Len and Terri Sanoski toured Trinidad and Havana
By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
Len and Terri Sanoski took a trip of a lifetime this summer. They toured the island of Cuba for nine days, seeing the sights and learning the culture.
Needing special licensing from the Cuban Treasury, Terri said Collette Vacations takes about three groups per year to the island just south of Florida. While the embargo on travel to Cuba has not been lifted, travel restrictions have relaxed in the past several years.
“This was a trip to explore the culture of the country,” said Terri. “We wanted to see Cuba before it gets built up. If the embargo ends, things may change drastically.”
Len said about 3 million visit Cuba each year, mostly from Canada and Europe. Those traveling from the U.S. number less than 100,000, mostly due to embargoes on Cuba.
“It’s a very tropical island,” said Len. “It was about 80 degrees and humid in the morning and about 90 degrees and humid in the afternoon.”
The group traveled east to Trinidad, a city which has been in existence since 1540. From there they took side trips to nearby sites.
Trinidad was old world, with cobblestone streets, old buildings and pastel-colored homes.
“Our tour guide, Julio, helped us with the language,” said Terri. “He took us to museums and cultural centers. We saw amazing botanical gardens, a sugar mill and a pottery factory.”
Near Trinidad is the Valley of the Sugar Mills, with about 70 historic mills that represented sugar’s importance in Cuba over the years.
The Sanoskis learned Cubans’ food is rationed. They are allowed a limited amount of sugar, milk, meat and other edibles. Children under the age of seven, however, are allowed all they can eat.
There is no ownership in Cuba; everything is owned by the government, the Sanoskis learned. If a family wants to leave their home, they don’t sell it, they just leave. The home will go to another family. Medical, dental and schooling is free to everyone on the island.
The street scenes were interesting to Len and Terri. They saw many horses pulling homemade carts. And the cars were mostly vintage 1950s American vehicles that had been refitted with Russian diesel engines.
“I learned that before the embargo, when travel to Cuba was popular, there were more Cadillacs there than in the U.S.,” said Len.
From Trinidad, the tour group traveled to Havana, the capital of Cuba on the northern shore. Havana has more than 2 million people and is the leading commercial center of the island. It was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century and was a major port for Spanish ships traveling between Europe and the Caribbean.
During one of the side trips from Havana, the bus had to move to the side of the road to miss the corn that had been laid down on the pavement to dry. The Sanoskis learned rice is dried the same way.
“There is very little machinery in the rural areas,” said Len. “Oxen and horses pull the plows.”
One of the Sanoskis’ favorite stops was the ‘‘Cave of the Fishes,” a restaurant built around a deep cenote (cen-ó-te), or sink hole on the beach. While they ate, Len and Terri were able to watch divers.
The two enjoyed hearing a world-traveled professional singing group of about 25 Cubans. They listened to a wide variety of music, from hymns to pop and songs with a Latin theme.
The tour group was able to visit a Cuban cigar factory, but members were not able to bring in purses, cameras, video devices or even bottled water.
“It was a sweat shop. There was no air conditioning and the workers had a quota to make 95 cigars daily,” said Len. “During a 15-day pay period, if they didn’t make the daily quota, it was deducted from their pay.”
While they said the conditions were not good, the Sanoskis were told that cigar makers made better money than most in other jobs.
While the tour group saw many sugar cane fields, the Sanoskis saw no tobacco fields.
“Havana is known for its artists,” said Terri. “We were able to visit the three-level home of Jose Fuster that was completely covered in tile. The walls, the ceilings, the steps, chairs and counter tops were all decorated in tile chips. The artist was influenced by Pablo Picasso and Antoni Gaudi and has been doing this for years,” she said.
The Sanoskis said it was hard to see the poverty, but would like to return someday, especially if the embargo is lifted so they are able to see the changes.
“There are now many of the old buildings being restored because of tourism,” said Len. “We would love to see a transformed Havana.”