This morning we got up around 7:30 and went to breakfast about an hour later. Breakfast was on the
rooftop, though we couldn't sit outside because it was too crowded.
At O'Hare, I'd gotten into a conversation with several other people in which we'd tried to figure out
what kind of things would probably be served at a Cuban breakfast. We'd settled on it probably being
simple and starchy, a lot like the breakfast we had had in Miami (muffin, waffles, limited fruit
selection... your average continental breakfast at a decently cheap hotel.) So the breakfast at Havana
was kind of surprising.
Essentially, parts of three walls were lined with food, plus there was a table in the middle. The first
thing I noticed when I came in was a long line. After kind of standing in it for a little bit, I realized that
line was for juice and coffee. (Later when I stood in it for juice I realized that the majority of the line
was actually for coffee.)
The first table didn't seem like breakfast food. There were a lot of vegetables like I think cabbage
(unlabeled) and pumpkin (labeled pumpky.)
The next table seemed familiar as American breakfast. There were “hot cakes”, potatoes, eggs, etc.
Most of them had spoons that were too hot to hold.
After that there were a selection of meats and cheeses. I heard other people discussing and saying they
were basically all Italian-style meats. There was a line that I was gladly able to skip to get to the next
The next time had fruit. Papaya, pineapple, oranges, and grapefruit. The grapefruit was a bit sour, but
the rest of it was pretty good. Apparently I was the only person at my table of four who had tasted
papaya before, because the rest of my table was in consensus that it was disappointing compared to
The table after that, as well as the table in the middle, had bread. I'm pretty sure some of the rolls were
purely decorative, because they were too colorful for me to want to eat them. Some of them were plain
bread, others were sweeter, like covered in sugar or cinnamon rolls.
There were four (but really three) different juice flavors. Orange that was out of order, apple, pineapple,
mixed fruit, and also water. Halfway across the room was papaya juice, fresh, that I didn't notice until it
The coffee machine had four options. Regular, cafe con leche, chocolate (presumably hot chocolate)
and something else I forget that wasn't actually coffee. The cafe con leche had a lot of milk. It looked
like it was at least half milk, but it tasted like it might it Italy. (For dinner the first night, they offered
coffee, and I took mine black. It was the coffee equivalent of 85% dark chocolate.)
Then we went down to the lobby, waited around until 9:00, and all got into the bus to visit an economic
building. We had a meeting with someone who we later found out had recently switched jobs to be
advisor to Raul Castro. He talked about GDP, imports, exports, problems with those, efforts to raise
profits, other macroeconomic concerns,
Some parts of the presentation were really interesting, other parts were much more boring.. Probably
the best part was the very last question, asked by one of our professors. “I've lived in the Soviet Union
and Russia. I was there when they were trying economic reforms, and it was a mess. What makes you
think Cuba will be any better?”
There wee essentially two reasons. First, the person we were talking with was optimistic about their
changes. Second, Cuba is much closer to the US then the Soviet Union was. Even with the blockade
and the restrictions on travel, Cuba has American music and movies and pizza. “We know very well the
occidental world and how to live in it. And that makes us different from the Soviet Union.”
At one point, our speaker admitted he didn't have a crystal ball, and he was only making predictions.
It's also not entirely under Cuban control. US actions like the Embargo and keeping Cuba on the list of
state sponsors or terrorism have consequences,and other US policies could have new and unpredictable
effects on Cuba. So it will be interesting to see what Cuba looks like in the next five, ten, and twenty
After that, we drove to lunch. 15 CUC got two people either a meat and lobster or seafood meal. (There
were other options, but most people went with one of those two.) I split the meat and lobster with one
other person, but probably could have comfortably split it with 3. Each of us got a plate of rice with
black beans and what appeared to some kind of vegetable stuffing. We also got a platter that had one
lobster tail, a chicken leg with plenty of extra meet, two pieces of thin steak, two pieces of pork, and
two pieces of what I think were fish. I ate my plate, one of the pieces of steak, and half the lobster and
We'd been told to wear comfortable shoes because we were going to be doing a lot of walking. In the
room that morning, I'd debated whether my sandals counted as comfortable. Obviously my tennis shoes
were more comfortable than sandals, but they were also much warmer, which makes them less
comfortable. I was debating, and Allie, one of my roommates, (I'm in a triple) had suggested I bring
both. My bag was big enough, and I could leave it on the bus. That backfired when the tour guide
announced “we're going on a walking tour. Bring your bags because we're not coming back to the bus.”
