My second trip to Cuba took place on October 2019 with a few family members. I was personally excited about this trip to see Cuba with my mother and aunt. They left Cuba as young girls and it was the first time visiting with some of their children.
As soon as you step out of the Havana airport, you’re surrounded by old cars functioning as privately owned taxis. Our mothers’ childhood friend, Syliva met us at the airport and the entire ride from the airport the three were giggling like little school girls. It was sweet to see that neither time nor distance diminished their friendship.
I highly recommend staying at a Casa Particular: locals are registered with the government to rent rooms or entire house to travelers. We were all able to stay in the same location and as soon as we arrived, the host had prepared a feast for us. You can use Airbnb to reserve ahead of time.
After freshening up and with our tummies full, we ventured out for some sight-seeing. We visited El Malecon, the seawall in Havana and then we went up to where El Cristo de la Habana is for views of the city. The view from there is quite picturesque. The statue was carved by a woman, Jilma Madera, she moved to Italy to carve it in 1957. The statue was shipped to Cuba and inaugurated in December 24, 1958, just less than two weeks before Fidel’s revolution. Fun fact: the sculpture has been struck by lightening 3 times! We then went over to El Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro that was built to protect the Havana port. We ended the evening at Sylvia’s house were we met her husband and had some delicious fruit salad.
The next day was Sunday, and when your parents, aunt, uncle and grandmother are pastors, you go to churches. Yes, churches, plural. We all visited the Primera Iglesia Pentecostal de Cuba, the first church that my grandmother founded. It was very small, but the people were beautiful and happy. It was such a great experience to hear my mother share the story as she remembers it of how her mother was saved and passionate to take the lead in serving Christ.
We then went to another Primera Iglesia Pentecostal de Cuba were my grandmother was a pastor for a bit. This church was much larger and full of life! My aunt and uncle spoke and we were able to witness a baptism service. Click here to watch my brother’s video of the church visits.
The folks headed out to church number three, and the rest of us ventured off to go sightseeing since it was a beautiful day! We explored the Plaza de las Armas and we later encountered a local who showed us the building he lived in. The building was over 100 years old and our curiosity compelled us to explore it. The building was once gorgeous, but today, had this building existed in the the US it would’ve been restored to its luxurious state or demolished. But being in Cuba, it was disheartening to see the cracked stairs, the peeled paint and the destroyed elevator. It was hard to believe that people lived in this building. In the few Cuban homes I have been in, I have found that while the outside may be crumbling, the inside of the homes can be quite nice and updated.
The next day, we strolled around La Habana Vieja. This where you will see the most cars on display and the Capitolio. I noticed that there was less activity than there was two years ago when I first visited Cuba. I also remembered the Capitol building was under construction, so it was nice to see it finally completed. We had lunch before heading out to see where our mothers grew up. We found the elementary school they attended. They generously allowed us to enter and walk through the building. There were two open courtyards inside the building and while the building itself seemed well kept, that was really all there was to it.
We drove around to search for the houses where our mothers grew up. You can see much more of that journey in my brother’s video documentary. It was disheartening to see the homes dilapidated and almost unrecognizable. Below is a picture of the church of our mothers’ friend. I have to take a moment to share that as we drove towards the church, the street was overflowing with debris. Americans tend to be enamored with the nostalgic views of old Cuban buildings and cars. While they are amazing to look it, it’s evidence of a broken system. During this trip, I was able to see more of how the people of Cuba live. Many are without work because resources are scarce. We had a hard time finding bottled water and gas for the van. Grocery stores have very limited stock and variety. I thought about how wise my grandfather was to uproot his family from his beloved country when he saw the tidal wave of change coming.
The next day, we visited Finca La Vigia, Ernest Hemmingway’s house, built in 1886 and purchase by Hemingway in 1940. We then went to see a monument that our great grandfather took part in building. We later had lunch at Havana Blues, a Cuban paladar located in a mansion in Vedado that recreates the environment of the Cuban movie. Actors often can be found at the restaurant, unfortunately, we were not familiar with the Cuban actors. Afterwards, we visited a mall where the employees were young and wore military uniforms. The mall is mostly for tourists, our driver shared that most Cubans only enter to look or to buy a bite to eat.
We then went to visit Mora. I first met Mora when we visited in 2017, when Fernando proudly showed us around Habana vieja and told us countless stories. We visited them during the book fair where they showcased their writings. Fernando had passed away since our last visit. She spoke so lovingly of Fernando and his memory. I noticed the board on the fridge and had to take a photo of Fernando’s writing: “Mora is the most beautiful thing one could have.” I hope to have a love like that one day… I think and pray for her often.
The next day we started the 10 hour road trip to Holguin. The van was packed with people, luggage and an extra container of gas since there was a nation-wide gas shortage. The ride was tight, ridden with potholes but full of beautiful countrysides, horse & buggies.
Our casa particular host in Holguin was phenomenal. He provided a delicious breakfast each morning with fresh fruit juices, not to mention had the hook up on wifi cards! During our stay in Holguin, several pastors were able to visit to pick up some of the items we brought to donate and our parents were able to visit a local teen challenge. We ventures out to the beach and scored some fresh fruit along the way.
After our stay in Holguin, we headed to Santiago by taxi. The country side was lush and green the entire way.
The casa particular in Santiago was phenomenal; it had plenty of rooms for all of us and a lovely rooftop garden. After we settled in, we ventured out on foot to the city for dinner and exploring.
The next day, after breakfast, we explored the historic city. The cathedral, the museum and the performance hall where my great grandfather used to play piano. There was also street art by the water.
While this was the final leg of the trip for me, our parents continued to Guantanamo to meet with a pastor who was starting to build a church. This was around the time they started their non-profit, Ministerio Mision Posible to help pastors and churches outside of the United States with resources they cannot get in their home countries. Be sure to visit their page to see the most recent update on the church’s construction project. Contributions are always welcomed.
This trip was special for so many reasons. I truly enjoy traveling with my parents and other family members. Trips like these provide dedicated time with family that would not have been experienced otherwise. The moments shared are priceless as life is always shorter than expected… this entry is dedicated to my uncle, Pastor Edward Martinez. May we always make an extra effort to make trips like these happen…