started to see a different side of Cuba. Leaving Havana behind we saw less cars and more open fields and green space. We traveled southeast to the other side of the island, stopping at Playa Larga for a hike with a naturalist at the Enigma de las Rocas. The hike was fascinating with all the greenery and water everywhere. One thing that I thought I would never see in a forest was crabs. There are no poisonous animals in Cuba so we did not have to worry about the large array of crabs, lizards and iguanas we saw on the trail. Towards the end of the trail we came up to a cenote filled with brackish water; this is where fresh water and seawater mix. The naturalist showed us where we could jump off the six meter cliff into water. All four college students all jumped in multiple times while the adults took pictures. I was terrified to jump the first time, but as Sam put it I hesitated on hesitating and jumped in with no problem. The water was so pretty and the perfect temperature to cool off in after walking in the Cuban heat. When the adrenaline of jumping caught up to us and we were all tired, we hiked back to the bus and headed to lunch at a local house. It was an array of fresh seafood, fruit, salad, rice and beans. Lunch was followed by a bus ride to Playa Girón to visit the Bay of Pigs museum. I used my limited Spanish skills and context clues to read the exhibit signs. Just like with the Museum of the Revolution it was interesting to read about the Bay of Pigs invasion from a non-American view. After learning about the Bay of Pigs we headed out to one of the landing sites of the invasion to have some relaxing time on the beach. The beach was very different from other beaches I have visited. The sand was mostly coral and due to seaweed there were only certain areas where you could walk into the ocean. The beach also had the remnants of old defensive strategies like sniper pods along beach and poles to slow down a land invasion. After a couple hours at the beach we travelled to Cienfuegos where we spent the night. Dinner was a late affair with bets on whether or not dinner would last to 11:30 or midnight (11:30 won). This night also started our napkin folding competitions that happened whenever our food was taking a long time. The night ended with another walk along the Malecon.
Cienfuegos is very different from Havana because it is has a smaller population. The city is turning 200 this year so it has a more modern architecture than Havana. The view from the rooftop terrace at the place we stayed was of the sky trees and one to two story houses. Downtown had one central market road that we got to explore. Julia and I spotted a toy store and we were surprised at the sparseness of the store. There was about ten total different types of toys sold and then baby supplies like diapers and shampoo. It was a drastic difference to the toy aisles in America. At the end of the market street, there was the central square with the Thomas Terry Theatre which we got to tour. Next we toured an eccentric sugar plantation house. The house was built with lots of design styles mixed together. The front room was Moroccan while other rooms had mixes of renaissance and baroque; the styles really work well together. We ate lunch there and then headed down the road to Trinidad. At one point in the drive, the bus stopped at the side of the road at a fruit stand. The owner of the stand let us try all the fruit and honey he was selling. The honey was so good we all ended up with a bottle of it. I was worried about if it would actually get back to America but it did. Once we got to Trinidad and ready for dinner, we were supposed to go on a walking tour of Trinidad but it was lightly raining and some of the members of the group did not want to go on the tour in the rain. Our guides took us instead to a pottery store, where we got to try our hand at the pottery wheel. My bowl ended up looking okay in the end but I messed up a lot. They let us wander around the back of the store to see what else they were making and sitting there was a 1915 Ford Model T! It was so cool to see a Model T in person with its hand crank engine and wooden wheels. The owner told us, they were slowing restoring it when they can find the correct parts. Dinner was on a rooftop and there was a giant tree extended over all the tables. While we were waiting for dessert, a band came over to us and our driver got up and sang with them and then salsa danced. He was really good and it was a departure from the stoic nature we had seen of him previously. After dinner half of the group went back to their rooms while the other half went to an outdoor Cuban bar and then when that place closed at 1am we went to a club that was in a cave. It was so cool going down into the cave and how the sound carried in the different areas.
