Author: Emilie C. K. LaRosa
This year Penn Alumni Travel went somewhere we haven’t gone to in over a decade: Cuba. Cuba has long been off the travel menu for most United States citizens, but, in 2011, certain groups could again travel to Cuba under a specific “people-to-people” license from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Penn Alumni Travel received its People to People license last summer, and immediately over 40 Penn alumni and friends signed up to join one of two Cuba departures last month.
Traveling on a People to People itinerary is a little different from your typical overseas trip. Every day must be filled with meaningful exchanges with the Cuban locals. This means most hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. are filled with visits to museums, artists’ studios, and other local places of interest. We also had lectures with historians, experts in Cuban agriculture, and representatives from the Cuban National Center for Sex Education, and even visited the Cuban Rap Agency. After a lively discussion at the rap agency, we were treated to an impromptu performance.
Luckily our alumni are used to a full schedule filled with educational offerings, and they took the busy schedule in stride. One of my favorite moments of the trip was the private classical guitar concert in the Ceramics Museum of Havana. After a tour from the museum director, we all filtered into the museum’s beautiful interior courtyard and listened while classical guitarist Luis Manuel Molina played several songs. From the first note, it was clear Molina was a world-class musician, and he was playing just for us! Truly a superb ending to a busy day.
My second favorite moment? The farewell dinner in a Havana paladar (a restaurant run out of a family home). Not only was the food delicious and the ambiance unique, but by the end of the meal song had broken out, and we ended the trip with a hearty rendition of “The Red and the Blue” and “Drink a Highball.”
I’ll leave this blog entry here. As I mentioned, we had two Cuba departures each with a faculty and a staff host, and so you can expect three more Cuba blog entries after mine. But Cuba is such a unique and interesting destination that 100 blog entries would not do it justice. Enjoy the rest of the tour!