By Nick Kaminski
This past Spring Break I, along with 3 other students and 2 professors, had the fantastic opportunity to go to Cuba as part of a humanitarian aid group with the St. Augustine- Baracoa Friendship Association. Going to Cuba is like going to no other place in the world, and I had the best time of my life there. Not only was this trip useful to me academically (as my major is in Spanish with a minor in International Studies), but it also taught me about a people and a country that Americans don't have a great knowledge about. This is really what made the trip special for me, knowing that I had the honor and privilege of going somewhere that is relatively unknown and being able to interact personally with the Cuban people.
During the trip, we stayed in the town of Baracoa on the far eastern side of the island. It was a rather remote place, being situated in an area that is surrounded by mountains and is only accessible by car via a highway called “La Farola”. This makes the town far more interesting, because it more than any other city exemplifies the Cuban people at their best. The people were extremely nice and the town itself was very safe. We were able to roam freely around town as if we were living in our own neighborhood. Baracoa's' architecture and personal characteristics make it a very unique place to be, and I should mention that the food was awesome as well!
Besides just being in Baracoa, we were taught about Cuban culture and history through the tour guides that were with us. We saw shows in Guantánamo about the various dance and song forms of Cuba like the rumba and son. While in Baracoa we learned about the art scene, the architectural history as well about the indigenous presence in the area both in an historic concept as well as a contemporary one. We visited a small fishing village in the vicinity of Baracoa called Yara (it was really like taking a step back in time) and also went to Alejandro de Humboldt National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
These things are just a few out of many activities we did during the trip. Like I said, the trip was fantastic and very interesting, one of kind that really helped to enlighten us about the Cuban people and culture and see far beyond the blurry veneer of current political issues. I would recommend this kind of study abroad opportunity to those who are interested in learning more about the world, especially because this seems to be the only way to really learn about Cuba and its people. They are virtually cut off from mainstream US knowledge due to the long-lasting and unjustified embargo and a greater understanding between our countries can only be fostered in this manner of study-abroad. To say lastly how much I liked the trip, I'll put it this way: I will be returning as soon as I can, there is no doubt about this.