I wrote a lot more than I thought I would for the previous days, but today was our slow relaxing day. We started with a trip to a sugar plantation where we got to try fresh sugar cane juice that we juiced using a machine from 1884. Then we climbed a tower with very steep ladder-like steps. The view at the top made the climb completely worth it though. You could see all the old sugar cane fields in the distance and mountains. The rest of the day was spent at an all-inclusive resort on the prettiest beach I have ever been on. The water was crystal clear, the sand was soft, rocks formed a natural pool area, and mountains were in the background. It was a great day to stop and recharge before heading into the back half of the trip.
This day started with a hike in one of Cuba’s national parks. Our guides David and Alpi told us it would be an easy trail, but I would not say the same; it had a lot of steep inclines to climb and lots of rocks and roots to watch out for. The nature along the hike was beautiful but once we came upon the waterfall, it made the hike worth it. We got to jump off a cliff into the water. The waterfall was next to a cave, so we swam towards it and went about ten feet in before we saw the bats and left. After jumping in a couple more times and learning most of our group that did not jump in the water had already started back, we got out and hiked back to the bus, joining the others. We had lunch at pirate themed paella place outside of Trinidad. Where we were sitting we could see how they stylized the backyard to look like the deck of a ship. The paella was really good but so much food that Julia and I ended up sharing and we still had leftovers. After lunch everyone was really tired and we had a couple of hours of free time in Trinidad so Julia, Sam, Mac, Wade and I chose to take a nap and then walk around Trinidad’s main square before dinner. May 10th was David’s, our guide’s, birthday so we went out after dinner to celebrate. We went to the club in the cave again and danced for a while and then went to a beach. By the time we got back to our home in Trinidad it was five in the morning.
Today was the day I realized the trip was almost over since we spent the day driving from Trinidad back to Havana. The drive took a lot longer than I thought it would but we stopped along the way to help break up the trip. Our first stop was to a community project that helps families with special needs children. We were able to meet two of their families for a brief minute while delivering food. Our next stop was at the farm of ceramicist Hector Correa. His wife made us a delicious lunch and then we got a quick tour of the farm. On the farm they kept bees and I was able to drink fresh honey right out of the hive. Our next stop was at the overlook Mirador de Bacunayagua, where there is the tallest bridge in Cuba. The view was amazing with greenery all down the valley and a view of the ocean in the distance. We finally got back to Havana with just enough time to change clothes before heading out again to see the 9 pm curfew canon at Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana. The boom from the canon was so loud that we could hear it the next night in Old Havana across the bay. We ended the night with dinner and a trip to Espacios.
Our last full day was very busy since David and Alpi wanted us to see as much possible. The first stop of the morning was to a cigar shop. Pretty much everyone in the group bought cigars, but I definitely bought the least with only two. Next we visited another art street, Fusterlandia. The artist started by decorating his house with tiles and it slowly moved into the street. The house was multiple levels of what I can only describe as a Cuban tiled version of Dr. Seuss land at Universal Orlando. Everywhere you look there is something new your eye notices. Across the street there was a tiled mural of the Granma yacht with Castro, Che and some other revolutionaries. We then visited an art studio to see some professional art pieces. Lunch was a happy affair because we had been craving pizza for days and we finally got to eat one. After we ate David and Alpi brought out a cake to celebrate our trip and roses for all the women on the trip since it was Mother’s Day. We keep the excitement up from lunch and went on the classic car tour. The four college students all rode together in a pink Buick that the boys picked out. I don’t know what year the car was because I forgot to ask in my excitement. The funny thing about the pink Buick is days earlier I bought a postcard of cars on a Havana street and the first car in the picture is a pink Buick; I did not realize the connection until I got home and I looked at the postcard again. We had our last Cuban dinner in Old Havana with an University of Havana professor. The night ended at the Buena Vista Social Club, where we listened to Grammy award winning artists and got to get up and dance on the stage. It was a great way to end our final night in Cuba.
Our final day was bittersweet because I was ready to go home and see my family, but I was not ready to leave. This group started the trip basically not knowing each other at all, but we became really good friends. We started the morning by saying goodbye to Julia as she left to go meet her Cuban family for the first time. Afterwards we headed to an indoor market where we were able to buy all the souvenirs we had space for. With our bags full and our wallets slightly lighter, we headed to the airport where we had to say goodbye to David and Alpi. They helped us so much on the trip and were so fun to be around; it was hard to say goodbye as we entered the security line. After a short plane ride we stepped back on American soil and the trip officially ended.
