Our program took a trip outside of Havana to visit a place called Viñales. Saturday, our first day there, we went to an overlook-type place on a mountain with incredible views of the valley and the really unique looking hills called mogotes. Afterwards we went to the cueva del indio which was cool because there’s a river in the cave and they give tours by boat. I sat in the bow of the boat and were able to lay back and get a really incredible view of the roof of the cave. Next we visited a finca del tabaco. We had to walk through the country about 10 minutes from the road to get to the finca, which looked like a straw house. Inside it’s really really dark because that’s where they dry the tabaco. Our two guides explained their process for making cigars and it was really cool because they were very clear about what distinguishes their cigars from the ones that you buy in a shop. The cigars at the finca don’t contain any nicotine because they remove the vein from the tabaco leaves where all of the nicotine is concentrated. Safe to say I was sold. I smoked my first cigar Che-style, using Cuban honey around the mouthpiece. Sunday we were lucky enough to convince our program director to let us take a horseback tour of the valley. This was awesome, easily my favorite part of the whole weekend. The tour included a stop at a finca del cafe where we got a crash course in the growth/production of Cuban coffee.
The following Monday, we had our first official week of classes. I had some pretty cool moments, my favorite by far was debating the Platt Amendment with my Cuban History III class. Our task was to come to class prepared with an explanation of how we would have voted if we were members of the Cuban delegation in 1901. We were instructed to ignore all of our knowledge of what occurred post-1901. It was just so surreal sitting there listening to everyone’s diverse opinions. After that class, I spent a few hours desperately trying to get my textbooks from the almacen de la facultad. Facultads are basically the academic departments and the almacen is in theory where students go with your class list to get the required books. But this is Cuba after all, and there is only one worker at this almacen and he’s about 250 years old. For some of my courses in other facultads the process was even more complicated. Sounds simple right? Getting textbooks for class? But without hand-me-downs from friends, a university bookstore, Amazon, or libraries where you can actually check books out, this has been a headache. The only thing worse than trying to get all the books I need is seeing the giant pile on my desk and knowing I need to read all of them.
On the other hand, I am really excited about the homework for one of my classes. Salsa class! One of the houses for American students here offers salsa lessons 3 times a week and it has been a blast! I’ve learned a lot already (don’t know if my partner would agree so quickly) and the music is really fun. One of our favorite salsa songs that the teacher plays is called “Pasaporte” (Passport) so we always go hard for that.
Overall things here feel just like another back to school routine. A mild little cold is going around our house, even though the weather outside is still really hot and tropical. The best part so far might be feeling more and more at home here everyday!