MERCEDES MORENO: Hi–I’m now a permanent resident of the U.S., but I was born and raised in Havana, Cuba. I graduated from the University of Havana, where I received a degree in Psychology. I worked primarily as a German Translator for various institutions. I later worked as a travel guide and travel agent. I really enjoyed showing my homeland to visitors from all over the world.
I have traveled extensively in Europe. I completed my Master’s Degree in Psychology in Spain, and my Master’s in German Translation & Interpretation in Germany. I have also visited Africa and several countries in Latin America. Currently I am enrolled in a special program in Psychology with Upper Iowa University. I expect to graduate in the spring of 2017.
In 2016, my husband Carlos Santiago and I returned to Cuba after being away for over 5 years. It was inspiring to see all the changes in Cuba in the last few years. We are now partners with our friend Jim Lewis in the agency known as Cuba Travel Surge. We are both looking forward to returning to Cuba several times a year as travel guides. During our free time we’ll visit our family & friends, and closely follow Cuba’s transition.
CARLOS SANTIAGO: I was born and grew up in Havana. I’m now a permanent resident of the U.S., and I hope to become a citizen this year. My wife and I moved to Miami in 2011. A few years later we moved to Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix. I have a Bachelor of Science in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Havana. I am currently in an MBA program through Wilkes University.
I worked in Cuba primarily as a university professor of English at the Foreign Language Institute of the University of Havana. I later completed a course for Travel Guides at the School of Hotel and Tourism in Havana. I began working at first as a guide, and later as a travel agent. Overall I had 14 years of experience in the travel industry in Cuba. I worked for numerous Cuban and foreign companies, including Marazul Tours, Global Exchange, The Center for Cuban Studies, The Fund for Reconciliation and Development, Columbia University, Barry University, Drake University, Community College of Baltimore, Suffolk University, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Art Encounter in Chicago.
I have traveled to France, Belgium, Germany, and Holland. I enjoy traveling, sports, and the outdoors. I like meeting people and visiting new places. I am married; we have no children. I am very familiar with Cuba–its natural wonders as well as its culture, traditions, people, and history. In November 2016 I returned to Cuba for the first time in over 5 years. Jim and I were guides for a 10-day expedition focused on Cuba’s health care system. I enjoyed seeing my family and friends. The amount of change in Cuba since I left was very evident. It gave me much hope for Cuba’s future.
JIM LEWIS: I grew up in southern California. In 1969 I was drafted and spent an interesting year in the beautiful and exotic Mekong River Delta. After my discharge from the army, I attended nursing school on the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1975 from Cal State University in Bakersfield. My experiences in the military influenced my decision to become a nurse.
I worked mostly in ER’s and ICU’s in Hawaii and California, and also worked as an ambulance and flight nurse. I also have experience in oncology and hospice care. I later worked as an educator, manager, and nursing supervisor. My last management position was as a House Sup at St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco. After that I returned to direct patient care for the last 25 years of my career. I wanted a flexible schedule, so I began working as a per diem float, as a registry nurse, and as a traveler. I retired from hospital-based nursing in 2012, after developing a painful autoimmune disorder called PMR (Polymyalgia Rheumatica). I eventually fully recovered from this illness.
Backing up a bit—in 1999 I visited Cuba for the first time. After that I participated in several medical missions and health-care focused seminars and projects. After I retired from hospital nursing, I combined my passions for health care and travel and became a Cuba Travel Guide. I obtained a BRN Provider Certificate, and developed a popular continuing education course called “Cuba’s Health Care System—Its Strengths and Weaknesses.” Since 2012 I’ve facilitated 15 such expeditions for RN’s, other health care professionals, and non-medical travelers.
Now that Mercy, Carlos and I are working together as a team, we are expanding our tours to include other types of experiences for visitors to Cuba. Our newest program is a Catholic Culture Tour of Cuba. This program has been designed for individual parishes and their priests. They will begin July 8, 2017, and will run from Saturday afternoon to the following Saturday morning. We can also arrange custom tours for a variety of groups.
We believe it is very important that many more Americans visit Cuba soon, and return on future visits. Cubans and Americans are natural, historical allies, and our countries are just 90 miles from each other. Our citizens have always gotten along well with each other, even during the darkest days of the Cold War. But our governments have not trusted each other during the last half century, and for good reasons. Hopefully the ongoing process of Normalization will continue without being sabotaged, but even now in 2017, anything is possible in Cuba’s future.
It is frustrating for me to read articles about Cuba written by people who have never been there—especially those with Cuban parents who left the country over a half century ago. They tend to have a greatly distorted view of modern Cuba; yet they are too often treated as “experts” by the media. Some of these “fake news” articles rival those written by both sides during our recent U.S. presidential campaign.
I live in the lower Sierra Nevada mountains northeast of Sacramento in a very rural county. The closest town is Grass Valley. I love living close to nature. I really enjoy hiking in our forests and kayaking on nearby lakes. I also like exploring large cities. My two favorites are San Francisco and Havana.