Day 1 December 5, 2015
It took all day to go the two hundred ninety miles from Miami International Airport to our hotel in Ciego de Avila, Cuba.
The Global Volunteers teams met on the G concourse outside the Dunkin Donuts. Many people were early and we got chatted to get acquainted. That’s when I found out that there were two teams going to two different sites and projects, Ciego de Avila and Sancti Spiritus. Twenty people were headed toward Ciego and seventeen were headed to the other side. One person in our group had left her passport on her copier at home in California and had to stay in Miami until she could get it sent to her.
We waited for two hours on the concourse, during which time we received our plane tickets, Cuban visas, and health and declaration forms. I was traveling with lots of luggage: a carry-on backpack bag with my essentials, a medium sized bag with the rest of my clothes, and a medium sized leather call which held the thirty paperback English-Spanish dictionaries, notebooks, pens, pencils, and children’s toys that were my donations to the project. When we finally checked in with the charter airlines, they weighed all my baggage, including my carry-on. My bill was $121, twenty-five of which was the Cuban exit fee. I was told there wouldn’t be any charge for the luggage on the return trip.
At the charter airlines international gates, we bought snacks and waited. The boarding time of 11:45 a.m. came and went. We finally left Miami at 1 p.m. for the one-hour flight to Santa Clara, Cuba.
It was quite warm when we went through the immigration before claiming our luggage. I had a hard time managing mine. We were directed to the air-conditioned bus and met the sponsor of the Ciego de Avila project, Reverend Eduardo, the Baptist minister. We were giving large bottles of water and told to hang on to them as would refill them every day.
We rode through lush countryside with hills, cattle, horses and run-down concrete houses like ones I’d seen in Mexico. We passed horse-drawn carriages, motorbikes, bicycles and some cars. Although I saw some vintage models, most of the autos were modern.
After an hour we stopped at a hotel at Sancti Spiritu and dropped the other team off. We continued for another two and a half hours through lush but flatter scenery. We arrived at Hotel Ciego de Avila after six in the evening. As we checked into the government owned hotel, we received a key and a remote for the television.
I met my roommate Ginny Ryan. We seem a good fit as she seems easy-going, cheerful and a liberal Democrat. And she agreed we needed the air conditioning on high.
We met for dinner at the hotel. That’s when I found out that the air conditioning in some of the rooms wasn’t working and/or the knobs to the units were missing. Ginny and I definitely felt lucky ours was in good working order. Warren, our volunteer leader, introduced himself and said we would reassemble for breakfast a seen the next morning.
Ginny and I took showers and she tried out the television. HBO with some programs in English and some in Spanish, a local station in Spanish, and Seinfeld.
My dinner of pulled beef, and black beans and rice cooked together, was delicious. The Cristobal beer was a welcome addition. There was a substance the consistency of applesauce but it was guava. Yummy.
We refilled our water bottles that were in Amy and Caroline’s room. I felt I was being intrusive. And was it sanitary to keep refilling the bottle?