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Pelicans Explore Cuba on Alvord Center March Break Trip

Cuba was the March Break destination for 14 Loomis Chaffee students and two faculty chaperones on a week-long educational tour examining the enigmatic island's rich cultural heritage, its urban and natural landscapes, and its past and present relationship with the Unites States and the world.

The Cuba educational travel experience was one of two March Break opportunities offered to students through Loomis' Alvord Center for Global & Environmental Studies this year.

Accompanied by language teachers Sebastiaan Blickman and Rachel Nisselson, the travelers arrived in Havana late in the evening of Saturday, March 2, with just enough time to catch the panoramic sunset at El Morro, the old fortress in the city's harbor — a welcome elixir from the wintry weather they had left behind in the Northeast.

During their visit to the island, the group enjoyed homestay accommodation in casas particulares, were transported to destinations by a local driver, and were accompanied by two experienced local tour guides — affording the Loomis visitors many opportunities to make connections with and learn from Cuban residents.

According to the group's travel blog, the highlights of the journey included engaging with the Cuban people and appreciating the island's vibrant cultural experiences. The group enjoyed Salsa dancing classes; workshops in painting, ceramics, and souvenir collage-making taught by local artisans; Cuban meals featuring fresh ingredients; and interactions in Spanish with people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds. Among the people they encountered were middle-schoolers at an elite music school and a pick-up baseball game, senior citizens, and people involved in and served by church-run and community service programs.

In addition to an immersive language learning experience, the Loomis travelers also were surrounded by the spirited sounds and rhythms of Cuban music, known for its influence on Latin and other world music. Cuban music accompanied the group's evening meals, was featured at a music school performance, and greeted the travelers at almost every turn in public spaces — signaling the chance for impromptu dancing.

The group also learned about the evolution of Cuba's spiritual and religious cultures, including aspects of Christianity brought to the island from Spanish and French colonialists and the Nigerian tribal-influenced Yoruba brought to the island by the slave trade.

In Havana and its environs, the travelers visited historic buildings, museums, churches, and busy public outdoor spaces. Among them, the group especially appreciated the four plazas of Old Havana, the often-photographed, colonial-influenced heart of Cuba's capital, where students took part in a fun and educational scavenger hunt and soaked up the city's lively vibe.

On a short excursion from Havana, the Loomis cadre visited the village of Jaimanitas, known for its elaborate and colorful folk art mosaics and "Fusterlandia," the workshop of Cuban mosaic artist Jose Fuster. Nearby "Finca Vigia," Ernest Hemingway's historically-preserved Cuban residence, was also a point of interest on the Havana itinerary.

Further afield, a journey to the beach and village of Playa Girón on the Bay of Pigs presented opportunities to discuss the United States's role in the ill-fated overthrow of Fidel Castro in the Bay of Pigs invasion and America's political, social, and economic past with Cuba and its allies.

On the final evening back in Havana before their return home, the travelers witnessed the daily cañonazo ceremony, a historical reenactment of the shooting of the canons across Havana Bay from the El Morro fortress guarding its entrance.

Read student reflections and view a photo gallery from the Cuba trip on the Alvord Center travel blog.