Cuba was such an amazing country and exceeded my expectations every day. The people were so nice and always tried to talk to us even with a language barrier. I am looking forward to returning one day to explore more of this extraordinary country.
Regan recently decided to switch to one of our new research-based graduation distinctions. Read more about what prompted her decision:
Why did you decide to switch to the new distinction?
I decided to switch because I see research as an integral part to my long-term career goals, as well as a key element to my time at Auburn. Auburn was recently named an R1 research institution (War Eagle to that!), and the Honors College is constantly providing new outlets for growth and opportunities to learn. This new distinction allows for me to become more immersed in the world of research while also allowing me to continue managing my time to complete my Honors College degree and learn from others within the Honors community.
What do you see as the benefits to switch?
This new distinction allows for me to grow as a research assistant (e.g. grasping a greater understanding of my role as an undergraduate in a lab, learning about different research methods, and opening my mind to varying areas of research). I can learn more about the world of research in general–both on and off campus– develop better techniques, and hold myself responsible to conduct ethical, replicable, and overall scientifically-sound research. Furthermore, I will be surrounded by others also involved in labs. I undoubtedly will be able to learn a substantial amount from not just the professors, but also from my peers. I am excited to hear about others’ research, and for the chance to grasp a greater hold on my future research goals and ideas.
How did you go about making the switch?
I made the switch by contacting my advisor. I made a few adjustments to my 4-year plan in respect to the added course requirements listed and then scheduled an appointment.
Was it easy to make the switch?
It was incredibly easy to switch from my previously designated distinction. I had an idea prior to meeting with my advisor as to how it would work with my schedule, as well as a basic understanding of the new course descriptions. Mrs. Hunter made it very painless and easy and provided a lot of very helpful input in regards to structuring my 4-year plan and ideas for personalizing the courses that have some variability (in respect to my own interests and involvements.)
The Honors College at Auburn University is introducing two new graduation distinctions: Honors Research Scholar and University Honors Research Scholar.
These new distinctions reflect the Honors College’s commitment to help expand Auburn University’s enterprise as an R1 Carnegie Research Institution and to uphold the Honors College mission statement to “seek truth with courage and conviction.” With the new distinctions, students now have the ability to plan a deep, impactful and individualized research experience with the full support of the Honors College faculty and staff.
These distinctions support Honors students who are engaged in transformational undergraduate research at Auburn. The 2017-18 Honors College annual report showcases the variety of research being performed by Honors College students, from developing new tests that will quickly detect radioactive and toxic heavy metals in drinking water after a nuclear contamination event to studying canine breast cancer in order to enhance human health and wellbeing. In this vein, the distinctions act as a springboard, providing students with a curricular framework to structure these experiences.
“I’m excited for this opportunity to encourage and celebrate the amazing research of our Honors College students,” says Honors College Director Tiffany Sippial. “Graduating as an Auburn University Honors College Research Scholar will allow our students to tell the story of their research journey within the Auburn University Honors College. Their diplomas will now testify to their status as trained, experienced researchers whose work in the lab, field or archive is deserving of special recognition.”
For many years, students have had the opportunity to graduate with one of two traditional distinctions: Honors Scholar and University Honors Scholar. Both distinctions require 24 hours of Honors coursework, three of which must be in Honors participation courses. University Honors Scholars must complete an additional six hours of coursework deemed as Senior Year Experience.
The two new distinctions mirror these traditional distinctions in many ways. Both still require 24 hours of Honors coursework, including three hours of participation courses. However, the new distinction require that one of these participation hours be the “Honors Lyceum: Research at Auburn” course. Other specific requirements of the new distinctions center on intensive research training: three hours of these classes must be Honors Research Methods and six hours must be Honors Research Seminars. University Honors Research Scholars are also expected to complete six hours of individualized Senior Year Experience courses.
The Honors College is thrilled to welcome Alex Sauer, our new Scholarship and Research Coordinator! We are so excited to welcome him back to Auburn
to be a part of our team.
Let’s learn more about Mr. Sauer:
Name: Alex Sauer
Hometown: Charleston, SC
Degree(s): M.S., Psychology (Auburn University); B.S., Psychology (College of Charleston)
Why did you choose those degrees?
I have always been fascinated by Psychology, and more specifically, the study of behavior. As a child, I loved teaching our dog tricks and marveled at the way she seemed to “understand” what I was saying. As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to work in an animal lab. In this lab, we taught rats to do some amazing things, but more importantly, we could apply the principles we learned with the rats to help human beings. This experience was simply amazing, so I majored in Psychology. After graduating with my B.S., I wanted to continue researching both human and animal behavior so I decided to get my M.S. in Psychology as well.
What brought you to the Honors College?
As a graduate student at Auburn, I worked as a teaching assistant. It was here that I discovered my passion for teaching and helping students realize their academic goals. When the opportunity presented itself to help Honors College students at Auburn get involved in research and guide them toward scholarships and career opportunities, I knew that this was the job for me.
Do you have any hobbies?
I really enjoy playing video games. Some of my favorites include: The Legend of Zelda, Elder Scrolls, and Super Mario. I also have two adorable dogs that need lots of love all of the time.
What are small things that make your day better?
Seeing puppies or dogs of any age…have I mentioned that I really like animals?
Movies, TV, or Books – or all three?
All three, for sure!
You’d be surprised to know that I can…
Juggle, hula hoop, and use a pogo stick…I’m basically a clown.
What do you hope to accomplish here at the Honors College?
I want to be a reliable resource to guide students toward scholarships to help fund their college experience. I want to be a useful starting point for students that want to be involved in research opportunities. I want to prepare students for the next steps in their career after they graduate. But above all else, I want to help students realize their full potential.
What are you most excited about working at the Honors College?
I have heard some amazing things about Honors College students, so I cannot wait to start interacting with them and hearing their ideas and ambitions.
What advice would you give to an Honors College student?
Never be afraid to ask for help! Just because you are an Honors student does not mean that you will not need support, advice, or assistance. We have a dedicated staff here at the Honor College, and we will always be more than happy to help you in whatever way we can. But we cannot help, if you do not ask.
Do you have a favorite Auburn memory / or Auburn area memory?
The first time I “rolled” the trees at Toomers Corner is probably my favorite memory. I just remember the excitement as, all of a sudden, it looked like a blanket of snow had fallen over the entire area. I never knew that toilet paper could be beautiful, but in that moment it was.
Best way to contact?
Email is definitely my preferred method of communication, but you should feel free to drop by my office in Cater anytime.
The Honors College is thrilled to welcome Celeste Waugh, our newest academic advisor! We are so excited for her to begin her journey with us.
Let’s get to know Ms. Waugh:
Name: Celeste Waugh
Hometown: Smiths Station, AL
Degree (s): B.S. in General Social Science Education/History (Auburn University); M.Ed. in Professional Counseling with a concentration in College Student Affairs (University of West Georgia
Why did you choose those degrees?
Growing up, I was always someone who not only enjoyed talking to people, but I loved helping others. I wanted to find a degree that allowed me to do both of those things. It was a natural fit for me to pursue a bachelor’s degree within the field of education and work with students. After spending time in the classroom, I realized that working within the K-12 school system wasn’t quite a fit, but serving and helping college students was. From there, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in higher education, and the rest was history!
What brought you to the Honors College?
There were a number of things that brought me to the Honors College. Primarily, I was thrilled at the opportunity to work with some truly amazing students and being able to assist them from the beginning to the end of their collegiate journey. Also, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to come back to the loveliest village on the plains!
Do you have any hobbies?
Yes! I love going to concerts, baking, reading books, and watching movies.
What are small things that make your day better?
Having a cup of coffee and a great conversation.
Movies, TV, or Books – or all three?
Movies and books!
