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Friday, May 25, 2012

NEC Cuba: photos and video

This blog entry will serve as a repository for links to online photos and videos from our May 2012 trip to Cuba.

Click here to view a web album with 20 high-resolution photos from Day #1.
Click here to view a web album with 66 high-resolution photos from Day #2.
Click here to view a web album with 104 high-resolution photos from Day #3.
Click here to view a web album with 44 high-resolution photos from Day #4.
Click here to view a web album with 78 high-resolution photos from Day #5.
Click here to view a web album with 71 high-resolution photos from Day #6.
Click here to view a web album with 72 high-resolution photos from Day #7.
Click here to view a web album with 40 high-resolution photos from Day #8.

Click here to view a web album by student Abigale Jones.

Click here to view a YouTube video showing Hinrich handling a snake we found on a nature walk.

Click here to view a web album with 43 high-resolution photos of cars.
Click here to view a web album with 32 underwater photos from snorkeling in Cuba.

Click here to view a 3:33 YouTube video of snorkeling in Cuba, or watch it here:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Moment I Will Never Forget

A Moment I Will Never Forget

Here are the student responses (some wrote more than one):

• Max being pushed up the waterfall by the whole group.

• The all-female jazz band in Havana.

• Climbing up the waterfall, it was amazing and something that I never thought that I would do.

• Snorkeling in the coral reef was so cool and something that I’ve never done.

• I will never forget Hinrich chasing down the snake and grabbing it. As he was grabbing it, I was running out of the way. He had no fear.

• Being under the waterfall. The rain spraying and the water rushing. Also going up and down it was simply amazing.

• I will never forget snorkeling or being under the waterfall, but more importantly I will never forget the wonderful people I met or the people I got to help.

• I will never forget Max going down the waterfall, overcoming his fears and Kam saying “We got you buddy, if you go down, I’m going down, so we got you man!”

• Parque El Nicho was hand down one of the greatest days of my life. From the gorgeous views on the hike to the best meal of our trip during the rain and climbing the waterfall. It is a day I will never forget.

• I will never forget the friendships I built on this trip and all the laughter we shared. The entire trip has been an unforgettable experience, and every moment has been unforgettable.

• I will never forget all the wild experiences that happened. Going out in Havana and enjoying the culture with everyone is one of the most memorable moments I will look back on.

• I really enjoyed having no connection to the outside world. It made my experience even more special because I had no outer distractions. It was great to be so present within our little community/family that we formed. Our group was so amazing. I couldn’t have wished for it to be any different!

• Something I will never forget is the Cuban perspective of the Bay of Pigs. It was called a triumph instead of a victory. All U.S. acts were called cowardly. Also, Eric pointed out that we caused a mess on the Bay of Pigs, then we had a community service project of cleaning up part of the mess at the Bay of Pigs. It was very ironic.

Day 8 - Havana

Day #8 - May 21, 2012

Location: Havana

I have uploaded 40 high-resolution photos to a web album. You may access them here.

Greetings for the last time from Havana. Today was basically a free day. We all chose to revisit Old Havana for one last time before returning to the U.S. After breakfast at the hotel, we boarded a taxi for the 10 minute ride to Old Havana. Of course, when it’s Havana, it’s not just any old taxi, but a well-preserved 1957 Ford Fairlane:

We spent about an hour walking around the waterfront section of Havana. Along the way, we admired the vintage cars and fine architecture:

We also gave away our last gifts to people we met (in total, we brought 24 dozen pencils, 12 dozen pens, 12 notebooks, 20 packs of baseball cards, and 25 toiletry kits). We really enjoyed hanging around with a group of very friendly school kids:

At 10AM, we entered the San Jose art market, a large warehouse featuring dozens (if not hundreds) of vendors selling art and crafts of every variety. We took advantage of this final opportunity to pick up mementos and gifts:

From there, we walked to Old Havana and took in the sights one last time, enjoying a cub of Cuban coffee at the Plaza de San Fransisco:

We returned to the hotel by 1PM. There, we met our driver Eduardo and our guide Ludwig. We loaded the bus and drove to the airport. We had a poignant goodbye with our local heroes, exchanged our money, paid our departure tax, stood in long lines, handed in our visas, etc. etc. Our 4:30PM flight to Miami lasted only about 48 minutes. There, we passed through immigration and customs, picked up our bags, and then repeated the process of checking in and passing through security. Our 9PM flight to Boston will get us there around midnight, where a bus will drive us to Henniker. All together, it should take about 13 hours door-to-door to get home.

Although all of us loved Havana and have wonderful memories, we are of course happy to be going home. Over the next few days, I hope to update the blog with photo galleries from every day, videos, and photos from other class members as they upload them.

Thank you to all our friends and family for supporting us during this trip. We look forward to seeing you again soon!

