Buenos dias from Santiago de Cuba, the island’s second largest city and the heartland of Cuba’s rich culture of traditional rhythm, dance and song. The landscape is mountainous – the Sierra Maestra is an emerald green backdrop to the city’s hustle and bustle along the bay. The climate is more tropical than La Habana, and we have proven our Habana friends wrong about when to expect our first Cuban Mango.
We arrive just after sunrise in Santiago de Cuba, and, following the suggestions of our friends from Santa Cruz, we end up in the home of the famous Cuban poet Ana BelquisLuna Beaton. We are met by Ana’s granddaughter Amanda and Ana’s daughter Lily who is an environmental educator, professor and children’s book author.
As Ana cuts the sweet ‘Santo Domingo’ variety of pina (pineapple) and prepares a tropical fruit plate of Sapote, caimito and oranges, Lily reads one of her mother’s favorite children poems, “La Abeja, el polen y el fruto” (the bee, the pollen and the fruit). Bees buzz around outside in a lush and flowering backyard, hummingbirds chirp in the canopy of a large tree and the poetic verses read by these Cuban naturalist artists seem to harmonize with the sweetness of springtime in Santiago de Cuba.
Lily points us in the direction of a friend’s casa particular and we pedal away, stomachs full of fruit and minds filled with poetry and gratitude for meeting this family of three generations of brilliant Cubanas. Our new home in Santiago will be shared with Rayda and her granddaughter Camila, 13 months old and she brings a smile to everyone’s face.
Later in the evening we walk the streets of Santiago. Kati’s magnetism for rhythm pulls us to Parque Dolores where the famous Cuban rhumba and Afro-Cuban dance group Cutumba is performing in the streets to an energetic crowd. A dance-off competition ensues and Kati, indeed the only American in a sea of Cubans, is selected as one of four women in the competition. Despiteher shyness and overall dread of the situation, circumstances have their way of blossoming into unexpected perfection. Kati speaks with the group’s leader and within fifteen minutes of conversation, we have organized a week of Cuban cultural learning from the best teachers in all of Santiago. The day begins with an hour of espanol, followed by two hours of Cuban dance, percussion and singing. At night our bodies are tired, our minds full and our dreams colorful.