Throwback Thursday: Our Last Days in Cuba

There hasn’t been a moment for reflection since we returned from our frenetic filming week in Cuba (and Miami, due to a missed connection and one-day delay.) But we have pulled together a Throwback Thursday post reflecting on some of the remarkable adventures we had in late March:

Lesley—Wednesday 3/23—Day 4

On our first full day in Trinidad, we spent the day taking a walking tour of the city, learning about its robust history from our tour guide.


During the walking tour, our guide brought us into a local convenience shop, where we were taught about the process of making the legendary Cuban cigar; from growing the tobacco on farms, to drying the leaves, to rolling them up by hand into the packaged product. We were fortunate to be able to watch the process firsthand, as a woman carefully but swiftly created a cigar in front of us.

We had a very exciting lunch in one of the many informal in-home restaurants, called paladares, in Trinidad. Saveur Magazine has a helpful feature story on these eating establishments, which illustrate the entrepreneurial creativity of Cubans. The meal was enriched by live music that included some special guest performers: some of the musical students in our class!



After a fun-filled afternoon, we finished our walking tour, and headed back to the hotel for a productive meeting to discuss our story. Realizing that we were halfway through our week in Cuba, we brainstormed what our film could be about, and what we would still need to capture to successfully complete our vision.


Cassie—Thursday 3/24—Day 5

Thursday was our free day and most of us spent our time on the sunny beach at our all-inclusive hotel outside of town. We fed a lot of ham to the cats that make the resort their home and found time to enjoy some mojitos. Then it was time to board the bus for our next destination — Cienfuegos.


The hotel in Cienfuegos looked very similar to the one in Trinidad, but it had a pool instead of a beach. We checked our bags and went into town for dinner at the ornate, historic Cienfuegos Yacht Club. We had a tour of the town at night, visiting a crowded square where we saw one of the few public Wi-Fi spots. Almost everyone — other than some kids circling on scooters and some police officers responding to a call for assistance — was looking at a laptop screen or phone.


Tianxin—Friday 3/25—Day 6

We were sad after our exploration of Cienfuegos and that wonderful last free day in Trinidad. But there was growing excitement about our return to Havana – driven by the prospect of seeing the first Rolling Stones show in Cuba!

After a three-hour bus ride, we finally arrived in Havana at noon. To save time and be sure we could get in early, we took sandwiches, water and pineapple juice to the concert, getting a ride on the converted school bus driven by Lauchi, who generously waited until 11 p.m. that night to take us back. The concert wouldn’t begin until 8:30 p.m., but in order to get a good view of the show we got to the site by 2. It was a good thing we did, because the huge outdoor sports complex was already filling with excited fans. They were mostly Cuban, but there were many from all over the world. We spotted flags from Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica, Canada, the United States and Germany, just to name a few.

Of course the most eye-catching flags were the Cuban ones fluttering in the wind. So many people came together and put their differences aside to enjoy the show together.



We split in teams to interview people. We asked them what they thought about Obama’s visit to Cuba. There was enthusiasm all around. But some also spoke about the challenges faced in Cuba, with a medical student saying he didn’t know of a doctor or nurse who, given the tiny salaries for medical workers, didn’t have at least another job or two to make ends meet.

Finally, we found a good position to watch the show. The people around us were as excited as we were. Cuba is a nation with a deep passion for music and this was evident by their enthusiasm and passion. Many people didn’t know the Stones, but were drawn by the excitement of a huge show by a Western band. At 8:30 pm, framed by a blazing light show, the Rolling Stones finally took the stage.

Mick Jagger greeted the crowd in Spanish, then said it was wonderful to be able to perform in Cuba. “Finalmente, los tiempos están cambiando!” (“Finally, the times are changing!”)

The crowd roared in agreement.


Ray—Saturday 3/26—Day 7

On Saturday, our filming mission continued. We were ready to get the last of our footage, but also hesitant because the end of filming it meant we’d be returning back to the United States. Perhaps we were already used to the relaxed Cuban lifestyle and unwilling to return to the craziness of New York.

After finishing a last hurried breakfast, we left for our first stop, a lecture on sustainability. Yociel Marrerro Baez, an environmental engineer, described how he and others were seeking a new social and economic model – what he called “sustainable socialism” – that connect Cuba with the global economy, but on its own terms.

Our second stop was a community service learning experience at “El Tanque,” a school for the arts built in what had been an abandoned concrete water tank.The most exciting part of our visit was the musical performance by former students. Some of us also joined them and danced with them, enjoying the music and rhythm.

Our last stop was a walking tour through Old Havana. This was one of our favorite spots, because we were able to see and appreciate architecture preserved over several centuries. As we walked down the narrow cobblestone streets, laughing and filming together, we knew this was our last and final stop, but we weren’t ready to say goodbye to this beautiful and hospitable country.


Because it was our last night in Cuba, Spanish Studies Abroad set up a wonderful farewell dinner for us. We were all happy to enjoy one final night, but sad at the prospect of returning home the next day. We all received certificates at dinner showing that we completed our course in Cuba, and as a memento of our time on the island. Our experience in Cuba is one we’ll never forget.


Jing—Sunday 3/27—Day 8

Sunday was our last day in Cuba. Everyone was so excited because we had a great experience in Cuba and were ready to go home! At 9:00 AM, two groups had a meeting and went to different places to shoot some extra footage in Havana. One group went to the U.S. Embassy and the beach, while the other group went to a hotel and took video of the fancy cars in Havana. Although it was the last day, we got more good footage.


At 11:30 AM, we met again and took taxis to Josè Marti International Airport. After enduring long lines and confused crowds, we found that our charter flight was badly delayed and settled in with hundreds of other travelers in the crowed and chaotic terminal reserved for charter flights. In the end, we missed our Miami connection to New York. The post-Easter travel crush meant we’d have to wait until Tuesday to get home!

However, everyone felt happy; we finished our work in Cuba and got a lot of good footage. And a key to successful filmmaking is making the most out of unexpected twists and turns. Our stay in Miami turned into a great opportunity for us to interview some Cuban Americans in Little Havana. (Yes, and to get a bit of rest on the beach.)

More soon!


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