Cuba: A Look Back

Spanish Club in Cuba

Upper left-to-right: Luke Pietsch, Kupono Anuenue, Ronan Kau, Ethan White, Devon Mann, Meg Waage, Heidi Bruce. Lower left-to-right: Ben Pollard, Axel Greening, Quinn Kissel / Photographer: Eliseo Preval

Orcas Island High School is known for its annual student trip to Japan. This year, Heidi Bruce, one of the Spanish teachers at OHS, added another trip to the high school repertoire. In April, after months of fundraising, a group of nine high school students embarked on the trip of a lifetime to Havana, Cuba.

Over the next seven days, students invested themselves in learning about Cuban lifestyle and embracing their culture, economy, and food. By tour bus and guide, the students were taken to their respective “Casas Particulares,” rooms rented out in homes in Havana. The host families acted as caregivers and guides, providing breakfast and pleasant company.
In Cuba, food reflects the country. While dining, the students’ dinners featured a variety of meats, most commonly chicken, plantains (a staple of Cuban food), ice cream and coffee. Recently, Cuba’s sugar intake has increased. Many of the students’ meals were increasingly sweet, including the cordon bleu, a thick frosted cake drizzled with green syrup. Cuba has turned to sugar for seasoning because they lack the spices and ingredients to flavor food.

The students’ first days in Cuba captivated each student in a different way. On the first day, their guide took them to Old Havana, a region that is the most densely populated and culturally important. This is where the Buena Vista Social Club played in smoky clubs, Hemingway sipped daiquiris, and the Spanish influence is most tangible. On corners of Victorian mansions, coconuts and churros were sold, which are recent additions to the previously tourist-free country. Spanish facades from the Museum of the Revolution was the student’s first dip into recent Cuban history in the 18th century. The museum represents a time that still resonates with a majority of Cubans.

The Cuban revolution had an influence on other major aspects of Cuba, like agriculture. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost all major imports, causing Cuba to be self-sustaining. As such, Cuba’s agriculture changed.

After the “special period” ended, imports resumed from Europe and China. The shift brought many things: newer cars, advanced technology, and in conjunction with tourism, the introduction of the private sector. This introduced products and waste that the public wasn’t ready to deal with. As the students traveled the streets, they commented on the standing water, the heaps of trash, and occasional carcasses. This reflected poorly on the Cuban government and their lack of effort to provide the necessary education and materials to deal with the subject. For the students, it presented a fun game of how long they could hold their breath.

After returning from Cuba, the students held a dinner in the high school cafeteria serving authentic Cuban food, sharing pictures and experiences from their trip. When asked about their favorite part of the trip, students listed the beautiful old American cars, friendly locals, vibrant culture, and delicious food. The students were grateful for their chance to go on a trip presented for more cultural and political understanding between America and Cuba, especially in such politically tumultuous times. Currently the trip has not been confirmed to happened again next year.

“The trip to Cuba taught me about community,” said Meg Waage. “You can’t really understand Cuba without visiting.”