Photo Set

When I think back on this experience later in life, what I’m going to
remember most are the places that I walked through. In La Habana
walking down the street San Miguel seeing kids playing baseball with a
stick and a ball of duct tape that had a couple of rocks In center to
give a more realistic weight. The ball goes soaring and lands on the
stoop, where three women are standing in full Santeria regalia dancing
to the beat of rhythmic drumming blasting out of their home. In
passing you could look in the windows of homes on the bottom floor of
the apartment buildings and see people, watching baseball on the TV
(if they were fortunate enough to have one) glowed to the screen.
You’d see families having dinner, or groups of men playing dominos.

I remember walking along the Malecon and seeing the fisherman tossing
their lines in the water hoping from something to bite. At around 6,
the sun would be setting and it would follow behind the apartment
buildings that bordered the western outskirts of town. Havana would
glow, the ocean would splash against the breakwater and the off spray
would glisten, It was no longer Havana, but more like El Dorado.

Walking through the farm lands of Viñales, the epic green that
radiated off of the tobacco yields told me that this land was pure.
The earth looked as if you could drop a seed in the ground and expect
to create new life effortlessly. The soil was red as if stained with
blood, but it was everywhere, and the only thing that was actually
stained was your clothing after the hike. The air was thick with the
aroma of drying tobacco pouring out of the secaredos. It was as if you
were always under the influence of the hazy effects of smoking an
entire cigar in one sitting. Standing under the magotes, the mountains
that surround the Viñales valley you see the campesinos working their
land, you become nostalgic for a simpler life.

When Christopher Columbus first stepped foot on Cuba he said, “esta es
la tierra mas hermosa que ojos humanos vieron” (this is the most
beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen). Well I’ve seen this
land and I’ve walked it, and I know that Cuba is one of the most
beautiful places that I’ve ever seen. —Alex Bothelo


Andria Budbill and Emily King


Emily King


Cuba libre por dios; I had never seen streets like those. People,
trash, cars, bicycle taxis and a crazy sweet chaos that somehow
avoided crashing into itself. Our days in Cuba were filled with class
discussions on communism, culture, literature and tourism. After a
café cubano and a fried egg we left our rented rooms and set off into
the labyrinth of Cuban streets to live and practice what we had
learned about in lecture. Some days we spent on the beach chatting
with locals over fresh coconut juice and sunshine and other days we
wandered through museums, taking photos and interviewing the guides.
We explored caves and hiked through the red dirt in tobacco fields and
enjoyed fresh cigars and mango juice in the afternoon. Every day was a
new adventure, every day we made new friends and met new challenges;
some days it was the language and the extremely strong Cuban accent,
other times it was a culture shock as we found ourselves being dragged
into a Santeria gathering and watching locals beat drums and chant in
lost languages. We learned how to salsa to the Cuban beat and
discovered how to move our hips to songs we never knew. The revolution
became our reality and as the communist propaganda became as common as
road signs, we began to really understand Cuba’s intense and complex
history. Cubans told us stories of their war, and Che Guevarra became
a hero to relate too. Two months passed much too quickly, but we left
with new passions, understanding, and bonds made for a lifetime.


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Never in a million years did I think I would say, “I just spent my
last semester of college studying abroad in Cuba.” Cuba - an island
nation where Columbus landed, sugar enslaved thousands, revolution
freed millions, and a country where the United States has barely any
relations. I was able to travel with eleven other students and four
rotating faculty to a place so foreign, exotic, and only 90 miles away
from my own country. After living in Cuba for two months speaking the
language and experiencing the culture, I have grown into a much more
mature and capable individual. By stepping out of my comfort zone and
gaining confidence with the language, I was more able to combat
culture shock and bond with the families we stayed with. I will never
forget my 23rd birthday in Viñales where my family threw me a surprise
birthday party with cake and a game of dominoes or the day we got up
at 4:30 am to wait in Havana’s Revolutionary Plaza for 9:00 am mass
with the Pope. As a social science student, studying in Cuba was also
an incredible opportunity to experience a transitioning communist
society that is becoming much more relaxed and reliant on tourism. I
can only hope that someday soon the United States will lift the
embargo on Cuba, not only for the opportunity to travel, but also to
create some sort of relationship with our neighbors. —Ellie Sica


Cuba has not only given me a taste of Caribbean culture, it has given me rich experiences in friendships overcoming language barriers and breaking my own social norms. I feel like in the last two months I have grown exponentially having to adjust to a different system of living and learning in an outside and ever-changing environment. Some mornings I would wake up to pigs wailing until it’s death, hours later realizing our dinner was without a doubt fresh. Streets were sizzling hot, pizza was less than fifty cents, taxi drivers and local men constantly whistled at foreign women; I couldn’t disguise myself, no matter how tan I got. I honestly thought living in such close proximity to other students and professors (sometimes sleeping in the same room) would get tiresome easily. But it actually brought us closer. One professor mentioned how odd our group was for wanting to hang out with everyone at the same time, all the time. The professors also delivered very knowledgeable lectures that made each class come to life. We were living what we were studying. Not every student (actually, very rarely) has the chance to jump on the magic school bus and experience firsthand what the textbooks tell you. We did.

