Atenas de Cuba People-to-People Program
|Dispatch 2 - Vinales
|In the end we got back to where we started but it
was a full day of activity in between: schools, tourist hotels, private botanical garden,
cave, market, socialist art and culture/folklore show.
School: My strongest impression was that is was a religious school; clean, orderly, well dressed uniformed students, excellent discipline and the dominate wall graphics were the icons of the "religion." Education is mandatory for twelve years. In the upper grades the are multiple tracks, some academic and some vocational. The students at the grade 1-6 school that we visited were quiet, curious, neat, clean, relaxed and smiling. The books we saw being used covered challenging material for the respective grade levels. Cubas literacy rate is said to be 97%. Though there was very little politics in our program and discussion at the school, the school administrator felt that the U.S. economic embargo is having a negative affect on their ability to provide a better quality of education. As our first in depth look at one of the priorities of the revolution it was impressive. This was the first of a half dozen schools in the province where we would leave note books, calculators, pens and pencils, paper and other school supplies.
Hotel: This was a capital and energy intensive hotel for the use of dollar spending tourists. The PR director for the hotel explained that they offered an "eco-tourism walk that visited near-by houses and farms." But one wouldnt want reality tourism to go too far, after the walk the clients retreat to what is a fantasy for most Cubans: air-conditioned rooms, manicured lawns, swimming pool and more meat at every meal that the Cubans see on their ration card for a week.
Cave: The Cordillera de Guaniguanico (mountains) are largely limestone and filled with caves. The Indio Caves which we visited are unique because after walking a few hundred meters into the cave you come to a subterranean river. There you board a motor boat, motor up river a bit and then back down river until you motor right out of the cave. Oh, and into a market of curio sellers. Once on the boat it was hard to hear the explanations over the sound of the motor and the boat never lingered so it was more like a tourist trap than an geological tour.
Market: After the cave it was past time for lunch. This was a bit of an education in Cubas two currency system. At the caves there was a restaurant that took only U.S. dollars. For four dollars you could get a meal of rice and chicken. In town there are restaurant that take only Cuban pesos. For about a tenth as much you could get a meal of rice and chicken, with the added advantage of being able to watch the street life: students on their way, mothers and baby out on errands, older men bicycling to appointments and couple relaxing together in the town square.
Culture/Folklore: For the evening we return to the town for a performance of music, dance and culture. The were several cycles of Afro-Cuban drumming and dance, a guitar and singing solo of Spanish origins, and fashion show by local teenagers. Then everyone joined in the dance. Lots of good cheer (and local rum).
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