Two of Putney’s program directors—Juliana and Gregorio, who developed our program in Cuba— recently returned from a visit to this vibrant and diverse island nation. They spent their time meeting with our local contacts there and scouting out unique and immersive experiences. This is their report on some of the highlights, with an inside look at what students will enjoy this summer!

Photo Collage of Juliana & Gregorio smiling at camera, with building in Havana with blue sky in background, a colorful row of old cars in Havana, and a waterfall and swim area.

Juliana & Gregorio (left); Havana, Cuba (top middle); refreshing swim by a waterfall (top right); vibrant line of cars (bottom)


Putney students first traveled to Cuba in 2001 on what became one of our long-running pre-college programs. Knowing the history and relationships we have there, we feel great excitement for our students this summer, especially as we met with our local partners and contacts who will welcome them—each with a different story!

Bernabé

Bernabé lives in Palpite and has set up his home to take care of the zunzun, the smallest hummingbird in the world! And when you are standing in his courtyard, you can see several of them at the same time. The male zunzun has a blue and impressive red feathered neck, the female an iridescent teal-colored body and a white chest. Bernabé has some feeders he has made himself! And soon after the zunzun discovered this haven, so did many other birds. Some say the national bird—the tocororo, named after the sound it makes—is very hard to spot, yet in Bernabé’s house you can see it perched in a tree, with the Cuban flag’s colors all over his body!

Ariel

Ariel runs a fourth-generation sustainable tobacco plantation in Viñales, where there are no machines and every step of production is done by hand. He told us the tobacco seeds are some of the smallest in the world! We learned about the delicate labor that it takes to make this iconic Cuban product and he was happy to answer all of our questions.

Gregorio, Ariel, and Juliana taking a selfie in front of the tobacco leaves

Juliana & Gregorio with Ariel in front of drying tobacco leaves

Luis

Cuba is very famous for its music! One artist that resonates all over Latin America is El Polo Montañez, who became famous for a song called “Un Monton de Estrellas,” among others. He tragically died in a car accident, and since then, his brother Luis has made it his mission to keep his memory and music alive. We visited Polo’s house in Las Terrazas, now a museum, where you can learn about his story and ask Luis himself for personal stories of Polo’s accomplishments.

Juliana, Gregorio, adn Luis smiling at the camera

Gregorio & Juliana with Luis in front of El Polo Montañez’s portrait

Lazaro Niebla

When you are walking through all the different towns in Cuba, you will encounter all sorts of art galleries and studios where local artists show and sell their masterpieces. From them all, the one that caught our eye and heart is Lazaro Niebla from Trinidad. He turns old wooden doors and windows into the carved portraits of Cuban people he meets and photographs in his hometown. Each portrait has an impressive level of detail—from the skin wrinkles, the hat’s texture, the clothes and the expression, he truly captures the essence of each character. He includes a short bio and the signature of each person he portrays in his catalog which his wife generously gifted us.

Victor

In Havana, Victor proudly showed us around the community art project called Muraleando. He is one of the several artists who got together and revitalized a neighborhood into a gallery of murals and sculptures. They cleaned up a century-old water tank that had been abandoned and buried in trash, and this became headquarters for an art gallery, performance space, and more. There are murals everywhere you look and what once was trash (like old typing machines or irons they found in the trash pile) is now exposed on the walls as planters or part of a sculpture. This project welcomes local kids for after-school activities every day. During our visit we met some of the team and they insisted we dance with them!

(And We Have to Mention Food, Of Course)

The food in Cuba usually includes some of our favorites: yuca, plantain, beans, and sweet potato, but we were surprised to see one dessert we grew up with in Colombia and love, called bocadillo con queso. Typically you’d eat a piece of fresh cheese with an equally big piece of guava paste. What we had never seen before was this dessert made in ice cream form! Not only does it taste exactly like the traditional dessert but we were extremely surprised to find hidden pieces of frozen cheese in our ice cream! Not your typical flavor, but give it a try if you can!

These are just a few of the people and places that make us so excited for this summer’s Cuba group. While there, we learned about the power of community, the impact that one person can make on the environment, how important it is to pass along traditions to future generations, how a song can unite many, and how a smile and a laugh can make us feel right at home. Everyone is eagerly waiting for our group this summer and we can’t wait to hear everything they will learn from these and so many other amazing people they will encounter during their journey discovering the Arts & Rhythms in the Pearl of the Caribbean.

Click here to learn about Putney’s Cuba program