Ask An Alumni: A Cuba Trip through the Eyes of a Discover Corps Traveler
“We were placed in a casa and they were having a birthday party for a family member and invited us to attend. A tour guide and a journalist who had lived in Miami previously were also attending and translated all the Spanish for us, from Castro jokes to a very funny story about a gallbladder operation (you had to be there). They broke out the good stuff—tres leches cake and Johnny Walker Black—and shared generously.” – Lia S.
For Lia, the Cuba: Preserving Nature’s Wonders trip allowed her to see more of a country that is so famous for its capital city, Havana. While Havana brought a new set of experiences on its own, it was the valleys and mountains that were most exciting. Read about her experience below to learn what she wished she had known before traveling, her most memorable moments, and other insider tips.
Why did you choose Discover Corps versus another travel company?
Mainly the trip stood out to me as unusual. I liked that many of the company’s other trips had a focus on service learning, and the price was very reasonable considering what was included.
What made you choose this trip in particular?
This trip didn’t only go to Havana. We wanted to see different parts of the country beyond the area where tourists typically go, and to spend time outdoors, so the focus on nature was a big plus.
What is one thing you wish you’d known before traveling to Cuba?
That we didn’t need to bring two rolls of toilet paper! J Public places may be a little short on it and you may need to tip attendants, but it’s not exactly rare. The country was more modern and more easily navigable for two non-Spanish speaking tourists than I would have expected (though of course having a guide and driver we weren’t expecting to suffer too much).
Tell us about the most memorable experience from your trip.
Who can pick just one?
What did you think of your guide? What about your accommodations?
Frederik was responsible for another one of our “most memorable” experiences. We got to be really good friends with him on the trip and since it was just the two of us he was actually able to bring us to his (tiny) home. He took us to the market and bought sweet peppers and Cuban cilantro and other things, then taught us how to make beans and rice the Cuban way.
He was also a great guide; there were never any problems when he was around. Everything ran smoothly, and he explained all the sights we saw, answered our questions, and really explained how Cuba worked with examples from his own life.
What would you say was the most surprising thing you experienced on your trip that you weren’t expecting?
We were placed in a casa (where we wouldn’t have gone otherwise) and they were having a birthday party for a family member and invited us to attend. A tour guide and a journalist who had lived in Miami previously were also attending and translated all the Spanish for us, from Castro jokes to a very funny story about a gallbladder operation (you had to be there). They broke out the good stuff—tres leches cake and Johnny Walker Black—and shared generously.
Did you feel you learned about conservation and sustainability in Cuba? Are there are fun facts that were shared with you?
Yes. I was very interested to learn about Cuban honey, which is actually one of Cuba’s top exports. It is organic and has a different, delicious flavor, and we were told it never crystallizes. The bees live in the ground and have no stingers.
We saw people selling honey in plastic soda bottles all along the road in the country (along with coconuts for coconut water). We brought some honey home with us of course.
Are there any clothes/shoes/toiletries/ camera equipment items you’d say are must-brings on this trip?
Not really. I’m guessing it would be hard/not possible to get the toiletry brands one usually has in the U.S., and trying to track even something comparable down would take major time, so make sure you have what you need in terms of contact lens solution, deodorant, and other basics. When I was there I was thinking I should have brought something in case we got “traveler’s tummy,” but we didn’t so that was fine.
What you would say to someone thinking about traveling to Cuba with Discover Corps?
Do it! And I recommend going when we did, in February. While most of the year it’s very hot and humid, the weather was perfect for us—high 70s, low 80s and sunny every day.
Visit our Cuba: Preserving Nature’s Wonders trip to learn more and to download a detailed day-by-day itinerary. Questions for Lia? Let us know in the comments or reach out at 619-758-3030 or firstname.lastname@example.org!