Update from Havana

Hey Families and Friends,

Greetings from Old Havana, from the lobby of the historical Hotel Los Frailes, a very old monastery-turned-hotel that is currently filled with relaxing live Cuban jazz and me, hurriedly piecing out a blog for this incredible trip.

I apologise profusely for not getting a blog out sooner, but this program has been full blast from the very start. Not only has there not been a dull moment…there haven’t been any FREE moments, either 😉

A week into this adventure, and there has been too much to try to list out…let me try a little:

On day 1 in Cuba we met with a Permaculture expert (permaculture is a design science that seeks to integrate human activity within a regenerative ecosystem) who blew our minds with Cuba’s innovative approach to holistic agriculture and waste management. In the evening we toured the city of Trinidad and began building a strong group culture.

Then we headed out to the mountains to connect with Cuba’s beautiful rain forest. We trekked deep into the jungle to a pristine waterfall, swimming hole, and an absolutely stunning giant cave.

Time on a farm and in Nature were ideal for us to begin exploring Cuba from the ground up and discover the environment from which Cuba’s unique culture nests.

From there we headed to Havana, stopping en route to go swimming in the Bay of Pigs!

Havana (or Habana as is more appropriately spelled) has proven to be a fascinating place to explore culture, sustainable development, and meet amazing people. Eduardo, a full time architect and part time tour guide, walked us through Old Havana’s historic district and gave us the inside scoop on this 500 year old city’s rich history.

We met a wonderful professional chef who has written 4 books about Cuban cuisine who gave us an amazing cooking lesson. We learned about her passion for bringing traditional and indigenous ingredients into modern cuisine…a perfect illustration of what this trip is all about. Plus…her food was incredible!!

We helped out at a local organic farm cooperative, doing a little weeding to get our hands dirty. Then we learned about how farm cooperatives work in Cuba, and how the Special Period instigated the country’s shift to organic and biodiverse agriculture. Then we toured the farm and learned about all the medicinal, culinary, and ornamental plants…and then we enjoyed a delicious, fresh pineapple…oh boy the organic tropical fruit on this trip…

After a little siesta time, we put on our classy clothes and went to a super fun salsa dance lesson, followed by a swanky dinner in the historic district.

Yesterday, we met Bruno Henriques, an environmental physicist and science fiction author, who answered our questions about environmental science in Cuba. He also took us to the home of his friend and colleague, Luis Berrìs Pérez, the president of Cuba Solar, the premier alternative energy organization here. The two of them answered all of our questions about solar, biofuel, biogas, geothermal, and other alternative energies as well as the socio-political implications of renewable energy in Cuba.

In the afternoon we met with the founders of “Havana [re] Generation”, a group of architects, artists, and designers working to restore Havana’s cultural legacy and also implement sustainable design principles. It was interesting seeing permaculture-like principles being used on a massive urban scale…also the presentation was in a hipster downtown art gallery…

But then we got even MORE hipster!! We went to a swanky art gallery/nightclub (FAC) that had an organic restaurant attached. We ate fancy modern Cuban cuisine…and then went into the club to dance it off!! It was a super cool scene, but it was…a scene…and after a long day we decided to bail by 10:30…

Today has been great and much more relaxed. We slept in and went to a beach and did a little clean up before jumping in for some snorkeling. It felt good to pick up a little garbage and it opened up a great lunch discussion about service and appropriate sustainable development. Plus, The water temps were purrfect.

This afternoon the group has been enjoying free time in the city to do some shopping and unstructured exploring (and give Haley and I a chance to do some blogging and accounting). They are presently out shopping, I presume, for all of you 😉

We’ll try to find some time to get another blog out…but be warned…Cuba is unlike any other country I’ve visited. There is VERY little internet here, and we have a jam packed schedule for the home stretch.

Wow, thanks for reading through this epic blog!! We love and miss you all!!

Skye & Haley

And here are a few words from individual students…

Nick : Hi Everybody, We’re still alive having a great time and learning a lot under the super hot Caribbean sun. This country is fascinating and there is so much more to it than could be found reading about it in the US. I miss you Solo!

Dani: Hey family! Cuba has been awesome but the group has made my experience even more awesome. My favorite part was swimming on the way to Havana. Love you and miss you! Dani

Kevin: Hey Mom, Dad, J & D and others back home. Boy am I having the adventure of a lifetime in a communist country. Don’t worry about me (Mom) I promise the Cubans are wonderful. Love and miss you all!

Adam: Hi everyone! I am having a great time here in Cuba learning about cultural and environmental sustainability, as well as meeting many new friends and exploring the Cuban culture. I am looking forward to sharing my memories and experiences with all of you.

Maija: hey yall, I’m having a good time. It’s been interesting comparing what I have learned from debate research to the reality of the country. My favorite part so far was going to the waterfall in the mountains. <3 Maija

Casey: Hello from Cuba! This has been a life-changing experience! I have learned so much from learning how to salsa dance to the benefits of permaculture. I miss everyone back home! Lots of love, Casey <3

Mimi: The conversations I’ve had in Cuba have left the largest impression on me. From each conversation I’ve had with my peers here, with our leaders, with our local guide, and each individual I’ve met, I’ve learned more than any article, class, or novel could have taught me. I am loving the opportunity to gain new perspectives.

And, finally, a few photos (sorry – we’ve got a bunch more but can only get the really low resolution ones to transmit):