We started out the morning with a breakfast buffet in our hotel. The breakfast food here is relatively plain and filled with carbohydrates. We have all noticed on this trip that the people in the Caribbean eat a lot of carbohydrates on a daily basis. There was quite a bit of food and everyone was satisfied when they were done.
We met our tour guide in the lobby at 9:00 am and had a brief orientation about our time in Cuba—what we would be doing, general things about the culture, etc. We left around 9:30 am for a lecture about Cuban history and architecture. Our “classroom” was a beautiful, ornate dining room in a huge house. I am not entirely clear on what the house is used for on a daily basis, but I think that ICAP uses it for their program.
ICAP stands for Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (or Instituto Cubano de Amistad con Los Pueblos, in Spanish). Our second class was a discussion with ICAP about the relations between the United States and Cuba and how we can do things like coming to study to normalize the relations between the two countries. We also talked about what presuppositions we had about Cuba before coming and how those are beginning to change now that we are here. It was a very interesting discussion and if it hadn’t been time for lunch, I think we would have kept talking for quite some time.
We ate lunch at a nearby restaurant called Restaurante Fabio. We get a three-course meal pretty much everywhere we go. Today we had the option of beef or shrimp for the main entree with soup as an appetizer and chocolate ice cream for dessert. It was really good and we were serenaded the entire time by a small group of musicians playing and singing traditional Cuban music.
After lunch, we got back on the bus and headed to the Museo de la Revolución (Museum of the Revolution), which occupies the former Presidential Palace. The museum occupies a good part of the building, though not all of it because it is huge. It details the history of the revolution and the effects that the revolution and its success had on the country. It was very informational and I was glad to learn more about the specifics of the revolution and Cuban history.
The Presidential Palace was attacked by a group of university students while Batista was there and there are bullet holes throughout the interior and exterior of the building, especially on the main staircase. This group of students planned their own revolution while Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos were planning their attack and overtaking of Batista.
Behind the palace is another part of the Museum of the Revolution. The yacht that Fidel Castro and 81 other people used is in a big glass building and around the building are airplanes, cars, and trucks of people involved with the revolution, including Fidel Castro’s car. There is also a monument there in the shape of a star that has an eternal flame.
We got back on the bus and drove through the part of the city that we were already in, getting a tour of what we were seeing along the way. We were told what the buildings we were seeing were before we stopped at a hotel called Hotel Nacional (National Hotel). This is a famous, fancy hotel that is used to having visitors so we went in and toured around. The hotel has a room dedicated (the bar area) to famous people who have stayed there so we got a little bit of time to hang out there and see how has been there that we know—Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Frank Sinatra, Meyer Lansky, etc.
Hotel Nacional also has a beautiful view of the water and malecón. It also has tunnels and cannons that were used during the Cuban Missle Crisis behind it. The hotel sits in the middle of the malecón, between the fortresses and the other half of La Habana and the malecón.
After looking around the hotel, we went to the Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Plaza). In this plaza, there is a monument dedicated to the Revolution—the fathers of the Revolution and the success against Batista. It is a tall, skinny monument similar to the Washington Monument in the United States and it has a statue in front. Government buildings that have the faces of the fathers of the Revolution on them—Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos—also surround this monument.
To end the day, we drove to the neighborhood in La Habana that is home to many of the ambassadors to Cuba and also a small park with very large trees. We looked at the trees and caught glimpses of the mansions that the ambassadors live in. Their houses are a stark contrast to many of the places in the city that the people live.
We came back to the hotel and had dinner in the same place as the night before. We had about an hour before the restaurant opened, so we all went up to our rooms and took a much-needed nap. Our previous day of travel really wiped us out, so it was nice to take a refreshing nap. After dinner, we just hung out together in the hotel and talked for a while before going to bed.