BerksBarristerSpring2017 - 10

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Americanos Receive Thumbs Up in Cuba!
more horse drawn carts than cars and trucks. On the side of the
road, however, on a paved shoulder, a rice farmer had spread his
crop on the pavement to dry. This was probably 600 square yards
of rice! He told us that it would dry for two days and that he
would sweep it up overnight and rebag the rice, only to repeat the
process the next morning.
The next town we visited was Remedios, a much smaller
town with our beautifully restored hotel being located on the
town square, which again was filled with families and cell phone
users every night. It was in Remedios that we really got to know
some of the locals. Natalie, our guide for the trip, knew people
in every town, and lives in Havana. But her friends in Remedios
became our friends. We ate and drank with them...yes the state
of mourning was over by then. The town has a New Year's contest
where two groups make huge floats that would put the Rose
Bowl Parade floats to shame, with one float being crowned the
"winner." We visited the construction site for the float being made
by our new friends. Workers walked barefoot on a floor covered
in wooden splinters. No ear or eye guards were used. Fingers
were precariously close to saw blades. OSHA would not be happy
with their safety precautions...well maybe Trump's OSHA would
be. Sadly, after we left they got word that their float contest was
cancelled due to Fidel's death. So much for the mourning period
being over!

From a Cattle Ranch to Pelican Catching
On our journey westward to Havana, we stopped at the King's
Ranch, a cattle ranch taken by the government from the King
family of Texas during the revolution. It is still operating as a
ranch, replete with Cuban cowboys who gave us a demonstration
of their riding and roping skills. We went to the oldest operating
baseball stadium in the Americas, Palmar de Junco, and visited
with players and coaches. Looking at the "hall of fame" wall for
the team I saw the picture of Tony Taylor who played with the
Phillies in the 1960s and '70s. The coach who was giving us the
tour had played with Tony in the early sixties.
We stopped at a town near the northern coast and saw a
company using American made printing presses from the 1860s.
The workers had hooked up motors to the presses to "modernize"
them. Cubans seem to be able to make anything work whether it
is a 1950 car or a worn out refrigerator. Despite the US embargo,
or maybe because of it, the Cubans have made the most of what
they have and keep moving forward. We talked with a man who
reclaimed discarded cigarette lighters, refurbished them and sold
them on the street. In a truly bizarre situation, we saw people
catching something in the ocean. Upon closer inspection, we
found out they were catching pelicans and taking them alive to
their houses where they would domesticate them, breed them and
eat their eggs or their young. Even Natalie, our guide, had never
seen that before.
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We visited a woman who taught us the basics of Santeria, the
Roman Catholic/African blend religion that is the predominant
form of Catholicism in Cuba and throughout much of the
Caribbean. And even though Americans are prohibited by
our government from vacationing in Cuba, we were allowed
to stop one night at Melia Las Americas Varadero which is
an all-inclusive resort on the north coast. It has the only 18hole golf course on the island and was formerly owned by the
Dupont family. To inspire Canadians to come to the resort, the
government gives them special deals of about $600 per week,
including airfare! The resort was as nice as any of the places our
Bench Bar trip has visited over the years.

Dance and Dominoes in Havana
After leaving our only vacation resort, we headed to
Havana. We stayed at the iconic Hotel National. Anyone who
is anyone stays there. The people-watching in the lobby is great
entertainment. While there, we visited with the Malpaso Dance
Company and saw their performance at the Theatre du Havana.
My wife and I also saw them in Philadelphia this February. They
are incredible modern dancers and the only privately owned dance
troupe in Cuba.
We learned how to play dominoes from members of a local
domino club, met with a jazz trio, a PhD in economics and a
private enterprising hair dresser who is transforming hair cutting
into private enterprises in Havana. He even had classes for deaf
people who wanted to learn how to be stylists.
Throughout the trip we ate, or more accurately, overate
like kings. Everywhere we went we felt safe, even in poorer
neighborhoods. We rarely saw police. While it is dangerous to
generalize, the people of Cuba are open and friendly. They love
seeing Americans in Cuba. Over and over, whenever we would
walk down the street someone would smile and ask, "Americanos?"
When we affirmed that we were, we would get a thumbs up. It
was clear that Cubans really want us to be their "friends" and want
to have normal relations. All they seem to want is to be treated as
equals. Imagine that!
There is contentment with the people there. For most of
the people, life moves at a slower pace. They have the basics in
life provided at little or no cost. They have a health system that
is rated as one of the best in the world and a life expectancy that
is longer than ours. The opportunities for our countries to have
a mutually beneficial relationship is so obvious to anyone who
has been there; it is hard to understand how our embargo has
continued to thwart this from happening.

The "Excepted" Embargo
We did learn that American companies have found ways
around the embargo since its inception, so its continuation is

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