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Final thoughts, reflections, and restaurant reccomendations

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

So I arrived back in the United States yesterday and it has been in so many ways surprisingly natural. I haven’t completely sorted out all of my feelings, I mostly feel the tentative sigh of finishing finals and the relief at being in a certain way back in my element, but sadness prickles when I think of not being able to go back to Havana, or that perhaps it will be in so many ways unrecognizable when I do. It’s a lot to process but I’ll leave you with a final word about some of my favorite paladares. (I had so many photos saved for an eventual post about where I ate but unfortunately my phone was stolen right before I left and along with it all of the pictures.)

In honor of my semester and all of the wonderful times I spent eating, drinking, and talking I leave to readers and future IFSA student this list of places to fill your belly and kill your appetite.

 

Cafe Punto G

Price: Between 15 and 60 moneda nacional (Splurging only sets you back 2 bucks max)

Location: On Linea between G and H down a wide driveway behind a language school. The spot if well marked and a chalkboard sign boasting snippets of the menu diverts walkers form the sidewalk into the cozy garden haven.

What to order: Any of their thick and delicious milkshakes, the flavors of which change daily and range from a sublimley smooth almond flavor to the creamy cousin of eggnog known as mantecado. Aside from heavenly shakes, G Spot is addictive for their fresh ground burger with all the fixings, (tomato, lettuce, ketchup, and grilled onion), on a panini pressed bun, a lo cubano. Other favorites include the tiny savory pies that sit on the counter, full of a uniquely seasoned and richly flavorful combination of eggplant and parmesan.The guava juice is pulpy and phenomenal, a perfect substitute for the shake should you find yourself avoiding dairy, or in my case, short on Lactaid.

* It is important to note that there is also a restaurant called Punto G, they are not at all affiliated so should you be lost and looking for this G Spot, remember to specify that is is the cafe you want, and not the restaurant.

Cafe Toscana

Price: Plates between 25 and 95 moneda nacional (1 to 4 dollars/CUC)

Location: On J between 21st and 23rd. This is a front patio converted into a small and casual cafe frequented by tourists, hipsters, and the cuban novela actress from time to time (okay only once did I run into a famous person here but she was so nice and normal I wouldn’t have even realized if my cuban friend had not pointed her out.)

What to order: Go for the carbonara (35 MN) and a fresh yogurt with a scoop of raw sugar to sip on while you wait. The owner is Italian and this is the best bowl of pasta in the city, fancy paladares included.

Casa Sayu – adjudicate between obispo an date nest street

Price: between 8 and 50 moneda nacional (40 cents to 2 dollars/CUC)

Location: Havana Vieja- Calle Aguacate between Obispo and I can’t remember what, if you’re coming up Obispo from Parque Central its down to the right.

What to order: Casa Sayu is the only Japanese restaurant I have ever come across in Havana and it is delicious. From bento boxes to sushi to perfect savory crepes this place is dirt cheap and totally satisfies the craving for something different from the usual cuban fare. Everything I have ordered there has been delicious, in the time I was there Sayu expanded form window service to an adorable and clean dining room. The owner also runs a casa particular, and while I can’t vouch for the accomodations themselves because I’ve never been, the location is prime and you would be upstairs from endless savory crepes.

Almendrares– between 23rd and the university

Price: individual cakes and pastries go between 8 and 25 moneda nacional and full size cakes range from 5 CUC and up.

Location: J between 24th and 25

What to order: The individual cakes are delicious and a great snack after morning classes. My favorite is the neon yellow Cardenalillo, the bottom layer is soaked in simple syrup, the top is fluffy and s swirl of chunky sugary merengue sits on top while a thin layer of the same binds the two thick tiers of cake together. When I was running early for class, (a truly rare occasion), I would treat myself to the guava pastelitos, palm sized puff pastries that ooze butter and teh eventual dense lump of guava paste when you hit the center. I like to eat them layer by layer top down with an ice cold can of Naranja soda.

The creamy cornet and satisfying Moca cakes are also favorites and for a party their BonBon cake is a moist melange of chocolate and merengue fluff topped with pink frosting roses that serves serves six.

Doña Laura

Price: 25 moneda nacional for a lunch plates, add ons from 5 to 10 moneda nacional

Location: I between 21 and 23, The cozy spot is home to quite a few immaculately clean birdcages so look for a finch or two perched in a cage hanging from the doorway or branch in front of the semi outdoors cafe.