You’d be surprised to know that I…
have lived abroad due to the fact that one of my parents was in the military.
What do you hope to accomplish here at the Honors College?
I hope that I will be able to help and be a valuable resource to students throughout their collegiate journey. I want students to know that they have my support while they are a part of the Honors College.
What are you most excited about working at the Honors College?
I am really excited to get to know the students that are in the Honors College. I have heard nothing but positive and amazing things about the students, so I am excited to have this opportunity to work alongside them.
What advice would you give to an Honors College student?
Take advantage of all the great opportunities and resources that Auburn has available for you. Get involved and find your niche because it will truly enhance you, your fellow peers, and the University. At the end of the day, everyone within the Honors College is truly here to support you. We know that by getting involved and taking advantage of the resources provided to you that it will ultimately help you in accomplishing all of the goals that you have for yourself.
Do you have a favorite Auburn memory / or Auburn area memory?
Oh goodness, I have so many great memories from Auburn! I would have to say that some of my favorite memories have all come from the times that I was involved in different organizations on campus. Not only did it allow me to contribute to the campus and the city of Auburn, but I made some lifelong friends along the way.
Best way to contact?
The best way to reach me would be sending me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Honors student Julia recently traveled with us to Cuba, where she got the chance to immerse herself in Cuban culture and to spend time with her extended family in Bauta. Read more about her experience here:
Getting off of the plane was an interesting experience. We walked down the stairs and got on a bus that was really two buses attached. Once we left the airport, we found our guides, David and Alpi, and boarded the tour bus. Driving to Havana, we saw people playing baseball, jumping onto buses, and hung out by the seawall. We ate lunch at Ana’s, and I had fried plantains, guava, pineapple, and chocolate ice cream. After lunch, we went to the apartment, an apartment that many professors own and rent out for extra money. While sitting on the balcony, we discussed funny high school teachers. For dinner, we went to Fabrica de Arte, which consisted of an art gallery, restaurants, bars, and a concert venue. The restaurant was was made out of metal transportation boxes, and during dinner there were two blackouts. We weren’t able to see the entirety of the art galleries due to the blackouts, but the little we did see was exquisite. On the way back, we saw hundreds of people dancing in the streets along the seawall.
When we woke up, we went to La Fountain for breakfast. Once we realized that La Fountain was out of bread, we went back to the apartment and ate granola bars. We traveled to the Salvador’s art square. The area was covered in art and poetry, and it was known for being the center of Rumba. After watching the Santa Ria people perform Rumba, I noticed many people in all white. Once I asked Alpi, he told me that the people in white were being introduced into the religion. They had to wear all white for a year in order to be accepted. There’s other rules as well. The people cannot accept money directly, they must pick it up from the ground. We saw the artist, Salvador. Another fact about the Santa Ria religion is that they do not have a temple, instead the temple is the body. Certain pots inside of a door represent certain gods. Blue pots represent the sea god, the red pots represent good luck, and the chains along the door represent protection. Once we left Salvador’s art square, we went to a cooking lesson. The cook worked in a bed and breakfast owned by an Italian lady. The house was gorgeous, and the cook was the sweetest lady. Her daughter ran around while we cooked, and we found out it was her birthday. After eating a delicious meal, we sang Happy Birthday to her. Our translator was a professional dancer, and after leaving, her husband and her went to the theater. Following the cooking lesson, we took a walking tour of Old Havana. Old Havana looked very similar to New Orleans. There were cobblestone roads, squares, and terraces. We played soccer in the square with a few young boys, and then we passed the Hotel Ambos Munelos, where Ernest Hemingway stayed for eleven years. We saw the police, some in black, some in blue, and a few in purple. The police dressed in black were in charge of crowd control and tourist safety. The police dressed in blue were for traffic control. The police dressed in purple were motorcycle police. During dinner, I found out the Dean of Liberal Arts does not know his left from right, something that I also have never known. I conversed with Malcolm about the climate change, a topic we are both very passionate about. Following dinner, we went to King Bar for a little while.
