Old Friends: Jim’s Return to Cuba

It has been almost 10 years since we ran the last of approximately 100 programs to Cuba…..and now I am back in Havana.  While the purpose of my trip has been an exhausting set of meetings with our ground operator in Cuba, I have also had the pleasure of breakfast and dinner with a series of artists, museum directors, heads of foundations, and other friends from years past who have met with our groups and arranged the local insight and behind-the-scenes access that helps makes Cuba so special.

So what’s new after 10 years?  There are nice new hotels and even some of the older ones have been renovated.  Though none are up to top international standards, the new Hotel Saratoga is regarded locally as the best hotel in Havana.  There are new restaurants and plenty of paladars (private restaurants usually in people’s homes).  There are exciting young artists producing interesting work and even a new night club being built as a private investment–something unthinkable 10 years ago.  The PC way to express this change is that “market tools are being used to enhance the socialist model”…the expectation and fear of change permeates many conversations.

So what has not changed? Well, Cuba still boasts all of the natural beauty it always has….beauty perhaps ever more precious in this changing world. The best colonial architecture in the western hemisphere continues to crumble slowly in much of the city, though the historic old town is looking fresher than I remember. The visual and performing arts, which infuse so much life into this country, remain vibrant and accessible.  But mostly what has not changed are the people.  Old friends that were knowledgeable, insightful, involved, and remain the same wonderful people that I remember.  Though there have been changes, returning to Cuba is always special when you can reunite with old friends.

As a licensed travel service provider, we are operating more than 25 trips this year for non-profit institutions that hold people-to-people licenses for travel to Cuba (the next is scheduled for October and nearly every week thereafter). Many of our senior staff have spent a lot of time in Cuba and we are all excited to be returning to the Havana we all know, as well as new destinations in the country…easy to get to, relatively inexpensive, and at a turning point in its  history….this is a great time to go.


Jim Friedlander


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