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Living history in

Beach near Matanzas

Clara that reads Hotel sign in Santa llet You can still see bu “Thank you, Fidel.” lution in 1958. holes from the revo

Flower cart on Camagüey street


Story and photos by Melanie Wiseman


ur plane landed in Cuba the day after Fidel Castro died. My husband, Dan, and I joined 16 other travelers from around the U.S. on the short, 45-minute flight from Miami. We left behind thousands of people celebrating in the streets of Little Havana and arrived in a country observing nine days of mourning. Our living history journey had begun. Our guide, Yanet Baute Montero, welcomed us at eastern Cuba’s Camagüey


Airport, assuring us that despite “the situation,” our experience would be filled with countless memorable interactions with the Cuban people. While we anticipated that living through this historic moment would be the highlight of our Cuban adventure, it actually took a backseat to our experiences with the Cuban people, who stole our hearts and opened our eyes.

It’s complicated...or is it?

The U.S. Department of the Treasury still regulates travel to Cuba. One of the authorized ways for U.S. citizens to travel to the country is via “people-to-people cultural exchanges.” These tours open communication and generate positive relations between the two countries. “Cuba is complicated,” said Montero. “I will answer any questions you have, but it will always come with a lengthy explanation.” Throughout our travels, “It’s complicated” was a frequent joke among the group. Some things certainly were complicated, but the freedom we enjoyed there wasn’t. We Bicitaxi tour of Camagüey were able to talk to Cubans

at leisure and uncensored, and explore cities day or night on our own. Due to the U.S. embargo, I anticipated the Cuban people being apprehensive over visits by U.S. tourists. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. They were very welcoming and accommodating.

Feelings about Fidel Castro’s passing offered us a unique opportunity to hear firsthand the varied views Cubans had of him. Montero compared him to a complicated father figure. “Fathers do good and bad things, but you still love them,” she said. As one young man I spoke with said, many Cubans had never known anything but life under Castro’s rule. Like Montero, the people I spoke with had mixed emotions about the man. “I hope that someday, sooner than later, I will be able to do what I want to do and not what someone tells me to do,” said a man named Sandoval, 53. After 60-year-old Sibario watched the funeral procession carrying Castro’s ashes, he put his hand over his heart. “We watched glory pass by into eternity,” he said emotionally. No one forgot Castro’s positive contributions. “He freed the Cuban people from the dictator Batista,” Montero said. “After the revolution, Fidel’s first priority was land redistribution, followed by education, health care and road development. He also gave huge support to music, dance and theatre.”

Exploring Cuba In Camagüey, we navigated labyrinths of narrow streets via whimsically

Beacon January 2017  
Beacon January 2017