We ate breakfast in the apartment, which consisted of fruit and bread. Following breakfast, we toured a cigar factory. It takes days, sometimes weeks, to press the cigars. Many employees get arthritis from rolling the cigars. The leaves are very soft, and they feel like soft leather. We went to salsa lessons, and, thanks to my previous dance experience, I did not step on any toes. We watched as the instructors performed a series of dances in a circle that is usually performed at parties. It was very impressive, especially since it was not choreographed. At lunch, I had the best chocolate pudding. Then we went to the Revolutionary Museum, where the president used to live. There were bullet holes in the wall from an assassination attempt . The staircase looked similar to the one in Beauty and the Beast. We saw the Granma yacht. We visited the Muraleando community, which was one of my favorite places the entire trip. It was like walking into someone’s imagination. Malcolm danced all night.
We traveled to Cienfuegos, and while passing the countryside, many horses and cows walked freely without fences. We hiked the Sendero Enigma de las Rocas. There were a ton of crabs, and lizards. We also saw an iguana, a Cuban gar, and a crocodile. We swam in a water hole with brackish water, a mix of freshwater and saltwater. The water was gorgeous. We visited the Giron Bay of Pigs Museum. The photos were very gruesome. Following the museum, we went to the Bay of Pigs beach, where there were actual pigs. The beach was very rocky and there were eight puppies. We collected seaglass. That night we walked on the seawall and danced.
We walked through a marketplace. When we walked into the toy store, it was very scarce. We toured the Tomas Terry Theater, which had a sloped stage. It holds 750 people. We also toured a sugar house, where each room had a different style. The house was absolutely gorgeous. Then, we traveled to Trinidad. We stopped at a fruit stand, and I tasted three different types of mangoes. We went to a pottery shop in Trinidad, and I tried to make a cup. It was quite abstract. The family had a 1915 Model T Ford. We had dinner at La Cieba, a restruant built around a huge tree. We went to an outdoor dancing area, and after Sam screamed, “Te amo!” to the girl that rejected his offer to dance, we went to the Cave Bar.
We traveled to the Sugar Cane Valley and climbed a tower that overlooked the countryside. We tried sugar cane juice, which tasted a lot like apple juice with more sugar. We went to another beach at a resort where a circle of rocks created a type of calm pool.
We began the day by hiking at a National Park, where we swam into a cave with bats. We also climbed into the cave and jumped out of the opening. On our way back, we stopped at some plants that looked like aloe vera and broke off a leaf only to find out that the plant was not aloe vera. I saw a snake and screamed. We ate a cool pirate place, and then we walked around Trinidad square. There were kids skating everywhere. We went to the cave again, and then we went to a gas station and got ham and cheese sandwiches. After we ate the sandwiches, we went to the beach at 4am. We listened to John Mayer and Michael Buble.
We let Trinidad and stopped at an art farm. Hector, the owner and artist, had Mayan bees, which don’t sting. He also had peacocks and chickens. We went to the highest bridge in Cuba. That night we went to the cannon shoot in Havana.
We went to Fusterlandia, a house that is completely covered in tiles. Then we went to an art gallery, where Alpi’s girlfriend works. We finally had pizza for lunch, and although it was not the best, it was still pizza. Then we went on an old car tour and stopped at Havana’s National Forest. We continued on to the National Hotel, and we had a conversation about economics and politics. The guys also smoked cigars, which I am not a fan of. I could not figure out how to smoke it correctly. Then we went to the Buena Vista Social Club, and we saw world famous singers. I loved the dancer’s dress. Later that night, we went to a bar where we danced for a while. I met David’s girlfriend, who was a blast! We left at 3am.
