This reflects a collection of blog posts written in the spring of 2016 during a field study in Cuba.
We woke up this morning around 7:40. My roommate, Talia, and I got dressed into island business casual, and met our friend Gabriela for breakfast. The buffet was a typical European breakfast buffet. I had queso fresco (a little rich for my taste - Spain’s was better) with honey, a bread roll, a croqueta de jamón, an egg over easy, a mini chocolate croissant (which was a bit dry), cafe con leche and (bottled) water. We sat at a round table in a beautiful bright white and marbled room while listening to a flutist and a guitar player set the soundtrack for the morning.
At 8:50 a.m. we went to a conference room (Centro B) and settled in for the morning-long presentations. The first one was about Cuba's economy and foreign direct investment. The introduction was given by a man who spoke Spanish with a translator. Then, a man named José Luis spoke in English. It was pretty dense for so early. At the end of his presentation I was responsible for presenting him with a gift bag from the class. I thanked him in Spanish, and he did not seem impressed.
After that, we had a coffee break with some pastries. I had two cafe con leches to wake up, a mango juice, a small sugar-twisted sweet and shared a mini doughnut with Gabriela. The second presentation was about the opening of a new seaport and foreign-trade zones. I thought it was a bit more intriguing, especially because he was discussing the expansion of the Panama Canal, which I was fortunate enough to visit in 2011. Our professor wrapped up the morning plenary by tying the presentations to seminar concepts and current day relations between the United States and Cuba.
We had 20 minutes to freshen up and walk around and then met for lunch at 12:45. I, of course, sat at a table with my friends Gabriela and Meheer and some of our other classmates. Lunch consisted of a seafood salad served with white wine, then chicken, potatoes and rice and beans served with red wine and finally, a coconut lemon cake. It was nice! We had about 15 minutes between lunch and boarding the bus.
At 3 p.m. we drove out to a place called O2 Spa in the neighborhood New Vedado. It is a privately owned business by three sisters. It offers a plethora of services including hair, nails, makeup, exercise, facial and massage. We had a presentation upon arriving. It was outside in the VERY hot heat, and it made everyone a little sleepy. The presenter was an attorney so she talked about Cuban law and the difference between private and state-owned businesses. One of the most interesting comments she made about the impending changes for Cuba was that currently, people were content because inequality did not exist; however, in the coming months and with the country’s new relations, everything could shift causing lasting repercussions.
After dripping sweat for about an hour listening to the rather interesting presentation, we were introduced to the three owners/sisters. We were given a tour of the gym and the salon. It was a hipster's dream gym, and the salon had nice products. Then, we had a dance lesson. The instructor was a younger guy in his 20s and taught us how to salsa, merengue, mambo and rumba. It was nice to see everyone having fun together and drop their guards. By the end, we were all soaking wet. I bought a hand painted plate (five CUC) and coffee mug (one CUC), both made by one of the sisters, and we boarded the bus to go back to the hotel and wash up for dinner.
We had an hour, which I used to buy wifi for five CUC to check in with the parentals, body shower and change clothes for dinner. We met the group in the lobby at 6:45 p.m. to depart. We were eating at one of Randy's favorite restaurants called El Cocinero. It was a rooftop restaurant with neat decorations. I sat at the end of a long table with Gabriela, Kelli, Shannon, Peter and Brad. At a neighboring table were MBA students from the University of Seattle. We tried to converse with them but they were very dry -- probably because they go to a second-tier (or fifteenth-tier) UW. We ordered mojitos and went up to an observatory ledge to look out onto the city. There was a very tall grain stall on the ledge that was open on the top with black lights and neon lasers dotting the sides. After snapping some photos we returned to the table to order dinner.
Shannon and I split gazpacho and a crab salad tower with puréed squash and pesto. I had another mojito with my grilled wahoo and cheesecake for dessert. It was all very delicious. I took a moment to appreciate how incredibly fabulous it was for people to truly converse without the temptation of technology. It was really refreshing, and I looked forward to more engaging interactions sin mobile devices. However, we were able to learn that Wisconsin beat Pittsburgh in basketball and was moving on in March Madness, so that was magnificent.
The restaurant was right next to a popular Cuban gathering place called la Fabrica de Arte y Cultura or FAC. Our professor hooked us up and got us through the very long line. We shuffled in and experienced a wonderful night. After paying two CUC, we received a punch card for food and drinks. It was a consume now, pay later kind of deal, which I learned in my Consuming Happiness class brings less happiness than pay now, consume later, but I rolled with it.
The fabrica consisted of three stories of white walls filled with trendy art. I felt very hip but was also sweating profusely. We wandered around and took everything in. There were little caves to walk in and look at art. Some was for sale. Then, we went to the first floor patio to get a drink. Gabriela found a little booth pod for us while Kelli and I went to order drinks. The bartender was speaking Spanish to a local about the influx of tourists in the city and how hard they were working because of it. It seemed like they were a bit flustered and just very exhausted. When we started talking to the bartender she was really fun and helped us pick out the FAC drink. It was vodka, blue curaçao, sugar and ice. We asked for it without ice and she looked at us like we were insane. She said it would be disgusting without ice and that the ice was safe there. She also said that the best thing for us would be to get sick from the water because once we were exposed to the bacteria, it would not effect us in the future. We were hoping that would not happen to us on this trip. We walked away with a stamp on our cards and bright blue, ice-cold drinks. They were pretty strong and pretty sweet.
We sat on the patio for a bit and then went to walk around some more. We tried to get into an active art show but the guard was not letting anyone in for ten minutes, so we meandered and looked at more artwork. When we returned, there were about seven girls from the group waiting. I asked the guard again through a thick glass door with hand motions about how long, to which he responded that they were not letting people in. I motioned for him to open the door, spoke to him in Spanish, and he waved my friends and me through. I felt like a celeb. Unfortunately, the active art was not as intriguing as we had expected. It was very interpretational, and I think a little anti-American. There was a screen, loud music and a girl who decided to cut through her shirt and expose herself. Not my type of performance but good for her.
After that everyone kind of split off. I ended up with a girl named Kelli. We starting walking into this door where there was a guard. In Spanish he said told me we couldn't enter because it was only for VIPs, to which I naturally responded that I was VIP. He let us right in. It was nothing too exciting but we sat on a nice small patio to relax and keep sipping our blue cocktails. After a little while we left and met up with the group in a concert area. It was the beginning of British week in Habana so there was a sequence of performers mimicking some Brits. We were hoping for some Spice Girls or One Direction. One performer warmed our hearts with “Hello” by Adele -- that was the most exciting of the night. We sang along, danced and sweat the amount of our body weights.
We left the concert hall, walked toward the exit and stood in line so they could total our purchases (two CUC total for the blue potion). We paid and were shuffled into an old taxi. It was Gabriela, Meheer, Shannon and me. We got out at the hotel and the driver told us 20 CUC, which I knew was completely ridiculous. I was arguing with him in Spanish but everyone just ended up paying because he wasn't budging, we were tired, and he could probably use it more than us. I was still a bit salty about it but yolo. I showered, packed up, hopped in bed and started mentally preparing for the transfer to casas particulares the next day.