Greetings from Chango!

This crazy group of gringos took Cuba’s capital city in stride as we entered the third to last week of our travels. Our second week in Havana carried a similar structure to the first, with Spanish classes at University of Havana in the mornings from 9AM to 12:30PM and teaching English to Cuban students at a church in the afternoons from 4-6PM. We spent Monday afternoon at the Jose Martí museum inside the monument at Plaza de la Revolucion. Chango delved into the history of his personal life and ventures across the world as this national war hero was almost always on the lam
thanks to his knack for starting rebellions. Shelly, our resident “cawfee”-accented Long-Islander, officially knew she was meant to be Cuban when we found out that Martí lived in Long Island, New York for nine years during his travels to the US. Kevin and Wylie could also relate to the five feet of fury named Martí with their very own mustaches thanks to the atrocity that is November as every room in the museum had pictures of him featuring his fantastic facial hair. Needless to say, learning about Martí’s always a party. Tuesday afternoon featured another excursion, this time with our English students, to the John Lennon park and a dinky, dimly lit little bar called The Yellow Submarine where they played not one Beatles’ song despite having lyrics painted all over the walls. I had to explain two very American phenomenons to the students with us on the walk there: a) the concept of being a vegetarian and to their horror, what veganism entailed, and b) the fact that this is a dry trip and no, I did not want a cerveza. We resorted to speaking in a language that we could all understand when AC/DC and Kool + The Gang came on in the bar: the language of boogie. Michelle and I along with two of the students with us did the electric slide, Charlie Brown, and monkey to the amusement and embarassment of everyone in the bar before we all headed back for dinner. After a few complications with getting to Spanish class in Havana Vieja that resulted in Taylor, Liza, Miriam, and I getting lost while the rest of the classes visited supermarkets and ballets, Wednesday turned into an adventure all the way through. The four of us poked around an art gallery featuring an Austin Powers style circle bed and a very nice young man who bought us fruit. Afterwards we went to a Japanese food place that had – wait for it – sushi and crepes! Caden had researched one of the forts at the end of the Malécon and organized for us all to visit it later in the evening after teaching English. Since I apparently was still on my getting lost streak, Miriam, Adrian, and I found ourselves wandering around Havana Vieja with minutes to spare before our designated meeting time and unable to remember what the name of the fort was. We were about to call it a night and head home when the stars aligned and we got directions from a trio of Cuban vendors on the Malécon right as a machina, (think Cuban taxi) rolled up ready to take us. The three of us made it just in time to catch up with the rest of the group and hear Caden’s tour of the fort, which was frankly the driving force behind getting us all to go. Listening to this kid talk about history in a fort is like walking around a candy shop with a really well educated four year old redhead jacked up on Mountain Dew. We watched under the light of a hundred smartphones nestled into a crowd as the cannon was lit after an elaborate procession of Cubans dressed as Spanish soldiers carried the fire from deep within the fort to the walls where we were gathered. Jack and I were lucky enough to have a better view than most of what was happening as we climbed up one of the turrets onto a platform to watch. The usual antics of our jack-and-rally tagteam always come in handy in these situations. Chango wrapped up the week with Thursday and Friday’s English exchanges being a big ol’ fiesta as only Cubans can instigate. These were complete with bountiful amounts of sugar and other homemade concoctions for food and an impromptu dance class when we told the Cubans we liked salsa. Friday’s fiesta also featured Miriam and Adrian’s musical talents as they played American songs for the class between bouts of two of the guitar-playing Cuban students serenading us with “Bailando” and “Guantanamera.” All of us were sad to say goodbye to our new friends and are incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to form connections with people trying to learn English the same as we’ve had to learn Spanish. These were complete with awkward silences, quick side conversations in our native tongue, and confusing games of charades. After English on Friday, we had a salsa class organized thanks to Miriam’s determination despite having had to make calls to about five different teachers over the course of the week. Later that evening we ventured to the infamous Fabrica de Arte for one last night on the town. Fabrica de Arte, or F.A.C., is renowned by Havana locals as the place to be when the sun goes down, complete with three floors of “edgy” modern art, a tapas restaurant, and two areas for gettin’ groovy when the bands and DJs show up. It was a fitting sendoff for our last night in Havana, considering we ran into several students we’d had classes with at the University as well as people from our English exchange, along with Miriam and I’s house brother and his friends showing us all how to enjoy the Havana nightlife. The evening was overall a success especially as Chango knows how to look good, even considering all the facial hair that is currently infiltrating the participants of Movember. Of course, the night still had a damper on it considering that Katie had to leave back to the US that morning as a result of her health – she is dearly missed by all and I have to bite my tongue every time I get the urge to yell “KAAAAATIE!!” or look her way for a dose of seeing what perfect eyebrows look like – and the fact that Caden, Taylor, Shelly, and Katie had all made a trip to the hospital earlier in the week thanks to an unidentified virus that took them down for the count. Both the OEs interchangeably weren’t feeling too hot, either, but still managed to herd us all along as they always do. Everyone is thankfully on the upswing again in lieu of antibiotics and much needed naptime. Chango said goodbye to Havana Saturday morning. It was one of the cutest farewells I’ve ever seen. Wylie and the daughter of Delta Si’s house mom shared one last swinging bearhug after she ran up to the van calling “Willie!” as we were about to leave. We took two cars to Las Terrazas, where we have four days to reflect, relax, and retreat into our individual huts settled in the breathtaking greenery of Piñar del Rio. I’m currently writing this from my bed, surrounded by a palm-thatched triangular ceiling and the sound of the river littered with swimming holes nearby. Life is good and todo bien as far as I’m concerned. Regardless of the trials and tribulations of living with the same group of people for the past two and a half months, I am proud to call this group of individuals my family through and through. From Noah’s poorly-timed puns and beautifully executed swandives and frontflips; to Caden’s readings of A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and valuable insight in groups; to Liza’s smallmouth syndrome and spooning sessions that usually end up with her in the crack between mattresses; to Taylor’s alter ego Barbra Johnson’s newscasts and complaints about wanting bread even though she’s gluten-free; to Adrian’s spontaneous tackle hugs that sometimes result in cracked phone screens and somehow always managing to narrate the group conscience; to Wylie’s constant bromance with Kevin and ability to draw anyone into his wild stories thanks to his undeniable charisma; to Shelly’s affliction for perfectly beared bikers and knack for making friends with virtually any furry creature in the vicinity; to Miriam’s angelic voice winding through the air as she sings and random bouts of savagery that often involve struggling to understand the affects of nicotine from cigars; to Jack’s love of bananas and eggs and spirit of a boundless adventurer; to Kevin’s frat stories and humbling me as a photographer considering his talent that continues to awe me with every shot; to Michelle’s ability to create space where all types of people feel at home and drive to have a good time no matter what – Chango is sending it, to say the least. All of us are excited to see our family and friends in two week’s time while still making the most of what we have left of this untamed animal of a country and wish you well.

Sending you good vibes and sunshine, Sarah.

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