This has been a wonderful, relaxing Sunday. There were scattered puffy clouds in a sunny blue sky, and light breezes. The high temperature was 78 degrees (with a wind chill factor of 77). After breakfast, we gathered up our bags with medical supplies and added extra items that we brought along, such as pencils and paper pads. This would be our final donation on this expedition, so I encouraged our travelers to include any items they didn’t want to take back.
At about 10:30am we arrived at the Varadero Polyclinic Hospital, which is located right on the beach next to the Red Cross outdoor training area. I’ve brought other groups here before, and we were always welcome. We were greeted by a male nurse named Lisandes. He told me that Enrique, a nurse I met on my past two visits, was currently on a 2-year assignment working in Dubai. Lisandes introduced us to the other nurses, doctors, technicians, and the ambulance driver. The small hospital serves two other towns in the area. The hospital can receive trauma victims, and there is even a small ICU, which we briefly observed. More complicated patients and those needing specialized attention are transferred to the larger regional hospital in Mantanzas.
We were given a brief tour of the hospital, and we were able to spend some time asking questions. After that, the Cuban staff wanted to know more about us. We told them we were interested in health care in Cuba, and some of our group are nurses. Most of us are from California, but two are from Massachusetts. We donated our packs and bags of medical supplies, and the staff thanked us and wished us well. Then we boarded our bus to leave. As we were pulling away, some nurses and physicians came outside and waved us goodbye.
We returned to our hotel and everybody appreciated free time to relax, go swimming in the turquoise-green ocean, or just reflect on our expedition. I recall that one of the criticisms of some American travel groups by the U.S. Department of Treasury was that Americans were NOT supposed to come to Cuba “to just have fun and lie on the beach at Varadero.” That’s a valid point—there must be a reason or theme to visit Cuba. Of course it is expected that American visitors will stay in hotels while learning more about this country during the people-to-people programs. The travelers in my group had no choice but to stay at the hotels I chose, and one hotel just happened to be at the beach. As for the requirement that we shouldn’t have too much fun—I’m not sure we were totally compliant. We tried to stifle ourselves as best we could, but it was impossible. We’ve learned a lot, and we absolutely fostered people-to-people understanding between Cubans and Americans, as our government encourages us to do.
As I watch CNN on my hotel room television, I understand that President Obama is visiting Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), which has been a hard-core anti-American country for many decades. To me, this indicates that he wants to try to bridge the gap between any countries wanting to improve relations. Maybe Cuba will be next. My opinion is definitely in the minority, but I just feel that trying to improve relations between our countries really doesn’t have much of a downside for President Obama. A relatively small minority of radical Cuban-Americans in south Florida would be upset, but none of them voted for him anyway. Perhaps Bill and Hillary Clinton could be sent to Havana as special emissaries, bringing along Cuba’s national heroes—the five anti-terrorist specialists (“spies,” according to the radical exiles). They could be exchanged for Alan Gross, the American contractor imprisoned in Cuba for several years. (I just noticed a news article that says Gross is now suing—from his prison cell in Havana–the contracting company that sent him to Cuba, and the U.S. Government for $60 million dollars. This seems a little odd, and could certainly be related to a future prisoner exchange.)
Bill and Hillary could drink some mojitos at a formal state dinner celebrating the normalization of relations, then stroll arm and arm along the seafront malecón. It would be quite a spectacle—Americans and Cubans in both countries would break into celebrations, and the older anti-normalization Cubans in Miami would just have to get over it.
As I said, this is a possibility, but I am in a small minority of Cuba-watchers who think this could happen soon. But if it does happen, Cuba is going to have to figure out how to deal with an incredible increase in demand from Americans to visit. One thing for sure is that the prices of hotels and tour activities are going to skyrocket.
I’m getting ready to leave to go to the steak house at our hotel. Our reservations are for 9:15pm. Today is the birthday of one of our expedition members. We have 17 seats reserved—seats for 14 travelers, another one for me, one for our Cuba guide, and one for our driver. Just a few years ago, they wouldn’t have even been allowed to mingle with us at the hotel and enjoy dinner together. They have contributed so much to our expedition, and our people-to-people interactions with them have been very enjoyable.
Tomorrow we head west on a two and a half hour drive to Havana International Airport. At 1:30pm we are scheduled to leave the Twilight Zone that is Cuba for the Reality that is the U.S. In some ways, it will be as much of a shock to our travelers as it was to arrive in Havana ten days ago.