Monday, April 18, 2011


by Kate Collins

That was the subject line of the only email I was able to send out while on my trip to Cuba. (Limited internet access and no cell phone access.). But what a fantastic adventure! I went as a member of the Key West Botanical Garden Society on one of the humanitarian trips they make each year. It is their opportunity to help their “brother gardeners” in Cuba establish and preserve their gardens, and what gorgeous gardens they are.

Some of the highlights of my trip:

1. Seeing breathtakingly beautiful vistas, and extraordinary species of flowers and trees, including the Sausage Tree. (see my photo below).

2. Meeting the friendly locals, who love speaking with US Citizens, by the way. They welcomed us with open arms. We saw a lot of European tourists, too. We were able to take photos freely, were never threatened or made to feel unsafe, and had delicious meals and good accommodations. However, outside the hotels and better restaurants, toilet seats were hard to be found, as was toilet paper. We were also not allowed to ingest water unless bottled. (I kept forgetting, and would rinse my toothbrush, then have to douse it with bottled water.)

3. Traveling from the western province, Pinar Del Rio, to Cienfuegos, east of Havana, and back to Havana by air-conditioned Mercedes Benz touring bus.

4. Feeling as though I had dropped into a 1950s movie set. The photo above was taken from my hotel window in Havana. As you can see, it’s true that they drive '50s automobiles. They take pride in their mechanical skills in keeping the cars in top shape, too, as spare parts are non-existent. For a special treat, I got a ride in a shiny red 1958 Ford Fairlane. (I will be posting more photos on my Facebook page once I get them uploaded.)

5. Developing a taste for Mojitos, which were served everywhere. Ah, that Cuban rum and fresh mint.

6. Watching my very first live Flamenco performance. Wow. We were all blown away. Felt like I was watching Dancing with the Stars, the Cuban version.

7. Hearing fantastic salsa bands everywhere we went, and dancing, too.

8. Getting to know the twenty-one members of my touring group, including our host and hostess. We had a blast. If any of you are reading this, please post something about the trip.

9. Becoming friends with our Cuban guide, Renier, and bus driver, Tolon. They were so much fun, and so skilled. I miss them already.

10. Going to the Tropicana to see a show! And attending a performance of the Buena Vista Social Club. What fun that was.

I’m so glad I let myself be persuaded to go on this adventure. It was relaxing, absorbing, and just the tonic I needed to pull me out of a funk. Havana is being restored to its 1920s glory and will one day be one of the most beautiful cities outside the US. If you ever have the chance to go, don't miss it. But do take toilet paper.