All our best,


Monday, May 21, 2012

Day #7: Cienfuegos

Day 7 – May 20th, 2012

Location: Cienfuegos

Click here to jump to a web album containing 72 high-resolution photos from this day.

After a fairly American-style buffet breakfast at the hotel, we headed out at 9AM for a walking tour of Cienfuegos, the major city in this part of Cuba. Our guide Ludwig explained the different types of architecture, and we watched a local community band perform, visited the historic Union Hotel, were given a tour of the 19th century landmark Teatro Tomas Terry, and had several hours to wander around and appreciate the beauty and people of this Spanish-founded city:

We boarded the bus and returned to Punta Gorda, the area near our hotel. We had lunch at an amazing palace-turned-restaurant called Palacia De Valle:

Although the setting was incredible, the food was our usual Cuban fare: salad of sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and chopped cabbage, canned vegetables, rice (always served in an upside-down-bowl shape) and the usual choice of “chicken, fish, or pork.” The latter phrase has become the unofficial motto of the trip due to its unwavering appearance at every meal!

We then boarded our bus for a long 5-hour drive back to Havana:

It was actually more interesting than this photo suggests, as we took turns sitting in the jump seat at the front of the bus. It affords nearly panoramic views of the countryside and small towns as we drove through. I really liked that seat.

We checked into the Habana Paseo Hotel, the same one we had stayed in the first night we arrived. We had dinner at that hotel (same meal, pretty much, but this one included, by special request, a big bowl of black beans). Some students visited a dance party occurring at the hotel, while a group of us went to the historic Zorro y Cuervo Jazz Club and enjoyed an all-woman jazz octet:

The music was great. In fact, this was a highlight of the trip for some of us. Such wonderfully happy Cuban music.

Most people turned in fairly early for our last night in Havana. All is well!

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Day #6: May 19th, 2012 - Parque El Nicho

Day #6: May 19th, 2012

Location: Parque El Nicho, Cienfuegos

Click here to jump to a web album containing 71 high-resolution photos from today.

We arose early today (7:30AM) and big goodbye to Playa Larga, our home for the past 3 days. We drove for four-hours to another region of Cuba, toward the east (but still on the southern coast). Along the way, we saw many interesting sights and small towns:

As we climbed into the mountains, we could see the habitat change from dry forest to rainforest. We arrived at our destination: Parque El Nicho (“The Niche”) near the town of Cienfuegos. We were met by a guide and led on a walk through the rainforest. Our guide pointed out the native flora and fauna along the way, including ginger plants and various tree frogs. The trail was narrow, a bit slippery, and steep at times, but everyone was happy to be hiking through such lush, tropical vegetation:

Along the way, we saw several swimming holes and an amazing waterfall:

After completing an hour-long loop, we enjoyed lunch in the park. The fare was better than most we’ve had so far. The students particularly enjoyed the rice & beans and the fried chicken:

As we ate, a storm rolled in. It started to pour furiously. We thought we’d wait out the rain in the open air restaurant, but after an hour, we realized it wasn’t going to let up. There was no way we were going to be kept from visiting the swimming hole and waterfall, so everyone dashed for the bus, changed into swim gear, and headed back out. It was raining torrentially, but that was perfect. Everyone was so happy to be dancing around the Cuban rainforest, diving into the pools, and most especially climbing up the waterfall:

There is no question about the highlight of the day (and, for many, the trip and, for some, their lives): climbing up into and behind the waterfall was an amazing experience that thrilled every one of us. We made the best of the rain and had a magical day.

By the end of our stay at the park, we were all drenched. We did our best to dry off before climbing on to the bus for the (now somewhat treacherous) drive down the steep mountain roads to the town of Cienfuegos. We checked into the Jagua hotel, which was in some ways the nicest hotel we’ve been in so far, but in other ways was a bit too touristic for our tastes:

Although we didn’t participate in as many different activities as some other days, we were all pretty beat from all the activity. We all enjoyed the buffet dinner at the hotel, and then most of us turned in early so that we could be fresh to explore the town tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!

All our best from Cuba,


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Student impressions on day #5

Day #5: May 18th, 2012

Student impressions

This blog entry contains one paragraph from each student describing something that they found remarkable about Cuba.

Kory Raymond:
My favorite part of Cuba so far was visiting the location of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Today, there is a resort on the beach where the invading force of exiles landed. The museum was great as well because it allowed you to see the Cuban perspective of the invasion instead of the American perspective.

Max Weinberg:
My favorite part of Cuba so far was snorkeling today at the Bay of Pigs. It was the first time that I had ever been snorkeling, and it was really cool to see all of the different colorful fish in the coral reef. I enjoyed learning about the different types of fish that are in Cuba that we do not have back home.

Kameron Luther:
The best experience in Cuba so far has been the jazz club we visited on the second night in Havana. We all went together as a group and we kind of sat in the corner. It gave us a great place to dance because no one in the club was dancing except for us. The band, the atmosphere, and the dancing were so much fun. So far it has been my favorite part of the trip.

