Now is the perfect time to visit Cuba! In April 2017 writer and TV host Phil Cousineau will be leading a very special journey to the heart of Cuba to explore the culture, history, and sacred sites of this spectacular island country. In this exclusive interview he shares his personal connection to Cuba and explores some of the many highlights of this tour.
Sacred Earth Journeys: If you only had 3 words to describe your upcoming Cuba journey, what would they be?
Phil Cousineau: If I only had 3 words to describe our upcoming Cuba journey, I would say “soulful, musical, kaleidoscopic.” Easier still, I might say “Buena Vista Social Club,” which is one extra word but the reader will get my meaning. The famous musical club and the documentary film of the same time captures the wistful beauty, the yearning music, and the effervescent love of life that we will be exploring on our journey.
SEJ: What are you most looking forward to about this journey?
PC: On a personal note it will be a pilgrimage to Havana in honour of my father, who worked in the clubs during summer breaks when he was attending high school in Miami. Since we could never visit Cuba together I hope to bring my son along in honour of his grandfather. On a collective level I am looking forward to taking a time machine back to the 1950s, where Cuba has existed in a kind of time-warp for nearly sixty years, preserving its old world colonial charm. Now that many sanctions have been lifted the modern world is about to descend upon Cuba. So we have a rare opportunity to visit a culture in flux, before its tumultuous changes. And being a baseball fan I thrilled to be able to visit one of the game’s current cradles of astounding talent. That said, I will be asking our participants in the journey to bring along any baseball equipment that is lying around the house so that we can stop our coach along the back roads of Cuba and hand out a glove or a bat and ball to kids playing in the fields.
SEJ: What can you tell us about the Callejon de Hammel, and what participants can expect from visiting such a vibrant living arts project?
PC: For the last thirty-plus years my tours have combined explorations of both the ancient and modern cultures of wherever we are visiting. The Callejon de Hammel, sometimes called “Salvador’s Alley,” after the local Cuban artist Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, is just such an example of the living arts. Every Sunday this mural-festooned alleyway is throbbing with the sounds of traditional music and the sight of Afro-Cuban rumba dancers. There are also vibrant art galleries and marvellous traditional food. Cuban soul lives on in neighbourhoods like this and we will be blessed to join in!
SEJ: How would you describe present-day Cuban culture and how will participants get to really experience this culture?
PC: In many ways Cuban culture has never been more vital and electrifying. Because of visitors from around the world it is a true melange, with influences from Africa, South America, Europe and North America. Fusion is at the heart of the New Cuba – fusion in its music, art, dance, theatre, and food. Every day of our tour we will experience some Cuban history, but also have encounters with the living soul of Cuba through its poets, artists, dancers, and even a few ballplayers.
SEJ: On this journey you’ll be making a literary pilgrimage to Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s “Lookout Farm”. Do you have any favourite Hemingway works you’d recommend to others ahead of this journey?
PC: In 1939, Hemingway and his wife Martha Gellhorn rented Lookout Farm for $100, and then when he received his first royalty check for For Whom the Bell Tolls, they were able to buy it outright for $18,000. They lived their until his death in 1961 and Finca Vigia was opened as Museo Ernest Hemingway in 1994. For those who have a bit of the literary pilgrim in them, I recommend one of the books that he wrote while there: Islands in the Stream, A Movable Feast, The Old Man and the Sea. There is something haunting about stepping back in time and then standing in the room where a beloved piece of literature was actually written.
SEJ: Is there anything else you’d like to share about this journey to Cuba?
PC: For me, this opportunity to visit Cuba, after its decades-long isolation from the rest of the world, and just before the onslaught of modern tourism, is a kind of portal opening. We have a rare and beautiful opportunity to see a country and a culture (especially in the countryside) relatively untouched by the modern world. This will be a bountiful gift for those who love music, dance, literature, poetry, politics, food, sports, staggeringly beautiful landscapes, and more than anything, stout-hearted people. Bring your best cameras, journals, art supplies – and your own open heart. You have will be graced with memories for a lifetime.
If our interview has inspired you to visit this fascinating country, head over to our website to read the full tour itinerary and find out how you can travel to the true Heart of Cuba with Phil Cousineau. This is the very best time to visit Cuba – don’t miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime!
~ Sacred Earth Journeys