Around 9:45 am, my aunt, who lives in the USA but has visited Cuba many times, picked me up from our apartment. She hired a driver to assist us with travel in Cuba. As usual, he automatically took my bags and put them in the trunk. Before we left Havana, my aunt asked the driver to stop at the grocery store to grab a few things for my family in Bauta. She bought water, beer, soda, macaroni style pasta (because my cousins had never had macaroni), hot dogs, nutritional packets for a distant cousin whose baby was sick, and wine. The grocery store was very different from our grocery stores. There was only one brand of each item and the line for meat, as well as the checkout line, was incredibly long. My aunt actually had her husband stand in line to checkout while we shopped, and after about 25 minutes, he was at the cash register. While driving to Bauta, we passed the countryside, which was filled with pastures of cows, sugarcane, and cliffs. Many of the pastures were owned by the government. The driver also stopped at a broken down car, but after he ensured that they would be able to fix it, we continued driving. Once arriving at my mom’s cousin’s house, I met her two daughters, Irene and Alba. Irene is eight years old with long black hair that could compete with Rapunzel, and Alba is twenty one years old. Alba is engaged to Jorge, and their wedding is in February. Alba is a college student studying world economics, as well as a manicurist, and Jorge fixes appliances. They are currently remodeling the family house. Irene goes to a school about five blocks down the road, but the school itself is very run down. If Irene’s teacher cannot make it to school, she often does not have a sub. A teacher will check in on the classroom every now and then, but the children have to learn the lesson themselves or their parents have to teach it to them. Most times, the school ends around 1pm and the children are done for the day. But they do not have planned schedules, so the children do not know whether they will have to return to class after lunch until the day begins. Irene’s outfit for school was white knee high socks, a white button down short sleeve shirt, a maroon overall dress, a blue necktie, and a blue hair scrunchie. The school provides one outfit for each child. For lunch, my mom’s cousin made plantains, black beans, white rice, and salmon. She offered flan, coconut pie, and guava pie for dessert. I tried a small piece of the coconut pie and guava pie. After having lunch, I took a nap in the only air conditioned room in the house, which they kindly insisted I sleep in, and then we walked over to my grandmother’s brother’s house. I met my mom’s other cousins, Natalia and Santiago, as well as each of their sons. Natalia’s son is about the same age as Irene, and Santiago’s son is studying to be a chef. Natalia is married, but her husband is not her son’s father. Her son’s father moved to the USA, and they have not seen him in three years. Natalia offered cake, and despite being full, I obliged. That was the best cake I’ve ever had. My grandmother’s brother, his wife, Natalia, Natalia’s husband, Natalia’s son, Santiago, Santiago’s wife, and Santiago’s son all live in the same house. Downstairs is the kitchen, my great uncle and aunt’s bedroom, and the living room, then the upstairs is split in half, creating separation between Natalia and Santiago’s families’ rooms. On the roof is a cage for Natalia’s dogs. She wants to start breeding them, a lab and a Schnauzer. Natalia is a chemist at a pill factory close by. My great uncle is taxi driver, and owns a 1949 Chevrolet. Every part in the car is original, except for the engine. Natalia’s son has a disease that does not allow his body to process proteins, so he is on a strict diet. But he loves dinosaurs, and was absolutely ecstatic about the virtual reality dinosaurs game my aunt brought him. After turning down offers for more sweets, we walked to two of my mom’s cousins’ house. They showed me pictures of their children, one of whom’s daughter has the sick child. The other’s son’s girlfriend had moved to Nicaragua. In the backyard, they had three fighting chickens and a dog with an under bite. However, the dog was as sweet as could be. My mom’s cousins offered me cake and coffee, and after declining the cake, they brought out the best coffee I had in Cuba. Once we left their house, my aunt’s husband went to a barber. My aunt introduced me to two family friends at the barbershop, both of whom had left Cuba and were studying in the US. They spoke English, and we discussed the idea of Cuban time, US education, and English. They both said that they missed the US and only returned to Cuba to visit their families. Also, they said that school in Cuba, particularly math, is more difficult in Cuba. The math they learned in 9th grade in the USA was the same math they learned in 6th grade in Cuba. If you think about this, it makes sense why. Cuba does not teach world history or governmental structures in their schools, so there is a large focus on math. We drove to Bauta’s town square, which is centered around a yellow church, the same church that my aunt had her First Communion in. When my aunt was a child, the boys had to walk one way around the square and the girls had to walk the opposite way in order to only be able to have short conversations. My aunt remembered when her cousin would take her to the square to meet up with a boy she liked. On the corner of the square is a statue of Antonio Maceo, a Cuban general who was killed in 1896 during the Ten Years War. Later that night, my family had a party for me, inviting all of the cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, and more. They made pork, rice, black beans, plantains, yucca, and cake. We played dominos, and the kids played freeze tag, jump rope, musical chairs, ring toss, Monopoly, and hide and seek. I met my grandmother’s sister, who cleans houses. My grandmother and her look exactly alike. Around 9:30pm, we turned on the WiFi and FaceTimed my grandmother. Her sister and brother cried afterwards, but I think they were happy tears. They asked my grandmother to come to Cuba to visit, to which she said maybe. My grandmother’s brother began telling me about when my grandmother left and how sad he was. My aunt’s last memory was my grandmother’s brother crying in the back of the house. People lined the streets to tell them bye.
