MERCEDES MORENO: I am 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. I graduated in the spring of 2017 from a special program in Psychology at Upper Iowa University.
In 2016, my husband Carlos Santiago and I returned to Cuba after being away for over 5 years. It was inspiring and fascinating to see all the changes. We now are partners with our friend Jim Lewis in the agency known as Cuba Travel Surge. We are excited to be returning to Cuba several times a year as travel guides. We want to experience Cuba’s transition into its future. During our free time we’ll visit our family & friends.
CARLOS SANTIAGO: I was born and raised in Havana. I am now a permanent resident of the U.S. 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 initially as a guide, and later as a travel agent. Overall I accumulated 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 been to France, Belgium, Germany, and Holland. I love interacting with visitors. I enjoy traveling, sports, and the outdoors. I like meeting people and visiting new places. I am married, but 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 obvious. 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, I attended nursing school on the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1975 from Cal State University, Bakersfield. My experiences in the army influenced my decision to become an RN.
I worked mostly in ER’s and ICU’s in Hawaii and California, and also worked as an ambulance and flight nurse. I 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 20 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 numerous 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 applied for a BRN Provider Certificate, and developed a popular continuing education course: “Cuba’s Health Care System—Its Strengths and Weaknesses.” I have been facilitating these expeditions since 2012 for RN’s, other health care professionals, and non-medical travelers.
In addition to leading health professional programs, Mercy, Carlos and I are expanding our tours to include other types of experiences for visitors to Cuba. In July of 2017, we will start our Catholic Culture Programs for 8 days, from Saturday to Saturday. We can also arrange custom tours for groups whose members already know each other.
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. Hopefully the ongoing process of Normalization will continue without being sabotaged, but anything is possible in Cuba’s future. It is frustrating reading 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 often present a greatly distorted view of modern Cuba.
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.