What to order: Doña Laura has a rotating menu of lunch plates all of which include rice, beans, a small salad of lettuce and green beans, and a slice of boniato. My favorite is the ropa vieja with a thick slice of avocado on the side. The drinks also vary day by day but if you’re lucky they’ll have Guanabana yogurt, served cool in thick green glasses, it tastes how skittles would if they grew from the ground and were nourished by sun and water and then blended into tangy fresh cow yogurt. No sugar needed.

On days when I was less hungry I went for the tamal en cazuela (think a thick corn soup, bazically a tamal unwrapped and cooked down. Other side dishes include a plate of steaming yucca topped with garlic mojito and bacon bits or chicharrones depending on the day’s menu.

Doña Laura is also a greta place to stop for a vegetarian meal as alongside meat dishes they often have tortillas, (fluffy cheese-less omelettes), with all the same sides. The tamal en cazuela does not contain meat and with a hearty chunk of avocado its a perfect lunch in itself.

Mama Iné

Price: 1- 7 CUC

Location: Calle L between 15 and 17

What to order: This little cafe is popular with tourists and foreigners and for the food they offer the prices are quite high. However, the ambience is unbeatable and it is one of the few places in Havana where it feels normal to sit and hang for hours or study with a laptop. Stick to the delicious crepes with nutella, (2 CUC), the frapuccinos, and salty and hearty tapas such as the chicken croquetas, olives, and cheese. The burgers here are frozen and highly mediocre and will set you back 3 CUC, for the same price you can get a huge fresh beef burger at Cafe Punto G and a milkshake, so stick to snacks and coffee drinks and enjoy the sounds of Beck and Florence and the Machine while you rework your essay for the millionth time.

Casa Balear

Price: 10 mn (50 cents!)

Location: The corner of G and 23rd

What to order: MOJITOS, MOJITOS, MOJITOS! Though this bar offers snacks, the real reason to come is the 5o cent mojitos served ice cold and full of gritty sugar. Seating is a breezy upstairs porch in this butter yellow colonial gem, Casa Balear is the place to be if you want to shoot the breeze foe hours after lunch or on a Friday night when the malecon is too chilly and you’re looking for  a relaxing alternative to a nightclub. When you can’t handle a drop more of rum, switch to their sangria (also 50 cents a cup) and slurp up citrus pulp and the occasional ant or two along with the mound of sugar that sits at the bottom of your glass.

 

 

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notes from the middle

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

Things in Havana have been slow, I’ve been going to school, panicking about misunderstanding instructions and deadlines, actually misunderstanding instructions and deadlines, and doing a lot of thinking. 

It has cooled off enough that I can fall asleep easily with the window cracked and the air conditioner turned off, this also means that I can sit in my room and do more of my thinking. Not having constant access to wifi or the Internet in general (no data) makes me actually sit with questions rather than immediately googling any and everything. I walk around, I talk to people, I ask them if they know the answers instead of quietly trying to find them myself and surprisingly, this method works. I almost always learn something new and it comes in the context of all the people answering me. Initially I was frustrated but once the knee jerk reaction to look everything up online died down I realized its kind of nice to not have the aggressive correctness and exactness of solitary facts and to know things in their place and time and with nuance. 

I’ve also been thinking a lot about time here and how so many people I spoke to before I left the states, both for this trip and my short visit to Havana last spring, talked about Cuba as a time machine and Havana as a magical city frozen in its colonial architecture and 1950’s cars. And it bothered me, the idea that old things held a country firmly in place, in disconnect. And the more time I spend here the more evident it is to my how untrue a conception it is that Cuba, Havana especially, is frozen in time. 

Everything feels so present and normal and alive, colonial buildings house paladares serving cans of Malta and Ciego Montero cola and trips in old cars are standout when they don’t have new sound systems playing the latest hits from farruko or Gente de Zona. 

It’s 2015 in every way with social manifestations of politics only kinder than those one would find in an American city. 

But at the same time things do move differently, there are few TV channels and no expectation of Internet and so I find myself wondering if this is what summertime felt like when my mom was a kid, my languid downtime reminding me of the 70’s in the way I know it from episodes of Freaks and Geeks, there’s almost always enough time.

