A Week in Havana with Eastern University - Part 1
February 25- March 4, 2017
Sherry Kull – traveling with Linda Beck, Julia Stewart, June Phillips, Susan Zacharkiw, Krysta Zacharkiw, Dawn Spaar, Frieda Brinkmann, Ingrid Cooper, Molly Rozbeh, Stephen & Christine Kim
Saturday, February 25th
“Who would have thought I’d ever be in Cuba?”
As I de-boarded the plane in Jose Marti Airport in Havana, this was truly one of the pinch-yourself moments in life. I was traveling with eleven other intrepid souls, about half from Eastern University, who wanted to experience this small island nation before it is forever transformed by tourism.
First impressions – delicious warmth, swaying palm trees, classic old cars. I started taking car photos at the airport when our guide said to us, “You’ll soon grow tired of that.” Giselle was right. Cuba doesn’t have a handful of classic cars—they have hundreds of them. They mix in seamlessly with the newer cars on the road. Not only old Chevys, Fords, Oldsmobiles, and Cadillacs, there are also plenty of old Ladas and Moksvitches from the Soviet era. All are routinely cannibalized to keep them going as long as possible—sixty years and beyond!
As our bus tooled along the 30-minute drive from the airport to our resting places in Havana, I thought that, except for the Caribbean colors and tropical plants, this reminded me so much of Eastern Europe, which I had visited during its communist days.
"Traveling in Cuba was truly one of the pinch-yourself moments in life"
The poverty was evident, and there was no doubt this was a third world country. If it looks like this in the outskirts of Havana, what must the outlying regions be like? Our guides told us more about the difficulties of life in the Cuban hinterlands as the week went on.
After a brief orientation session, we headed off to a nice restaurant for our welcome dinner. We knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore when dinner was at 9:00pm! It was quite a feast, as were all the meals we had. Multiple appetizers of meat, cheese, and fried things and main dishes served family style – chicken, pork, rice & beans, potatoes, and a little salad. All was washed down with mojitos, the obligatory drink of Cuba.
Finally, we returned to our homes. The twelve of us were staying in five casas particulares (private homes; what we call B&Bs), and although we did this to save money over hotels, to a person we were glad to have had this experience in Cuban homes. Somewhere around 11, we collapsed into our beds and slept the dreamless sleep of weary and well-sated travelers.
Sunday, February 26th, 4:00 a.m.
Yep, 4:00 a.m. This isn’t jet lag; Cuba’s in the same time zone as we are. This is roosters. Lots of them! Even in the heart of the city, many keep their own chickens. My host did not, but his neighbors certainly did, and Cuban roosters do not know how to tell time. They start crowing around 4, long before sunrise, and keep it up till 6:30 or so. Thank goodness I brought ear plugs.
Today we headed out of the city to Las Terrazas, a beautiful nature preserve and rural community with a UNESCO world heritage designation. It’s hard to imagine that Cuba’s forested lands dropped from 90% of the island to only 14% by the time the government stepped in to stop the clearing in 1968. This lush tropical gem was one of the deforested areas. They built terraces (hence the name) and planted a variety of trees. You would never guess now how barren it had become. The lakes, rivers, waterfalls, hillsides, and breezes are refreshing to the soul. A small community lives here in their own little Shangri-La, and our walking tour included visits inside the homes of two local artists.
We ate lunch in the aptly named Buena Vista Café, situated on top of one of the Sierra del Rosario mountains. The view extended beyond the mountains all the way to the sea. This place isn’t all sugar and spice, however. We saw the site of a former coffee plantation and the ruins of the tiny living quarters of the workers. The colonial Spanish overlords enslaved both Haitians and Cubans to pick the beans, and they lived a sadly precarious existence.
In the afternoon, we divided in two groups with the more adventuresome completing the zipline course through the forest, while the rest of us (including me) went over to the river to swim.
Stay Tuned for Sherry's Next Blog --> Meanwhile, back in Havana, the Attack!
Sherry Kull, MDiv, PhD, is the Senior Instructional Designer for Chalk & Table. Sherry also serves on the university's Faculty Development Committee.Prior to joining Eastern in 2009, Sherry worked for many years at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA. She designed their non-traditional, cohort-based MDiv program that was delivered in a blended format. She also led Biblical into its first fully online course offerings.Sherry’s first position at Eastern was in the School of Management Studies, with one of her duties being to train SMS’s adjuncts how to teach blended or online courses. This was the genesis of the training that has been expanded university-wide and now includes implementation of Quality Matters throughout Eastern. Sherry continues to practice and sharpen her online skills with more than ten years’ experience teaching fully online courses.Outside of Eastern, Sherry is part-owner of K9JYM, a dog-training facility in Colmar, PA. The JYM provides training classes in nearly all dog sports and hosts competitions of various sorts on the weekends. Sherry works on the management end of the business, and enjoys training with her Australian Shepherd mix Rudy in the sport of canine agility.