Currently taking part in Amistad‘s 10th-anniversary festivities, Mystic Seaport staff member Maureen Hennessey shares her reflections from Cuba…
Wow, so much to say about this amazing experience, and hard to capture it all in this quick email, but I’ll pick up where Quentin left off on Sunday night.
We stayed at the Hotel Nacional in Havana through Sunday night and left on Monday morning for Matanzas in a very nice and comfortable 24-seat bus. Traveling were Quentin, Maureen, Cap’t Bill Pinkney, Wayne Bartow, two great journalists from The New London Day, Ted Mann (reporter) and Sean Elliot (photographer), as well as Traces of the Trade filmmaker and Dewolf family member, Katrina Browne, and Sylvia Wilhelm (our expert Cuban coordinator) and Jorge (our expert Cuban guide). Our two-hour drive to Matanzas took us along some beautiful shoreline with blue/green waters, where it is a rarity to actually see any boats (boat ownership and fishing are heavily regulated here). We also saw some really large housing projects (250,000 people) who commute many miles each day to get to Havana. The landscape changed along our route and there were some beautiful vistas of mountains and waterways. We arrived in Matanzas and dropped our luggage at the hotel before heading over to the Port to greet Amistad when she arrived shortly thereafter. You’ve probably seen/heard about the arrival celebration (it was well covered by the press). Needless to say, it was a very special occasion for us all. Onboard the ship were 19 persons, including Captain Sean Bercaw, 12 crew, and an instructor and five students from UMASS. They all deserve high praise for this great accomplishment of sailing Amistad into Cuba.
Monday night many of us were treated to a traditional performance of the folkloric group Ojundegara in the La Hermita de Monserrate in Matanzas. As some of the crew need to stay onboard the vessel at all times, they are rotated around for the various activities (including grabbing a shower at our hotel). The bus and guide have come in handy and there is a lot of coordinating, checking lists, and back and forth through customs at the port every time we come or go.
Tuesday was a spectacular day and one we will all remember. The weather was beautiful, the programs with students began onboard, there were some intimate interviews with descendents of slaves (including one from the Amistad), a field trip to a coffee plantation (where we saw some authentic shackles, equipment, and buildings from slave days, and, of course, had some Cuban Coffee). The only disappointment on this day was that Capt. Bill was completely out of commission – truly - he did not even leave his hotel room on Tuesday. Something he ate or drank, we’ll never know. Tuesday night was one of the most enjoyable evenings of my life. Our group was treated to a variety of world-class performances at the local Theater. It included a variety of music and dance, from violins to salsa. Following that we were honored with a reception at a local museum (beginning at 10 p.m.), where there was food and more music, but this time we were the entertainment. We danced until midnight and it was electrifying.
The people of Matanzas could not be more friendly or welcoming. They have shown us great hospitality and shared their love of their culture. As Quentin conveyed to me this morning, “It’s easy to see why Hemingway and others fell in love with the Cuban people.”
It’s now Wednesday morning and I’m getting this quick email out before we continue with today’s activities and join the ship later today as we prepare to sail out at 4 a.m. tomorrow morning for the trip to Havana.
Stay tuned for more …
Adios mi amigos, Maureen