Valley residents banish winter blues with trip to Cuba
Just ahead of Winter Storm Stella, which dumped more than a foot of snow that blanketed the area, 10 Lehigh Valley residents escaped to sunny Cuba for an unforgettable week.
Urszula Abolik of Emmaus, one of the two hosts leading the group, promised an untraditional trip.
“We organize these trips because we are both in total love with Cuban culture, music, dance [and art],” Abolik said. “You will discover with us some places tourists do not know about.”
Abolik was as good as her word.
She and co-host Mike Polarny, who lives in Havana, led the group in touring favorites such as old Havana, Ernest Hemingway’s home, a tobacco plantation and a cigar plant.
The group also saw how Cuba’s signature rum is bottled in a rural area called Vinales, three hours from the capital.
The hosts arranged for transportation via iconic vehicles dating back to the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s much to the delight of the group.
Diane Nolan’s dream to ride in a red convertible was granted.
“The driver was very nice and very informative,” Nolan said. “He said his boss owns [a fleet] of 10 cars.”
But Cuban culture was at the heart of the trip. A visit to Havana’s Fabrica de Arte, was a striking beginning to the week.
“The building was abandoned for many years,” Abolik explained.
The facility was reminiscent of the ArtsQuest initiative in Bethlehem or GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading in the move to repurpose old, industrial buildings.
Late on a Sunday night, the FAC was packed with people enjoying a lively camaraderie aided by edgy art and music and beer.
“Cuba is all about the arts, in dancing, music and the visual,” Polarny said.
Being a local, Polarny took the group to restaurants and parks usually under the average tourist’s radar.
By night, the group enjoyed live music throughout the week, including the Afro-Cuban sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club, straight up jazz and local folk musicians.
By day, they clocked miles exploring art and architecture, meeting artists of all stripes.
They also visited cultural and educational centers where they left gifts of tango shoes, guitar strings, and even a violin.
“I had to hug every one of my Cuban friends,” said Matt Green from Slatedale, who enjoyed giving tennis balls away to delighted children. “I just say Cuba, USA and amigo and they give me a hug.”
A day after returning to the States, the travelers shelved their memories of warm Cuban weather and picked up their snow shovels, joining the rest of the Lehigh Valley.