At least if my feet started to hurt mid-walk I could change...
The walking tour was a mixture of the historic with the more modern. We saw everything from the
outside of the place in which the iconic woman who appears on bottles of rum and in statues in Cuba
lived to a clinic where woman who were having issues during pregnancy could stay. Women stay there
until they're better and can go home . The clinic includes everything that women need , like meals and
Along the way, we got stories. Such as: “Every November, as part of a holiday, woman would come
here one day and circle around the tree three times depositing a coin, and they would wish for a
husband. As you can see, husbands were cheap at that time: about one coin. Now, there are still long
lines, and people come to make a wish, but we have better things to wish for then husbands.”
Or, about the woman who afore mentioned iconic woman: “Her husband was a governor, so she lived
here. One day, he needed to leave, but he promised to be back soon.. every day the woman would go up
to that tower and look for him, but her husband never came back. Eventually , she died of a broken
heart. Nowadays, women would wait 3, 4 month. Maybe 5 if she really love husband. No more than
six before she remarry.” I hope that's not a genuine time estimate...
“Look down at the street. What is this street made out of?” We looked down, then, cautiously, as if
afraid it were a trick question, “wood?” That was the correct answer, but the trick is why any street
would be made of wood. “There was a governor's wife who lived in that room. In those days, there
weren't cars. So vehicles on the cobblestone made a lot of noise, and disturbed the rest of the governor's
wife. So she ask her husband 'can you replace all of the cobblestone with wood?' He try, but it was very
expensive. So he only replace this one street so she can rest.” I believe that happened in the early 20th
century. That street is still in phenomenal condition.
It was a nice, informative, beautiful tour, and the weather could not have been more perfect, but it was
long. Pretty much everyone started getting tired and wanting to be done with the tour about fifteen
minutes before it was over. Finally it was done and the professors gathered us together to tell us that we
were free to go off, as long as we stayed with at least one other person and exercised common sense.
(It's a problem for several people, which is why groups were good.) We should meet tomorrow in the
lobby at noon with our rooms cleared out ready to leave.
Since we'd taken a rather roundabout tour, the tour guide led us back to the hotel at least those who
wanted to, which was pretty much everyone. We wanted to go out again, but we wanted to drink water,
change our shoes, change our clothing, drop off our bags, etc. first. When we were within sight of the
hotel, the tour guide looked around, realized there were only fourteen of us, and went back a little bit
to see if she could find the missing people.
The rest of us looked around and considered who we were missing. The trip has 13 college students, 5
adults auditing the class, and 2 teachers. Every single college student was in the group standing near
the hotel, as was the adult who was the father of one of the kids on the trip. Basically, no one was
missing their roommate. This was enough to lead us to assume that the people who weren't there were
very deliberately not there, so we went to tell our tour guide “When the teachers dismissed us, what
they meant was 'we don't want to see you until noon tomorrow..' The others will find their own way
back, so we're going to go to the hotel.
After a break that felt much shorter than it was, we were all out and about. All 14 of us. Personally, I
would have liked a group half that size. I've had too much practice making sure we didn't lose anyone
from a group that I'm constantly looking around counting people. With 8 or less people I don't even
notice how often I do it. With 14 I'm constantly making a very conscious effort.
Besides which, 14 people is a pain for dinner. Especially when you consider how many restaurants in
Cuba are paladares, operated out of one's home. Before going up to dinner, we did ask if they could
seat 14, and they said they could. It filled the entire restaurant, and made food take so much longer.
(Around halfway through the time I'd been waiting for my food, the waitress went up to someone and
said they were out of bread, so he needed to choose something other than a sandwich. He ordered a
pizza.' it arrived at about the same time mine did.
Dinner did contain a small Spanish triumph for me, though. The waitress had fairly bad English, so I
was asking someone at my table who had studied Spanish how to say “without.” (I was considering
ordering a pineapple pizza.) I decided it would be easier to just go off the menu, but when I ordered a
Margarita pizza, they were out. So I switched back to the Spanish side of the menu to check
vocabulary, then ordered a “Pizza Hawainne sin jamon.” The waitress took note of it without
commenting again, and I had no way of knowing if I had done that right until our food was finally
ready, and I got my pineapple pizza.
It was really good. Both the bread and sauce were different than what I'm used to. The pizza was a bit
sweet, but overall good. So it was a fine restaurant, even if it wasn't quite equipped for all 14 of us.