At the Havana airport waiting for our departure to Mexico City

July 17, 2016

Here is one last entry from Hornist Katie Dunkle’s mom Liz Dunkle.  At the moment we are at the Havana airport waiting for our 6:00 am flight to Mexico City.  The kids happen to also be in our vicinity although they are on a different flight entirely to Panama City.  All of our day started at 2:30 am to be able to arrive for our flight three hours ahead.  Some of us (me for one) was unable to sleep at all after the final concert the evening before.  Kids will get to Panama City with a one hour layover while us supporters will have a layover long enough to warrant a day tour to Mexico City.

While it was a treat to be indulged in a four star all inclusive international resort for the two days previous, a number of us were happy to return to a more “real” people to people experience.  It was a two hour drive back to Havana.  Being more of a city person, I felt more energized by the bustling city of over two million inhabitants. On the way, our tour guide Luis guided us to a cigar shop he recommended. There are 27 different brands in varying qualities, lengths, widths and prices. Many of us picked up more or less some of these prized products.  It felt obliging and we all knew we’d get guff from family and friends at home if we didn’t bring back any at all. I can’t speak for the performers as they acted as couriers for cigars.  Some of us also are bringing home rum, equally special but more cumbersome to transport.  Cuban rum is cheap and abundant here. I went a little overboard and am hoping that my couple of supporter friends are successful in “smuggling” in my rum goods.

One personal experience of interest was an expedition that a group of us Chinese Americans took to what remains as the Havana Chinatown.  At least decades ago, Cantonese laborers arrived in droves to Cuba to work the sugarcane fields. Only 100 Chinese still inhabit the island.  We met with the owner of one of the more authentic restaurants there and a couple of us in our group were able to converse in Mandarin about her story of her arrival. With many of the Chinese having fled Cuba during the revolution, the future generations intermarried and assimilated into Cuban life.  Another Chinese Cuban who I met at the San Jose Market immigrated to Cuba from Hong Kong along with her family.  It’s a life, she says, selling leather goods at this market is a means to gain more income.  Not easy, though, to work seven days a week. She would love to come to the US, has unsuccessfully tried to gain an entry visa.

Our farewell dinner together on the last Friday night at the luxurious National Hotel with performers and chaperones was a culmination and celebration of all of the hard work and efforts in making this daunting trip successful one.  In addition to our lovely sit down dinner, native entertainers in colorful costumes performed energetic song and dance. We all acknowledged all of those who were instrumental (no pun intended) in so many ways.   Also we expressed particular appreciation for the tireless efforts of Tiffany Bayly for the past year and a half. Farewell to the exiting seniors; they leave big shoes to fill. At the end of the meal, numerous combinations of family, friends and teachers posed in the front of the dining hall.

The final Saturday night 7/16 performance in Havana was a great one to conclude the series in Cuba.  This concert hall was modern and AIR CONDITIONED!!! Also, we supporters and chaperones sat up in balcony and along with the risers, I was at last able to see the horn section in its entirety. Joining in with our performers were local student performers.  Music is an international language.

Now we are waiting in Mexico City for our return to San Francisco.  We took a brief excursion to Mexico City during our ten hour layover there.  Mexico City is a huge vibrant bustling city rivaling any major world class city with its extensive subway system (3rd largest behind Russia and Japan), 114 museums, a huge university.  There is great beauty in what we saw in the old part of the city.  We enjoyed a delicious authentic lunch in a historical building.  I definitely would love to return to explore Mexico City.

All in all, this journey to Cuba has been successful in provoking thoughts and ideas.  It was amazing to learn about this fascinating country through the eyes of natives.  Together we supporters went from pairs and small individual groups to become bonded friends and one whole family.  We have made special bonds with the tour guides Luiz and Lucy, driver extraordinaire Giovanni and the calm leadership of OYO director Steven Payne.  This is a trip to remember for the rest of our lives.

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