Robert Hoyt:
Cuba has been a fantastic experience thus far. From the culture to the places we have visited, everything has been more fascinating and eye-opening than the last. Havana and the Bay of Pigs have offered us beautiful scenery and wonderful memories. I have to admit my favorite experience so far has been enjoying the culture but it’s hard to deny how much fun the snorkeling was. It was a beautiful experience that we can’t wait until tomorrow to do again.

Katherine Raymond:
So far Cuba has been an amazing adventure. Cuba has been a culture shock thus far. They lead such simple lives. My favorite experience would have to be shopping at the San Jose craft market. It was filled with some of the most beautiful works of art I have ever seen. I cannot wait to come home and share this wonderful adventure with my loved ones! Mom, I love you!!!!

Meaghan Thibeault:
My time in Cuba thus far cannot be described in so few words, but I will try. Traveling far from home to a country that has so little has made me appreciate my life and the privileges I get to enjoy every day. This is not to say that Cuba has nothing to offer; it is a beautiful island with new and exciting adventures around every corner. A few of my favorite moments have been shopping, visiting the art complex, snorkeling, and above all else, feeding the stray cats and dogs! And I know that the rest of the trip will only get better!

Sarah Vita:
My time in Cuba has been an amazing experience. It definitely has made me appreciate all that I have. I liked giving back in small ways that we did, for example cleaning up the Bay of Pigs and handing out the gifts that we have brought. My favorite parts have been seeing the country, shopping, seeing the art, and experiencing the culture. We have had some great nights hanging out with everyone, especially dancing at the jazz club. I really enjoyed snorkeling since it was my first time. I also got to hold a crocodile which was pretty cool. We are having an awesome time and this once in a lifetime experience is one I will never forget! I know that the next days will be awesome. Thanks Mom and Dad! 

Abby Jones:
My time in Cuba has been amazing; I love the people here, they’re kind and very interested in our class. I loved the food at first but now I’m getting a little tired of rice and beans. My friend Sarah and I are in charge of giving out gifts to the local people and children, and that has been a blast. We loved every moment of seeing the children playing with their new NEC toy bears. Cleaning the beaches was also a good time. I saw people watching excitedly from their homes. People don’t realize that having clean areas and land is a privilege. It costs them money that they don’t have to be able to have recycling and even trash bags. I am looking forward to more snorkeling. The area we went diving today was so beautiful. I am glad I have gotten to experience Cuba. I would even love to come back again one day. I remember everyone saying “come back alive!!!!” However, so far this has been what I would say even safer than being in New York City, or even smaller cities. I have met a few furry friends (dogs) here too; they enjoy my dinner every night by the ocean. I guess I’m weak when it comes to the needs of man’s best friend. I have picked up a little bit of Spanish here; maybe when I am home I’ll try to learn more. You can learn things you never knew about a culture if you can communicate well with one another. I will hold this experience with me forever.

Morgan Whitney:
I will try my best to not be so wordy…Not to my surprise, this country reminds me a lot of South America, hence the Latin culture and way of living. As we all create preconceived ideas before we enter a new and unknown environment, my expectations have exceeded what I originally had pictured. What I mean is that a culture that lacks so much seems to still be so incredibly content. Although it is quite depressing to see little kids walk around with torn and tattered clothing, people begging for money, and to see the dilapidated make-shift houses that they all live in, it is refreshing to see people still smiling and laughing. All I want to do is give people the shoes on my feet and the clothes on my back, but I know in my heart that I can’t fix an entire poverty-stricken culture. The most memorable day for me was two days ago when we went to an artist community where young adults, from ages 17-23 (approximately) live together creating art, music and dance. We walked through a truly impressive art gallery and watched a dance performance of 3 girls and 3 boys. They were so talented, so enthusiastic, and so theatrical. I loved it! It is clear to me how ambitious these young people are and like I mentioned, it is a breath of fresh air to see people with so little radiating such strength and happiness. I was overwhelmed with joy and I got an instant dose of motivation. Mama and Daddy and Alien, if you’re reading this I love you! Wooooo hoooooooo!!!!

Frederica Crafts:
My adventure in Cuba has been bittersweet. It has been difficult for me to see the poverty and suffering amongst the people and animals that I have come in contact with. On Thursday we picked trash up from a beach. It was heartbreaking to see such a beautiful place be turned into such a dump. Unfortunately this waste stretches beyond the beaches, it’s everywhere. All I want to do is stay here and help clean up. Cuba would seriously benefit from having relations with the US, and it saddens me that the people here don’t have the freedoms and opportunities all thanks to an outdated and irrelevant disagreement. I have had an amazing time sharing so many once in a lifetime experiences with some truly fascinating people here and CAN NOT wait to share when I’m home again ! Mommmmy if you’re reading this, I love youuuu!!!