Hola–we are Mercy, Carlos, and Jim. We are passionate about Cuba and its people. We met in Havana in 2003. Carlos and Mercy were professionals who also worked in the Cuban Travel Sector. They had visited all parts of Cuba while working as travel guides and tour managers.
On later trips, we spent more time together and eventually we became good friends. Mercy & Carlos made suggestions and helped me arrange my own group programs. After a lengthy discussion with a representative of the Office of Foreign Assets Control/U.S. Treasury Department, I (Jim) began leading my own groups in 2012. Carlos and Mercy eventually relocated to the U.S., but in 2016 they returned to their homeland to see their families and observe the remarkable changes that were happening then in modern Cuba.
We now offer Cuba travel programs and consulting services. Each of us can facilitate and lead groups traveling to any part of Cuba. Our focus is to take Americans (and others) on unique, reasonably-priced expeditions where they will experience this safe & beautiful country, meet with locals on a people-to-people basis, and help them understand the complicated situation involving Cuba and the United States Government. Our perspective is middle-of-the-road. We work closely with Cuban agencies and pay particular attention to the confusing, ever-changing regulations regarding Americans visiting Cuba. Our prices are significantly less than for other comparable tours.
Our core program allows visitors to see and experience most sights first-time visitors would expect to see. In addition, we offer a special focus on a variety of subjects, such as arts, music, education, Cuba’s National Health Care System, agriculture & sustainability, SCUBA, colonial architecture, military history, children’s programs for families, and many others. Our tours provide specific itineraries approved under the new 2019 guidelines of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
MERCY PENA MORENO: Hello–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. In spring of 2017 I graduated from Upper Iowa University from a special program in Psychology.
In 2016, my husband Carlos and I returned to Cuba after being away for over 5 years. It was inspiring to see all the positive changes in Cuba. We are currently working with our friend Jim Lewis in the agency known as Cuba Travel Surge, which specializes in consulting and educational services involving travel to Cuba. On April 1, 2019, we launched our own online travel agency based in Jacksonville, Florida: JAX Cuba Travel.
CARLOS AGUIAR SANTIAGO: Greetings! 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 Mercy and I moved to Miami in 2011. We now live in Jacksonville. I have a Bachelor of Science in Teaching English as a Second Language from the University of Havana.
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 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 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 4 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 again. The amount of change in Cuba since I left was very evident. It gave me much hope for Cuba’s future. Even though President Trump has commented on updated Cuba travel policies, it is very important to understand that the new guidelines actually do NOT affect group travel. Unfortunately, most Americans do not understand this.
JIM LEWIS: ¡Saludos! 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 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 traveling nurse. 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 many expeditions for RN’s, other health care professionals, and non-medical travelers to Cuba.
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. We had hoped that the recent process of Normalization would continue forward without being sabotaged, but unfortunately, it has been temporarily reversed by President Trump. Because of his 2017 speech in Miami to some of his supporters, many Americans believed that Cuba Travel Guidelines were tightened. In reality, regulations concerning group travel remain unchanged. It continues to be totally legal for Americans—including children—to visit Cuba.
It is frustrating for me to read articles about Cuba written by people who have never been there—especially those (such as Senator Marco Rubio) 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. In my opinion, most “fake news” articles about Cuba are as distorted as those written by both sides during our 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
I live in the small town of Grass Valley, located in a very rural county in the lower Sierra Nevada mountains northeast of Sacramento. 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.