As wonderful as everything is I have been homesick, I miss my creature comforts- I miss processed food and affordable soy milk (8 bucks a carton is not happening, though soy yogurt is cheap and ubiquitous). I miss my dog and feeling at least mostly sure of where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing. 

me milking a buffalo!

 

  a baby buffalo says hello at dawn

Audacity, tenacity, intelligence- core values of Camilo Cienfuegos are remembered in Yaguajay at the site of Batista’s barracks during the revolutionary battle of 1958. A museum to Cienfuegos stands at the site today.

 

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Being Latina on study abroad

Time January 5th, 2016 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

I think that traveling as a Latina from the United States brings up certain questions of identity for me. In most countries I’ve visited, the people that I have met have not readily accepted that I was American upon first meeting me, and the look of surprise of expression of confusion as to why I don’t have blue eyes or blonde hair was something that I’ve come to expect with being abroad. However in Cuba my visibility and invisibility as non-Cuban and further more as an American are intertwined with my own feelings of Americanness or lack thereof. Physically I have been told by countless Cubans that I could pass for Cuban, which makes perfect sense given the similar colonial histories of Puerto Rico and the United States, but I am rarely mistaken for a Cuban person. More than any other place I have been the people I have encountered who have asked about my nationality have completely accepted that I am American and don’t look different from how an American “should” look. However people do often follow with the question “pero tienes descendencia latina?” (Do you have Latino ancestry?) to which I reply of course and explain that I am Puerto Rican but raised in the United States. Most people are pleasantly excited and quote the poet Teresa de Tio to me and if they don’t I jump in with the line about Puerto Rico and Cuba being two wings of the same bird and overall it’s often pleasant. Other exchange students have asked me if i ever get mistaken for Cuban and I don’t know truly what people think of me when I walk down the street or in passing but every now and then a Cuban person will ask me a question about something in Havana and then in my reply will realize that I’m merely a tourist. What has been even more surprising than being readily accepted as American is that people will outright ask me if I’m Puerto Rican. I’m always astounded and excited and perhaps its always a lucky guess for the other person but it’s certainly not what j expected nor an experience I’ve had anywhere else while traveling.In regards to my self conceptualizer ion while here- Being on “study abroad” in Cuba is deeply personal for me in that it feels important to me to be in the land so much like that of my ancestors that has fought and survived imperialism tirelessly and astoundingly successfully. When I walk around here and see billboards proclaiming the now idioms of Jose Martí I feel an ache for what could have been, of Puerto Rico, of the United States and Mexico and the countless lands colonized and ravaged by Spain and the United States. And I feel very private and distant from the other American students I encounter here when it comes to those feelings. Sometimes it’s like being this open wound hopelessly misplaced and unbandaged, I don’t feel Cuban, I feel hopelessly American here in a way that terrifies me, this isn’t a semester of beach and sun and a lowered drinking age for me, or of travel to a forbidden historical gem. It’s a lot of fear and disappointment and soul searching, being an American Latina in Latina America can be lonely, and more so in the structured role of an American university’s study abroad program. What does it mean when the heart cannot be decolonized?

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A Photo Resumen

Time December 21st, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

 

Flowers from the Backyard of Hemingway’s house

Leah and I smiling with the flowers in spite of the heat

Me with a puppy we found by the beach and taught how to swim

 

The Unites States Embassy on a cloudy day

A selfie from the Plaza de Armas book fair

Old Havana from one of the topless busses that runs through the city.

The IFSA students on the university steps

Mural on the wall of the Arts and Letters building

Classroom poster referencing the Cuban 5

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A Retroactive October post..

Time December 21st, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

Thank you all for bearing with me and the ups and downs of my wi-fi connection in Havana. A few of my blog posts never quite made it but I think they serve to illustrate my experience even arriving a little late. Below is a post I made in October but was not able to upload!

Hey everyone! October has been so wonderful and warm, it hardly feels like October at all. The fact that Halloween is coming up feels so entirely unreal to me- like I know that most of the states is covered in spooky decor but that couldn’t feel more far away from my reality. Sometimes it feels like time is standing still and when I get home I will still have all of fall and winter ahead of me.