It was hard adjusting to the surroundings, especially the language, but understanding and being able to live in another country with such strong political views and leaders’ influence has given me the chance to assess the ways of America’s working government and to see Cuba as a whole, but also in parts of providences, cities, resident homes, and of the working individual; it made the adjustments that much more worth while. I have developed a sense of place, patience, and greater sense for adventure. These characteristics allow me the opportunity to accept challenges, leading in both successful and unsuccessful turns. I have learned a lot in our courses of study but the knowledge I have gained by stepping out of my comfort zone and walking into a new and unique world is invaluable. I have overcome many obstacles that many have yet to experience. Through all the cat-calls, Uncle Ron, sweet smells of hefty cigar smoke, old people sitting on their doorsteps, the long, unforgettable stares from the sun, I loved it. I hated it at some point. I wonder about it all the time. Oh, Cuba. Pura vida. —Gloria Lumba

As a Hemingway scholar, I’ve long wanted to visit Cuba. While old cars, politics, and culture were undoubtedly part of the draw, the chance to see the country Hemingway called home for the last two decades of his life made it even more of a destination for me.
 Hemingway was initially drawn to Cuba by marlin, making the 90-mile crossing from his home in Key West, Florida on a big-game fishing boat for the first time in 1932. It was a trip he’d make often in the next decade, especially after purchasing his own 38’ boat, Pilar, in 1934. When Key West was transformed from a depressed fishing village to a glitzy tourist destination by a Depression Era stimulus program—with Hemingway’s house on the list of must-see sights—he sought escape more permanently in Cuba in 1939. Although he never renounced his American citizenship, Hemingway would spend most of the last 20 years of his life based out of the Finca Vigia, a lavish house near Havana he bought in 1939. He wrote some of his most famous books there; hosted movie stars and famous authors; set big-game fishing records; and started an annual fishing contest (now in its 62th installment), awarding Fidel Castro the grand prize in person in 1960. Cuba become so deeply intertwined with Hemingway’s life and identity that when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, he referred to himself as a Cubano Sato—or a “garden variety” Cuban. In short, it is impossible to understand Hemingway without attending to his relationship to Cuba.
La Terraza, Cojimar bar/restaurant featured in Old Man and Sea—Serena and Andria get some icecream.
To explore this relationship, the class read three of Hemingway’s longer works set in or near Cuba before leaving Juneau—To Have and Have Not, Old Man and the Sea, and Islands in the Stream. But reading the books only gives us part of the story. To be sure, it is nearly impossible to read Hemingway’s work without an awareness of his public persona, so we also tracked an emergent celebrity culture along with our reading. I developed the argument that, not unlike stars of the Hollywood studio system of the era, Hemingway’s stock rose partly as a function of an overt effort to cultivate this fame and partly as a function of his talent and work. In addition to enjoying his books, then, students were asked to track the ways Hemingway’s fame—and all the baggage associated with it—changed not only the way he wrote, but also how we read him. As critics often observe, Hemingway himself is, in many ways, the author’s best character. So we read this character alongside his fictional characters, turning to images, biographies, and critical essays to engage this history.
 We were then given the rare opportunity to track Hemingway’s writerly and celebrity identities onto the streets of Havana—where consumer culture and celebrity identity are explicitly forbidden, but the Hemingway iconography is alive and well. Exploring Hemingway’s Cuban haunts, we found that the bars, hotels, and hangouts are now major tourist destinations themselves, complete with kitchsy bronze statues memorializing his time there and droves of photo-snapping Europeans. We also got to visit the Finca Vigia, the stunning house Fidel Castro turned into a museum shortly after the author’s death in 1961. The house itself remains largely untouched since then (think bottles of liquor on the table, trophy animals on the wall). Our visit to Finca was made even more remarkable by our tour guides. Through a connection made through the Hemignway society, I was able to arrange a meeting with two surviving members of a baseball team Hemingway coordinated for his son in 1940. After Hemingway bought equipment and uniforms, this group of 15 ten year olds from the small town of San Fransisco de Paulo became now as Gigi’s Allstars—or Las Estrallas de Gigi—and spent lots of time on the grounds with Hemingway and his boys playing Cuba’s national game. Our tour guides, Oscar Villafreal and Oscar Blas, both now in their 80s, regaled us with nearly three hours of stories about Hemingway and what it was like to hang out around his house in the 1940s and 50s. We also met with leading Cuban Hemingway scholars; visited Cojimar, the village upon which Old Man and the Sea is based; spent a day on the beaches where the action of the post-humous book Islands in the Stream is set; and took in a baseball game at Estadio Latino Americano in Hemingway style.
More than the sights themselves, however, I was impressed with how engaged all 12 students were with the material. While I’d planned daily hour-long discussions and lectures, most of our class sessions ran to nearly two hours. While many of the the students initially disliked Hemingway’s persona and style, by the end of our three weeks they each had formulated a sophisticated paper topic and were asking first-rate questions about the author’s life and work. Turns out there is indeed something magical about studying Hemingway in situ.
—Prof. Kevin Maier

"Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.
-Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea"