Cuba Update: Hope After the Hurricane
GeoEx’s woman on the ground in Cuba is Joslin Fritz (pictured above, in the middle), a long-time traveler and international guide. She began leading people-to-people exchange programs to Cuba in 2012 and since then she has developed deep relationships with a spectrum of Cubans, from local artists and musicians to university professors. Meeting with these locals offers illuminating insights and forges lasting bonds for our travelers. Recently Joslin was visiting the GeoEx offices and I interviewed her about the latest news from Cuba, including how things are after Hurricane Irma.
Would you please describe your relationship to and history with Cuba?
I started working as a tour leader in Cuba in 2012. Before then, I had been leading tours around the world. The music, culture, and intricacies of Cuba really caught me, and I began to lead more and more trips. Now I spend most of the year in Cuba. It’s amazing how much has changed over these last years and how vibrant the culture is.
What do Americans who want to go to Cuba need to know about travel to Cuba now?
There is a lot going on in Cuba, more than just old cars and cigars! There are fantastic community projects and amazing artists and musicians to interact with. The challenge for travelers is knowing where to look—you really need to have a contact in the country to know where to go. The Cubans have an expression that says it all: “You can’t find anything in Cuba, but if you know who to ask, you can find everything.” I love making these connections. And while the Trump administration is tightening restrictions on travel for Americans to Cuba, GeoEx is still able to take travelers on really interesting group and custom trips.
How did the recent hurricane affect Cuba? Is this a good time for travelers to go there, or should they wait?
The areas hardest hit are not areas that Americans tend to travel to. In particular, Havana was spared the brunt of the storm. Americans should definitely go and support the country now, as Cubans are open for business and travel remains an important source of revenue for the local people.
In terms of contemporary Cuban life and culture, what do you want Americans to understand about Cuba?
Cuba is more than decrepit buildings and old American cars—though these are great to see. Cuba is changing in ways that are very interesting and surprising, and you’ll find Cubans to be smart, informed, and curious people. The younger generation is choosing to stay in the country and many who had left are returning, all invested in maintaining the Cuban culture and helping to build a better future. What they are creating is astounding, from art collectives to restaurants. Veritable museums pop up in people’s homes. For example, in her apartment, the daughter of a prominent Castro photographer has a display of incredible photos that her father took of the Cuban revolution. A graphic designer started a clandestine print shop where you can go to design and print your own shirts. A community project recently restored a three-block area in Havana. The culinary scene is gaining attention, too, and travelers can explore it in modern eateries or with colorful characters like the “Cake Lady,” our term of endearment for a grandmother who invites visitors into her kitchen and explains where she finds her ingredients and how she bakes. The fashion scene is also surprising: Twenty-somethings are in Havana wearing hip clothing with no boutiques in sight.
What do you most love about Cuba?
I love how much Cubans love their country. They are loyal and will not change for anything. For all the good and bad, they are 100 percent Cuban.
What’s one experience that embodies the allure of Cuba for you?
I was riding in a collective taxi, and didn’t know exactly where to get out. The taxi driver as well wasn’t clear about where I wanted to stop. The person sharing the cab was clear, and she stayed in the cab well past her stop in order to make sure I arrived at my destination.
What most surprises the Americans in your groups about Cuba?
They are amazed at how welcoming and warm Cubans are to Americans. They are also amazed to learn and see how entrepreneurial Cubans are!
Is there anything else you’d like to tell American travelers about Cuba?
I’d like to tell Americans that traveling to Cuba right now offers a great opportunity: not only to see Cuba before it changes, but especially to see how Cuba is changing!
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To learn more about Cuba travel, explore our Cuba trips or give us a call at 888-570-7108.
Please note: At the end of September 2017, the US State Department issued a travel warning for Cuba. GeoEx has been in close touch with our in-country partners and our private security firm, and they report that no US tourists are known to have been targeted by sonic incidents, none of the hotels or bed-and-breakfasts that GeoEx uses have been affected, and our travel can continue at this time. GeoEx will continue with our trips as planned for this season. We have every reason to believe that travel to Cuba at this time with GeoEx will be a rich and wonderful experience.