Today a few friends and I went to Micayito beach to relax and scope it out. We had heard from word of mouth that it is a gay friendly beach and a lot of fun. What we found was a narrow shore against a tall rooty sandbank. It wasn’t too busy and after only walking for a short while we found a huge cluster of beach chairs, umbrellas, and chaises on a crowded and plant-less chunk of the sand bank. Between all of the people a huge rainbow flag was beating in the wind, which was a surprise since I rarely see rainbow flags here and while its association with the gay community exists in theory, in practice it is almost never used as a marker or identifier of people or spaces. Unsurprisingly the beach was mostly populated by gay men, very few children, and very few women.
We found a soft spot on the sand near and emptier stretch of the sandbank and sunned. Swimming wasn’t too great because the wind and waves were a little brutal and impossible to relax in. A few people talked to us, on was a lesbian only a year younger than us who quickly wanted to know our sexual orientations and who stuck by us most of the afternoon.
Overall it was really interesting to see the beach but I also suspect that this isn’t  the busiest time of the year to go, (a friend did say that the first  official day of summer is amazing and packed with people of all sexual orientations from all over Havana to enjoy the weather, music, and drag shows.)
I am curious to see what Halloween night will look like in Havana, our resident director has mentioned that there were costume parties when she was a student and that the Cubans in her classes were so excited to see how dressed up all of the Americans got.
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The last trip with IFSA!

Time December 4th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

 

So our last and final IFSA Butler group trip began in Santiago! We traveled to the eastern half of the island from Santiago to Baracoa with a quick stop in Guantanamo overnight.

Where did we go in Santiago?

-Jose Marti’s mausoleum

– the beautiful town square

– the Moncada barracks, where Fidel made his first attempt at the revolution

– church of the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, the patron Virgin of Cuba -Gran Piedra- the largest whole volcanic rock in the world

– San Pedro de la Roca castle and fortress

 

Guantanamo was really just a short stop on our way but the food was great and we ended up finding a reggaeton concert by sheer luck. We stayed one night leaving the next morning to head to Baracoa, on our way out of town we stopped by the roadside shoreline to hunt for shells and take photos.

Our arrival in Baracoa was in the afternoon and we found ourselves in a small beachside town full of tourists and sleepier at night than anywhere else I’ve been in Cuba. It is lush and feels like a vacation city, the colorful houses are surrounded by tall lush mountains, and El Yunque distantly looks out over the sea from an hour outside of town.

The food in Baracoa is delicious and unique from the rest of the country’s standard fare. The local specialty is a coconut milk sauce made with cilantro and tomatoes, similar to the sauce that ropa vieja is made in but with the strength of cilantro and the smoothness of coconut milk that reminded me of a milder version of one of my favorite Thai soups, the name of which is escaping me now as I write this.

Our second day in Baracoa we climbed El Yunque, the second highest peak in all of Cuba and it was just the adventure I needed. At the foot of the mountain we had to cross cuba’s third largest river (it’s hard to brag about these accomplishments when they’re not top tier in terms of height or width but they were fun and I think maybe the size ranking helps one picture what it was like).

Soaking wet we began our climb, around three hours up and two hours down through vertical mudslides and nary a rock to cling too. It was messy insanity and so so hot but absolutely fun. I can’t say that i would claim it again, mostly because I felt like I had inappropriate footwear but I’m not sure what appropriate footwear would be, I think maybe just really rugged waterproof boots with a good grip. I have this fantasy where I brought my bean boots to Cuba because time and time again I get sloshed in rain and mud and long for some shoes more cozy and durable than flip flops and sneakers.

Leaving Baracoa was a much longer saga than it could have been but not entirely frustrating or unexpected. Our plane was broken and they had to send the passengers on a bus to Santiago to take a different plane to Havana, however every bus in Baracoa was being used by tour groups so they had to send a driver from Santiago five hours away to get us. All in all it was a thirteen hour delay for a one hour flight but the airline got everyone lunch at the gorgeous seaside hotel beside the airport and we splashed around in the pool and sunbathed in our underwear (our suitcases were locked up in the airport! Sometimes you have to make do!). The hotel had a small lookout over the water with a replica of the cross that Columbus placed in the earth when he reached Baracoa and found himself in Cuba. It was a little eerie and surreal to consider- the lookout point was so lush he must have thought he had found paradise, but I closed my eyes and thought about how lucky I was to be by the ocean all things considered, saving my feelings about Columbus and replica crosses for another day.

