Leaving Cuba

Waking up knowing it was going to be our last day in Cuba was a bittersweet thought. Assuming we were all ready to go (not like we had a choice, our paid time ran out!!) and get back to using PROPER internet (and flushing paper down toilets), leaving that beautiful place was hurtful. During our final drive through Cuba, the sights made a powerful impression. It was as if the island was trying to convince us to remain there and never leave.

The Colors, landscapes, buildings (both old and being restored), and most importantly the people made this trip everything and more than could be dreamed of. We are grateful for this opportunity, for it has opened our eyes to many different obstacles that we as Americans often overlook. 

A Summary of Our Last Day

We woke up early so that we had time to eat breakfast, hand in our room keys, and load onto the bus. The beautiful ride ……. was almost 3 hours long (ugh!). After finally getting to the airport, we realized that the Southwest line was short and we had a small victory… until we realized that the ticketing counter was closed.

After almost 45 minutes of waiting for the counters to open, we were finally able to get to Customs. The customs lines were especially long, but we were able to stand in the relatively shorter line for diplomats. (The wait was made easier by a cute baby next to us — such a cute distraction!!) Once we were finally through customs and security, a few of us needed convert our currency back to USD. But, in the time that it took us to get settled and organized, the currency exchange person went on lunch… and stayed on their lunch break until immediately before our boarding time.

Just like when we landed in Cuba, our fellow passengers applauded when we landed in Ft. Lauderdale. US Customs went relatively smoothly (considering that the government was still shut down), but one of our unnamed crew (cough, Mitch, cough) had to get extra screening because he was carrying camera equipment (and rum!).

We got back to Raleigh/Durham at about 10pm and practically slept ourselves into a small coma until Monday.



Day 5: Free Day, Shopping at the Handicraft Market, Lunch at Mansion Xanadu Restaurant

Our last full day in Cuba was a free day, with only a few scheduled activities at the start of the day, leaving the afternoon to enjoy as we see fit.

First, we were taken on a driving tour to the farther reaches of Veradero, where more recently-built resorts were located. On the way, we passed the Hotel Xanadu, where we later returned for lunch.

After lunch, we were set loose in the handicraft market, where we could haggle with independent vendors for various goods. Usually booths had a specialty – fabric goods, leatherworking, woodworking, and ceramics were all common. Many vendors offered to customize their goods if we bought them, burning a requested name, word, or phrase into the wood or leather. The men of the group opted out of shopping early on in favor of gathering video and photo content for our project.

Once we were all done shopping, the team went and spent time on the beach to round out the day.

Day 4: Mederos Interview, Seniors, Personal Tour by Mederos

Day 3 at Mederos’ Studio was with the elders! Photographers and videographers had a smooth time maneuvering around the space to get shots. Josh, Ben, and Mitch made sure the equipment was set up and ready as soon as they got there. All of us became more comfortable to get close up shots of the seniors. It felt extra special since it was our last day at the studio. The video team got an interview with one of the elders!

The elders did a painting of clouds in the sky with a quote written on top of it. It truly came from their heart and was very meaningful. After they finished painting, they gave out the painting they had made.

Maderos’ team gave us small coffee mugs that had a painting on it. Katie broke hers by accident, so they gave her a mask.

We had lunch with Maderos, another lady that worked closely with him, Yania, Lynette, and Marel. While walking to the food spot, Sneha, Josh, and Mitch took photos and videos of local pedestrians. For lunch, the meat eaters had rice with beans and okra, pork with chicken, and served with mojitos. Vegetarians had delicious vegetable rice. Overall, lunch was very filling.

After lunch, we toured to see Mederos’ work around Matanzas and went to a shop that had one of his mural at the top of the wall with umbrella ceiling that had a shop attached to it. We went back to the studio with Maderos to get the final footage – Interview with Maderos.

Day 3: In the studio with sick kids, planting coconut trees, afro-cuban mural

Day 3 – We had planned for a crowd in Maderos’ studio although it wasn’t that bad. The kids in the studio were quiet and younger than the ones from the day before. They had different illnesses. Maderos was teaching them to paint masks while another group of kids were finger painting. The day was beautiful, a lot of natural light was coming in so photographers were able to get a lot of cute shots of the kids. The kids were really happy and photographers and videographers were able to get those emotion shots.

