By Jean Strauber, Travel Editor
The president and CEO of Friendly Plane, Kevin Callaghan has announced their Fall 2012 visit to Cuba. The cost per person is $3,395, plus $500 estimated charter airfare from Miami. Here’s the itinerary:
Arrival in Miami and make your way to the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Later, when everyone has arrived, join an informal orientation and briefing. Get a good night’s sleep tonight, because tomorrow you’re up early to transfer together to the airport to board your flight for Havana.
Check in for your charter flight to Havana to begin your unforgettable journey to Cuba. Once aboard your flight, it’s less than an hour’s flight to Havana. Bienvenidos a Havana! Upon arrival, after customs formalities, meet your bi-lingual Cuban host, board your air-conditioned coach and head directly to your very first encounter in Cuba, a visit to the colorful neighborhood of Callejon de Hamel. Here you’ll find brilliant mural paintings, stalls selling herbs for curing colds and lovesickness alike, kiosks offering beaded bracelets representing spirits of the orisha religion (combining African spirit worship and Catholicism) and of course, music everywhere. You’ll meet and exchange ideas with artists, including Salvador Gonzalez Escalona (when in residence), whose prolific murals, which reflect the culture and religious beliefs of this area, adorn the neighborhood.
There are numerous community activities in the Callejon de Hamel, including art instruction aimed at educating the children in the neighborhood, and you will discover how the African Cuban religion (a fusion of African belief systems like spirit worship and Christianity), called Santeria, is portrayed in the street art. Enjoy your first lunch at a local restaurant in the center of Old Havana, then take a leisurely orientation walk through the cobblestone streets of this vibrant area. You will find many Cubans out taking a Sunday stroll with their families, offering you a perfect opportunity to interact with locals and immerse yourself in the colors of Cuba which surround you. Now that you’ve had a taste of what lies ahead of you during your week in Cuba, it’s time to drive to your hotel to check in, unpack and have a short rest. Before dinner this evening, attend a brief orientation meeting to review your travel itinerary and the documentation procedures for re-entry into the USA. Afterwards, enjoy a delicious welcome dinner at the hotel.
Havana. Start your day with a visit to a local ration store in the Vedado section of Havana, where your Cuban host will explain the system of rationing and the twocurrency system as well as the difference between Ration Stores, Cuban Peso Stores, and CUC Stores. Continue to the Angela Landa Elementary school, located in Old Havana. This primary school (ages 5 – 12) is located in a beautiful historical building which has been carefully renovated by Havana’s Office of the Historian. Interact with the children in their classrooms and participate in a discussion session with some of the school’s administrators and teachers about Cuba’s education system and how it compares to that of the United States. (This is the opportunity for you to personally deliver school supply gifts to the children or school. Any donations are greatly appreciated). Proceed to one of Papa Hemingway’s favorites, La Bodeguita del Medio, for lunch followed by a visit to historic Havana. Visit the Plaza de la Revolucion, the Cemetery of Christopher Colombus, the Miramar area and Morro Castle, with its magnificent views of Havana. Late this afternoon before dinner, participate in an open discussion with an English-speaking historian from the University of Havana. The theme of this open, uncensored discussion centers on the history of U.S.-Cuban relations in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Current day Cuba finds itself in the initial stages of encouraging investment in local business. One area where new ventures are flourishing is in the restaurant industry. This evening, meet with the owner or general manager and some of the workers of one of Havana’s finest and most interesting new restaurants, El Gijon. Hear firsthand how new businesses — especially restaurants — get started, find working capital, and make a profit in a society where private business ventures are almost unknown. Also, learn about the history of the “Association” restaurants, of which El Gijon is one of the best. Afterwards, enjoy dinner at El Gijon.
Depart Havana after breakfast this morning and drive to the Bay of Pigs (pictured above). Hike for about one hour through thick bush led by a Cuban nature guide to a hidden pool which is connected underground to the Caribbean Sea. Lunch is served at the Cueva de los Peces where there will be a wonderful opportunity to snorkel and view this rarely visited tropical fish reef. Continue the drive along the Caribbean coast to the charming old Spanish colonial town of Trinidad. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, Trinidad is one of the best preserved towns in all of Latin America. Dinner this evening is at a beachfront hotel located on Playa Ancon on the Caribbean Sea.
(To be continued next week…)