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Downtime

Time October 26th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

 

A note to future IFSA butler we Havana students-

What you should know-

Sometimes your laptop won’t connect to the Internet, it simply won’t. And your phone will log you out and your spotify won’t connect and then will suspend your offline playlists and you will feel exactly like the woman in the center on your ETECSA wifi card, the most peaceful when not connected at all. Because soon it’s easier to not connect at all then to develop the patience and maturity required to ration your internet in a rational and sustainable way without wanting to pull your hair out.

But you will draft emails offline in your downtime and will journal and think about writing letters but remember that they won’t arrive to the U.S. Even if you did find the stamps and try to send them, and you will learn to have downtime! Without the Internet and tumblr and endless scrolling! Because that’s what it is really, downtime, not free time, you’ll have homework you could be doing, dense reading you should be chipping around the edges of, but it’s not enough time to do too much of anything either! Just a rest for a moment before the next thing and you’re off!

 

 

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El Papa

Time October 7th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

El Papa

So I saw the pope in Cuba! After I decided to study abroad in the fall of this year I realized I would be missing the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia and I was super bummed out but also slightly relieved that I wouldn’t have to spend a day in the crowd that I was sure would suck all of the air out of the city. However I learned that he would be coming to Cuba while I was here and it seemed like kismet and I again readied myself to go. I’m not a fan of huge crowds but it did seem like a little adventure to trek out in the dark of early morning to see this enormous cultural and political icon speak and give mass. It was a little bit how I imagine it must be to line up for stores after thanksgiving to catch the early morning Black Friday sales, (could I have made an analogy any more American than that? I don’t think so), but later and less crowded. We left the house around five am to begin our little trek out to the Plaza de la Revolución. The sky was still dark but the heat hadn’t broken yet so it was sweltering hot regardless. A few of the main roads were closed in anticipation and I expected to encounter our path full of other people headed the same way but our walk was essentially empty, and quieter than any nigh walk in Havana, though I’m rarely up before 8, so perhaps every morning is that wet and soft and silent. Read More »

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Greetings from Havana!

Time September 24th, 2015 in College Study Abroad, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

So far this month has been an amazing whirlwind. Classes have begun at the University of Havana, we took a weekend IFSA trip to Viñales and I am starting to hit my stride in a new city. Havana is beautiful, warm and welcoming, and compared to every other major city I have lived in, overwhelmingly safe. We are living in a hip area a few blocks away from the university in various casas particulares which are bed and breakfasts where dinner is included and in our case laundry as well. My host parents, Yolanda and Jose are incredibly kind and invested in helping me adjust as well as getting to know me. Yolanda’s cooking is a favorite among all of the IFSA students and I feel so lucky to get to eat it every day. So far my exploration of the city has not reached the lgbtq scene but I’m wading in but by bit. Havana is a socially progressive city in regards to sexuality but as far as visibility goes, gay men are everywhere and lesbians appear non existent. People are vocally very accepting however. Frequently people speak out in support of gay people in casual conversation which I find interesting. I know that CENESEX has done a great deal of work to include all sexualities in their national campaigns for families as well as in service of lgbtq-specific awareness and conversation. I’m keeping my eye out, I have yet to explore all of the malecon, an enormous seawall that is dotted with families, couples, and people of all ages from morning until madrugada, and I have heard that certain cross streets are known as congregations spots for the queer community of Havana.

I’m taking a 400 level sociology of gender class at the university that is absolutely amazing so far. The professor gave us this wild intro during the first class that was a rush through the history of gender studies and its relevance in Havana and I am itching to go to class tomorrow just to hear her speak some more.

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Nice to meet you!

Time August 26th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hey everyone! My name is Cordelia Perez and I will be one of the IFSA butler bloggers this semester! I am from Southern California, I go to school in Philadelphia and I look forward to adding Havana to the list of places I call home. While here I will be furthering my humanities studies at the Universidad de la Habana. I have yet to select my classes but I am hoping to explore anthropology, sociology, and art history from a non-western perspective.
I love swimming and hiking and eating everything– I look forward to sharing my experiences and photos on this blog, hopefully these posts will do my new experiences and knowledge justice and be at least a little bit entertaining!
Thanks so much for following!
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