What do a certain Mr. Jim Wormold and I have in common? Not much except that our paths are about to cross over half a century apart. Like Wormold, I am off to the Hotel Casa Granda in Santiago de Cuba! [LINK]. However, I've been there before. Let me explain;
Wormold is a British vacuum salesmen in Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana. [LINK] In the offbeat 1950's novel, he visits Santiago de Cuba as a part of a very unlikely spy mission on the eve of the Cuban revolution. Wormold stays at the historic Hotel Casa Granda, alongside the "shops" and "cathedral facade" overlooking the "piazza", or park in the city square. To his shock and dismay, it was a very dangerous place full of "real spies, real policemen and real rebel agents" [pg. 65]
Let's fast forward! It's almost 60 years later. I'm going to the Hotel Casa Granda on a mission too. However, I'm not a spy, policeman or rebel agent. I'm not making anything up. And unlike Wormold, I am hardly a stranger here either. I've been stopping by the Casa Granda on my visits to Santiago de Cuba for 25 years, since 1992.
That was during the height of the crisis known in Cuba as the "Special Period". The Soviet Bloc had collapsed threatening to pull Cuba down along with it. It's also when I first began the Cuban Schools Project [CPS]. It's very real, an educational aid initiative that I've scaled back since I retired from teaching in Canada, but which still continues through today.
Since Wormold's time, both the Dictator Fulgencio Batista and El Comandante Fidel Castro have come and gone. It's been a real horror show! For over 50 years Cuba suffered under a crippling US economic embargo. Throw in CIA meddling! The threat of invasion! A permanent state of emergency! Perhaps it's now the final curtain call to the countries states real life, tragic, black comedy, or maybe not, as the US and Cuba attempt to make nice and "normalize relations".
The purpose of my trip? To relax. See my teacher friends. Stop by the schools. Check out how everyone is doing. Fear not! Unlike Wormold, I won't be vacuum tubing you any fake news about secret atomic installations or the like. Far from it! Instead, I'll just frankly report on the state of things there nowadays for everyday people like ourselves via live tweets, photos and the prerequisite blog, that usually follows later.
Maybe you're familiar with my Cuba travel blogs? I've been to Santiago de Cuba many, many times as a teacher and the CPS Director. Then there's my beach vacations. On top of that, for a few years, I was even married to a local Santiago girl, or "Santiaguera". As you can see, I've certainly spent a lot of time in Santiago de Cuba! A couple of dozen times at least!
The dark, looming presence of the Hotel Casa Granda Hotel often provided a foreboding backdrop in my stories over the years. The times have changed. The Hotel Casa Granda remains. It will be intriguing to visit it again. To actually stay at the place made famous by Graham Greene's novel. To use it as my home base and departure point, 25 years after I first sat on it's storied patio, looking out at the parque.
Below, for easy reference, you'll find links to and a summary of my favourite Santiago de Cuba blogs on this site. I've always tried to show the good, the bad and the ugly side of life in Cuba from a grass root perspective. On this trip, I plan to do the same. Really, Cuba is such an enigma! There's hardly any need to make up a story like Jim Wormold does! Far from it -the truth is strange enough!
MY CUBA BLOGS
Cuba Trippin' Back In The Day!
What Do They Think? Here's my update on the recent changes inside Cuba. It's from a 2015 visit. To write it, I met and interviewed the teachers, their families and the students at the schools @ Here!
"What The Heck Is Going On?" or "A Do It Yourself Cuban Study Guide": Through successive Conservative and Liberal governments, Canada hasn't participated in the US Embargo of Cuba. We often view the revolution quite differently. Instead, we've followed a policy of constructive engagement to help create the prerequisites for peaceful change. You'll find lots of background links @ Here!
My Cuban School Project Links: More background links, some blogs I've left out and so on. This was written as an info piece prior to Obama's visit in 2016 @ Links
Santiago de Cuba Faded Glory, Lost in Time This is a blogger snapshot of the 500 year old Caribbean city with it's mad mix of French, Spanish, American and Russian influences @ [
The Hotel Casa Granda: These are from some of my past adventures, to put it mildly, sitting at the patio bar overlooking the park. Written during the 1990's, one story concerns the Locals and the other the Tourists
Christmas in Cuba : We drop by the hotel. Are told to get out quick. Here's the ugly underside to life in Cuba during the deepest, darkest daze of the Special Period. It takes place on Christmas Eve. It's one of only two stories I've written, the other a poem, where Jesus makes a guest appearance. I'm not a religious man but hey! It happened! @ Christmas in Cuba!
The CSP: Cuban School Project Story: Here's how it got started! Includes a special tip of the hat to the Beatles! @ CSP
The CSP: Ongoing Projects: There's two that I still keep going since I've retired from teaching in Canada; "The TFS: Toronto Friendship School" and "Ingles Para Ti/ English For You", a "Made in Cuba" instruction workbook
The TFS: Toronto Friendship School: I'm real excited about visiting here again. It's a community school in the barrios. Last visit there were about 150 students. The focus is on teaching English and Business skills to the locals. The CSP has helped fund, build and support the school since the early 1990's. It remains very close to my heart. I sometimes still teach there. For students, teachers and staff alike, it is truly a labour of love, as school should be @ Cuba + The Night 2 and @ Rumours of War
A Canadian Teacher On The Road In Cuba:
Afro Cuban Culture, Song + Dance: Ditto. Focus is on Santiago's extraordinary African Cuban culture, steeped in slavery and still alive and well today @ Santiago de Cuba Diary 5
The Beach Is The Thing: My most recent visit, more so a vacation, was in January. Gotta love retirement and those last minute deals! I invited some of the Cuban teachers out to the resort. Later dropped them back off in Santiago de Cuba, and decided I have to return for another stay. BTW, on this trip it is the Canadians who misbehave
Back to the Beach: Who says we can't mix business with pleasure? @ On The Beach!
RIP: Fidel Castro: Some thoughts @ RIP
Flowers For Fidel: A visit to his gravesite in Santiago de Cuba @ Here! Video @
JFK, Cuba and Me: Here's how I got interested in Cuba; a lifetime obsession @ Cuban Missile Crisis!
PS: If you have any questions I can answer, from my own Cuba experiences, please don't hesitate to constructively use the Comments section below!
PPS: No! Cuba is NOT kool for drugs! Don't even think about it! Nada! No way! Bah! Too bad I will miss the 420 celebrations in Toronto this year, but see you at the Global march!