My husband and I travelled to China in 1999 before China was open to American tourists. Just as is now with Cuba, we had to be accompanied by a government guide and we had to adhere to previously established routes and routines with no independent travel. We will travel again with People to People Ambassador Program, an attempt begun by President Eisenhower to establish relationships with Communist countries. In China we were with 15 other couples, one partner of each group was a health care professional. The professional was required to attend meetings with our Chinese counterparts. We exchanged information about autistic children's education and generally we all learned from each other. Our spouses went on tourist destinations --I was envious of some of their trips and one day I played Hookey and went along on the spouses' trip. There was some free time to enjoy higher quality meals than the group provided and the health care professionals also did much sightseeing along the way. It was a memorable trip and a rewarding experience.
So I am looking forward to a bit of the same, although this group will have only 20 participants and will have no specific agenda. Except of course for Cuba to show us Americans ( by the way, they insist on calling us the United States, saying they are Americans, which of course is true.)the best of what their Communist country provides its citizens. We will be presented with a dance program, a music program and we will visit both a school and a tobacco plantation before arriving in Havana.
Anthony Bourdain had a culinary visit to Cuba this past year which we all watched on television. I began to worry I will not be able to eat much of the food. We will not eat at high end restaurants and at the family-run establishments just about everything is made with some part of the pig. On the show, we saw how they boil the pig's head and use the broth to simmer vegetables. Yum for some, but not for me. So I will bring tinfoil packed servings of tuna and salmon, order rice and make my own dinner whenever grilled chicken is not on the menu!! I also have lots of peanut butter crackers and Kind bars, even a can of sardines and one of herring!!! I am anxious, but I will not starve!
Lest you think I am really being shallow, I will share one more bit of preparation for this trip. We have been asked to bring gifts for the children and adolescents who will be performing for us. We are asked to bring toiletries and school supplies. I mentioned this fact to my neighbors in my yoga class. One woman exclaimed, "I am a retired teacher. I have lots of school supplies." Another woman said she donates to homeless people all the time and she has toiletries to share. Each woman brought me a box of gifts which are now stuffed into my suitcases. The larger one weighs exactly 44 pounds which is the limit for taking into Cuba. I hope they don't count my overly crowded carry-on!!!!