In Cuba, culture, political and economic shock |

In Cuba, culture, political and economic shock

Sassy Geisbert, an Aspen High School freshman, explores Cuba on horseback.
Courtesy photo |

Editor’s Note: The following is a travel log sent to The Aspen Times by Aspen High School social-studies teacher Gretchen Calhoun, who is chaperoning some Aspen students around Cuba this week.


There is so much music here and it is so good — amazing! This would be an incredible venue for an art and music tour. We are not going to Trinidad (five hours away), but it sounds like it is the music and art capital of the country. Start looking for a big rental and we should all come together, first to Old Havana and then to Trinidad. I am serious — this should be everyone’s next travel project. We would have to secure rental first, then air (this is a bad mistake people are making). This place is about to blast off.

I spent five hours on the bus today interviewing our guide. Highlights: Her mother was so poor, seven people in one small house, no TV and the woman that the mother (a maid) worked for only allowed the children to watch TV cartoons through a keyhole.

“I think I saw the sad and dark side of communism today.” — Gretchen Calhoun

Our guide is, in her heart, a believer in the revolution — so much so that she studied and is fluent in Russian. I now make her start her announcements in Russian. At the end of today, we passed the Russian Embassy. I nearly died. I will never get over the structure (Google it) — it says it all. Holy Moly. I asked if we could detour to the airport (a few kids checked their bags and one is now lost), but I was told that such a detour was not part of the “registered” plan. Wow. This is on top of a policeman checking our bus last night, which absolutely had my heart stopping — seriously, I thought I was having a heart attack.

In our conversation today, the guide asked me if people in the U.S. need permission to travel. I think I saw the sad and dark side of communism today.

We also almost hit a cow.

I can only email from this very smoky lobby. And typing with one finger is no way to write a travel log.

Yesterday at the cigar farm, I could not help it. At the tobacco plantation in the incredibly gorgeous Vinales Valley, the farmer hand-rolled a cigar and handed it to me. Every kid in the group photographed or videotaped me lighting up. It will probably even be on the cover of The Aspen Times as one writer is posting there every day.

The kids are being good. They are apparently the youngest group of American students to visit Cuba so far (according to our guide). Nice feather in my cap.

And they are so enjoying their adventure! They loved today: a boat ride in the cave, cigar plantation (they all bought cigars) and riding cows and horses across a lawn to view one of the biggest murals in the world painted on a rock cliff that they could climb.

Today we do service at a convent converted to an old folks home and day care, Ernest Hemingway’s house and an organic farm.

It would be interesting to see in one pile the rations people get every month: rice, sugar, flour. Kids all get 3 liters of milk per week.