We had lunch in the fancy restaurant with Mederos’ paintings on the walls, while the band was playing for us while we ate. The meal started off with bread basket for all. The meat eaters had a choice between fish and shrimp with a side of mashed potatoes. The vegetarians had pastry filled with veggies, which was very delicious. We had chocolate and coffee flavored ice cream and sprinkles and chocolate drizzled on top.

After lunch, we went to see a movie about the caves preserved in Cuba. We watched an awesome 3D documentary, which was an amazing sight and surprising the technology was available for them to build that. They won an award for the movie. The short film signified the importance of preventing building apartment on top of the caves which they were trying to preserve.

Next, we went to the farm above protected cave area and saw huts, piglets and cute puppies running around. They reused scraps and material to make the huts and build an establishment on the farm land. There was a solar cooking box made of aluminum and made it possible to cook food with solar power. The iMedia team planted the coconuts and learned that students go to the farm to plant.

Lastly, we visited a really unique Afro- Cuban community! The history of the town is that African slaves were brought to Cuba but they were not wanted because of their dark skin and they weren’t natives. Over time the law the society changed and government laws became less discriminatory toward dark colored people. The wall was carved with drawings of the history.

A section of the wall in the
Afro-Cuban Community

Day 2: First Studio Visit, Touring Matanzas, and a Hilltop View

We started the day off talking about the type of footage we needed en route to Maderos’ studio. When we reached his studio, there was a large group of kids we thought would be easy to mingle with. After wrapping up our dy with the older kids, Maderos took us to his murals and a statue he created. One of the paintings symbolized good luck for the future of Matanzas. We saw the inside of the fire station and vintage fire trucks.

We went back to the studio and kids started painting on plates and canvas on easels. It was crowded so it was hard for photographers and videographer to get shots and clear audio. As people moved around the space, photographers became creative to achieve their shots, such as standing on chairs. The studio was very open in some parts and closed in others. It was great that we had natural light during shooting, although at times of overcast, photographers quickly adjusted their ISO.

We walked through an alley to the courtyard surrounded by a garden like setting with art carvings on the wall. We were served guava, pineapple, and papaya along with sangria at the beginning of the meal. There weren’t many options for vegetarians except rice and salad although other folks had chicken (pollo y arroz). Dessert was delicious flan and optional coffee concluding the meal.

After our meal, we went back to Maderos’ studio to take photos of the nearby surrounding areas. We spent 25-30 minutes walking around getting shots of pedestrians, buildings, and interesting locations. As we walked around, we noticed a tree with a gear and birthday party going on. The hair barrette’s reminded Brittney of the 90s.

After the short photo session, Lynette and Marel took us to a nearby overlook. Some guy came to up to Brittany and asked, “Do you want to hold a baby hawk?” Brittany gave in and the baby hawk scratched and pooped on her hand. After holding a hawk the guy asked her for money so she gave him a coin.

The temple was beautifully lit inside with candles, paintings, and carvings on the ceilings. The lady inside told us we could get a better view from the top of the temple but required 2 Pesos to go to the top.
There were small kids flying kites that kept getting stuck in the Ferris wheel. The overlook of Matanzas was beautiful but the weather was very cloudy.

Day 1: Visiting the Farm

The farm was an hour away from the resort, and we were scheduled to be there between 9:30-10am, we met at the lobby at 8:30am. We arrived at the farm although we stayed on the bus until Lynette, our tour guide, instructed us to come off the bus. Originally they wanted us to work on the farm, although Piland sorted the plan out with Lynette and the farm owners, and instead, we spent the day practicing gathering footage.

Josh, our videographer, said it was tough because he wasn’t sure what he was getting into at first. He wanted to get as much footage to practice his techniques for the actual interview days. The sun was very bright that day so we had to ensure the ISO was set correctly. Josh and the photographers, Sneha & Sandra, had to make sure that paths weren’t crossing during shooting.

Hector, the farm owner, stated that artists from around the world came to his farm to create art, sculptures, and pottery and would leave it there as an exhibition. There was a talented lady onsite whose job was to make pottery and sculptures.

Hector explained us his philosophy on how the Earth doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the Earth. He was very much into spirituality and was fond of spirituality originating from India.

