I have been meaning to post more about Cuba, but per usual: med school takeover. Quick update on medical school. I am in my second rotation of third year (surgery!) and loving it! For more posts on how med school is going, check out my recap on the family medicine rotation or surprising things you learn in the hospital. Now, a flashback to one of my favorite trips I have ever taken.
A country I have previously described as a colorful Caribbean pirate town with European influence stuck in the 50s and filled with whimsy, adventure, and kind-hearted people. My experience was filled with fun and culture. However, I was also able to see first-hand the impact of a corrupt government. But despite living in a communist society, the Cubans were happy and kind. You learn to be skeptical when people come up and start talking to you. Usually means they are trying to sell you something. However, we had SO many encounters walking along the streets or through the parks where people wanted to talk just to talk. It was refreshing and made it so easy to learn about the town and the people.
A Day Trip to Viñales
It was day 1 of our week-long exploration of Cuba. After perusing around some sights that we were eager to see, we ran into three guys that looked like they could help us out with what to do next with our day. After striking up a conversation, it turns out that one of them was from New Jersey and had just opened up a hostel. He was showing the other two around and giving some great tips on how to catch a taxi and how to get a great meal for an awesome price. We tagged along on their little tour and learned some essential lessons we used for the rest of our trip.
The other two men were hoping to take a day trip to Viñales the next day. A town filled with colorful colonial housing, beautiful views, and tobacco farms. It was a 2 hour drive away, so the more people we could get to split the ride, the better. Don Domingo (owner of the Hostel) helped us get a great deal on a private classic car ride for the next day.
Beautiful Houses and Landscapes
The car ride up to Viñales flew by. We discovered that the two guys we were traveling with were both doctors with plans to work for humanitarian organizations! Along the way we discovered that a) hitch-hiking is legal and the police actually regulate it. b) the tall square mountains we saw are called mogotes. and c) the Cuban’s have picked up on the fact that saying the word ‘organic’ ups their tourist sales.
Seeing the whole process of how cigars are made was really awesome. From the tobacco plants, to how the leaves dry, down to what texture they need to be to be rolled into a cigar. But here comes the sad part. 90% of tobacco grown is taken by the government, leaving the workers only 10% to do with as they choose. Unsurprisingly, the government takes the best tobacco, leave the worst 10% to the farmers.
This is not an uncommon practice in Cuba. They work hard only to get the majority of their profits confiscated by the government. There were private restaurants and private housing options, but they can be hard to find if you don’t know what you are looking for. The main reason for the US-Cuba travel ban was to prevent cash flow to the government. If you plan on traveling to Cuba, do your research to learn about how your tourism will impact the people rather than the government. This means eating at private restaurants and staying at private casas… but even then you will inevitably be putting some cash flow into the corrupt government.
Horses, Hawks, and Chickens, oh my!
While we were in Viñales, we were able to take a horseback riding tour through the farms. Along the way we saw tobacco plants, pineapples, coconuts, and a slew of different animals. Arriving back to our car just before the rain began, we decided that our adventure wasn’t over just quite yet. Cueva del Indio was also located in Viñales, so we made a trip to see!
The most hilarious part of the day was stumbling around, trying to reach the cave while it was pouring rain. We didn’t bring umbrellas, so naturally we thought our next best option was to run in single file to where we thought our final destination would be. The leader of our line attempted to gracefully leap from a ledge to flat ground, only to find himself knee deep in a giant puddle. We skedaddled around him, no one saying anything until we finally reached a little roof to stand under. Only then did we crack up at what had just happened and how none of us reacted to the puddle incident.
The laughter (or stone-cold survival skills?) didn’t end there. It was time to scurry to the next dry spot we could see, a small wooden hut just outside the opening to the cave. We trampled through puddles before piling in the pitch-black hut. Puddle man decided that it might be a good idea to shine some light to see what kind of hut we stepped into. We saw an open cage, some scattered wood, and then finally a hawk. Perched on a box just glaring at us for disturbing his escape from the cage. So…time to go to our next dry spot… and we finally reached the cave. Due to the rain, I was unable to capture some photos of our cave adventures.
Cuba and Hurricane Irma
I write this post reflecting on all of the amazing things that I saw in Cuba this past summer. However, Cuba is drastically impacted by Hurricane Irma. Due to current conflicts between Cuba and the US, Cuba it is not one of the Caribbean Islands that the US is sending disaster relief aid to. Other neighboring countries are able to provide aid, but they are still struggling to rebuild irreparable damages. Please keep Cuba in your thoughts as well as the other Islands and parts of the US that were affected by this devastating disaster.
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