In the morning, my aunt realized the water was running out, so she called the plumber. However, Alba’s father was able to fix it. A piece of pipe had broken on the water tank, and he found the part rather quickly then fixed it. My grandmother’s brother and his wife picked my aunt and I up to travel to Artemisa, where we found souvenirs and cooking oil. On the way back, we passed the same cliffs from the day before. My aunt pointed out these giant, missile sized holes in the cliffs, and she said that the Russians used to store their missiles in the cliffs. Once we got back to the house, my aunt and I walked to downtown Bauta and ate at a little bar called Sancho, where we ordered ham and cheese plantains. After lunch, we drove to a friend’s farm, where he raised cows and grew vegetables and fruits. He had recently asked the government for more land to farm on, and they accepted his request. However, he has to sell his cows’ milk to the government. He works for the government testing new agricultural processes. He has two experiments currently, which are testing methane levels in human made ponds. His wife and him live on the farm, as well as his parents. He sent us home with two bags full of mangoes and an entire bag of peppers. When we returned home, Irene’s mom had made shrimp, rice, black beans, and plantains. Irene and I tried to see who could make the best napkin fold. She made a cat and I made a triangle. I’d say I won. After dinner, we sat in the living room and talked until 11pm. My aunt told me about how my grandmother used to throw the best parties in Bauta, and she could kill a chicken with one flick of her wrist. She told me about how my grandfather used to stop at every broken down car and fix it. She told me that when they moved to the states, he did the same thing and helped a teenage girl whose car had broken down in a bad part of Atlanta. After fixing her car, her father, a farm, brought a giant basket of vegetables to my family every year. My grandfather also had medicine and food for anyone in Bauta who needed it. The last story I heard was about how my aunt scratched her arm on a fence after running from cows in a pasture. My grandfather’s brother was supposed to be watching them, and she said my grandmother scolded him for days about her arm. I told Irene that I would wake up early and say goodbye to her before school. It stormed that night, and I barely slept. I did not want to leave my family so soon.
The next morning I woke up around 7am and sat on the front porch while drinking my coffee. Around 7:30am, I said goodbye to Irene and told her that next time I came, we would have a pajama party. I made two little bags of clothes, toiletries, money, and little trinkets for my family. Alba gave me a pretty string heart key chain that I hooked onto my backpack while packing. My grandmother’s brother brought over little snacks for my grandmother that she used to love. A family friend gave me Cuban coffee to take back to my grandmother as well. My grandmother’s grandfather picked up my aunt, her husband, Alba, and I to take me to the airport. I had told my grandmother’s sister goodbye yesterday, and I did not get to see Natalia because her son’s father (from the US) was in town. We were about halfway to the airport when a police officer flagged us down. My grandmother’s brother pulled over and she asked, more like told, if her friend could ride with us. So she hopped in next to me. We dropped her off close to her destination, and then continued to the airport. We parked the car, my grandmother’s father backing it into the parking spot, and of course grabbing my bags. After saying my goodbyes to them, I went through the security check. I waved goodbye to them once more as I walked through the security checkpoint. I cannot wait to go back to Cuba. I cannot explain the amount of love I felt from all of them, and they did everything possible to make sure my stay was amazing.