We had a very an authentic lunch served to us at his Cabana. All the food was cooked from the produce grown at the farm. We had pork skins, soup (which everyone loved), squash, chard, yuca, beans, vegetables, and rice. They served papaya with cheese as dessert, it was rather sweet and felt would have been good in small quantities. Definitely our first time and weird taste! Mango juice and several liters of water were kept as beverages. The meal made the vegetarians and non-vegetarians very happy! Cubans love to drink a lot of coffee and served us some organic coffee and milk (cafe y leche) after our meal.

Hector sent us home with a big bag of coffee grown on his own farm. Mitch was mad because he couldn’t get his own bag but figured out a way before exiting Cuba!

First Impressions

When we came out of the airport, we saw everyone looking for their family members. We saw the old colorful American cars parked in the parking lot. The weather was warm and sunny with a little bit of moisture in the air. When we got to enter the bus, we met the bus driver name Marel. We drove around and got a tour of Havana.

We all noticed that Cuba is very different from the U.S. in different ways. They have different art work in each building, clear ocean water, and the bathrooms.

Their building structure was so beautiful and full of color.

In Cuba bathroom, you are not allowed to flush toilet paper down the drain. If you do flush it, then it can eventually stop up the pipes. So they like for everyone to put the toilet paper in the trash cans that are provided by each toilet. Sometimes when you go into a bathroom, you will have to tip the attend that is on duty.

Get used to tipping! For example, when you go to some of the bathrooms there, you will have to tip the attend that is on duty. We also had to tip at every meal.

“Welcome drinks.” We got free welcome drinks when we first walk into the resort. We thought that we were special for a short moment of time. We also realized that we had access to unlimited drinks!

The resort was really nice and the afternoon events were entertaining to everyone. The hotel was by the beach, so we went there every afternoon to relax. Some of us brought a wifi card, which was 2cc for an hour. So that they can talk to their family members and work on the project. You had to be by the pool, in order to be able to get a great connection. But everyone didn’t after they realize to make sure that they put bug spray on so that they the mosquitos will not bite them.

The weather was sunny and a breeze here and there. It did drizzle for a little bit, but we were on the bus. So it was not that bad! It felt like the temperature felt like the low was 60 Fahrenheit and the high was 79 Fahrenheit. We thought it was weird how the sunny would be beating on our skin around 11am to 3pm, which made it hard to work

The food was awesome and every restaurant had a beautiful food presentation. Some of us tried certain foods for the first time, like the duck on the fifth day. The service was all around well done!

Flying to Cuba

On The Way To Cuba’s AirPort!

On January 3rd, 2019, Day 1 of our trip, we all arrived at the RDU airport around 4:30am. We were all sleepy and ready for this long journey that we had ahead of us. We were finally introduced to Mitch, who was enthusiastic about working with us and promptly took over hauling around one of our large boxes of camera equipment. The lines in Terminal 2 were steadily growing longer, and we couldn’t wait to get onto the plane. This would be Josh’s first airplane ride (he handled it well!), and the first trip out of the country for Katie (and others?).

When we arrived at Fort Lauderdale, it was around 9:20am. We expected at least an hour of layover before we began to board our flight, and thought that we had time to get a snack and walk around. Some of us went to find another Starbucks, because the one next to our gate had a long line, but that one was packed, too. When part of the group came back to the gate, Professor Piland told us that the plane was boarding right then. Those present jumped in line and tried to get ahold of the others who were roaming around the airport, but when we scanned our tickets we were all told to go back to the service desk to get a stamp on our tickets. Ben and Josh were the last to arrive and board, and they were forced to decide between gate checking their own backpacks or the backpacks that held our cameras (there was room!). They brought the cameras on board; a noble sacrifice.

We were given our visas and multiple customs forms, and frantically filled them out on the way to Cuba. The hour-and-a-half long flight went by like a blink amidst all of the questions and confusion.

The other passengers on the flight applauded when we landed in Cuba.

After a long wait at baggage claim, it took having a conversation with an employee to recover Ben and Josh’s backpacks — they didn’t come out with the rest of the cargo. Customs checks were surprisingly easy. A few of us had to get our equipment cases scanned before leaving the airport, but even this was fairly quick. When we finally got outside, we met Linette – our tour guide and translator – and exchanged our money into CUCs, the Cuban tourist currency matched 1:1 with the US Dollar, before grabbing lunch from a sandwich stand outside.

Once we were on the bus, we had a brief driving tour of Havana. Then, on the long drive to our hotel, most of us fell asleep. Travel is exhausting.