Havana

Wow what a day!! Havana is an amazing place. The architecture, history, people, smells, food, and music are all exceptional and unique.  I have never been anyplace else like this. I keep reminding myself that I am viewing all of this from a place of comfort.  Unlike many of the residents of this country, I have plenty to eat and drink. I have a soft place to sleep that is air conditioned and comfortable.  From this place, I love this city.  It resonates with me.

We of course had a busy day that started with a breakfast buffet full of all kinds of unique and yummy foods.  We then met a representative from the Cuban Ministry of Public Health where we listened to a presentation outlining the Cuban Health Care System.  The talk was presented by Dr. Portillo Gonzalez,  a knowledgeable Cuban surgeon.  I found the talk very interesting.  Their system is set up to rely very heavily on Primary Care Physicians.  They are the front line to preventative medicine, and the key to their improvements in their health care statistics.  I think the idea is good, but it is clear that the resources needed to run this system effectively are not available, and Dr. Portillo Gonzalez avoided answering the tough questions. Interestingly enough, recently I have heard several presentations on the US health care system, and the current ideas focus around moving back to a system that is more reliant on primary care physicians.

For the rest of the morning we toured several interesting sites.  One was a statue of John Lennon sitting on a bench in a park. Alexis told an interesting story concerning this statue.  The statue was built without Lennon’s glasses.  So a real pair of glasses were used.  These were promptly stolen.  So a second pair of glasses were purchased and placed on the statue, and these glasses were also stolen.  So, as in any socialist society (according to Alexis), a person was hired to stay in the park and watch Lennon’s glases.  This person will put the glasses on the statue when people come to visit, and then remove them when they leave.  I of course thought this story was just that, a story to demonstrate the concepts of socialism.  When we left the bus to see the statue, a woman walks over to the statue and places glasses on Lennon’s face.  The story was true.  This woman sits in the park, 8 hours a day, and puts the glasses on Lennon’s face when visitors arrive. Shown here is the group sitting with Lennon and his glasses.

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Next we ate lunch at the family-run restaurant (paladar) “La California”. This is a restaurant that is part of someones home.  They live in one part of the building and serve food in another part.  They served us pizza and pasta.  It sounds like an interesting combination, but it was delicious.

After lunch we went for a walking tour of Old Havana. We saw many historical sites and great old buildings.  Our guide Alexis, told many stories, and the group was riveted by his tales and historical facts.  I was struck by how much renovation work was going on, and I got the impression that things are changing in Cuba. Shown here is a picture of Old Havana.

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Finally we stopped at a Farmer’s Market and spent some time walking around and shopping for souvenirs and artwork.

After our tour we returned to the hotel for a nice break.  The following picture was taken from my hotel window.  The view is of Havana looking toward old Havana following a thunder storm and development of a double rainbow. Looking out my window, I really felt like I was in a Hemingway novel.  It was breathtaking.

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In the evening we all went out to dinner at another paladar called “Elite”.  This was a fine dining experience for all.  The chef, as told by Alexis, is easily one of the top five chefs in Cuba.  It was a culinary experience.  The food was excellent and the company exceptional.  Our group of students are moving as one now.

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Tomorrow we have a full day of service on the farm.  We have been guaranteed to get hot and dirty.  As the students said this evening, “We are ready!”

Respectfully Submitted,
Karyn Turla