Cuba: a ten day journey


I organized a delegation to conduct research to investigate lessons learned from Cuba about sustainable development policies, practices, and plans. In addition to learning about how Cuba is facilitating a path of ecological development, the unintended result was a healing journey full of magic, love, and lessons of the heart.

La Plaza restaurant in Old Havana - Photo by Sylvia Frain

Our first day in Havana our delegation had an official welcome.

Lunch at Casa Amistad, the Friendship House, former palatial home

Official welcome for our delegation -- Photo by John Duvall

And then a delightful lunch in the Casa de Amistad, Friendship house.

Casa de Amistad was the former palace of Havana socialites. Their art, gardens, and excusite home now serves as a public meeting place - photo by Sylvia Frain
Casa de Amistad was the former palace of Havana socialites. Their art, gardens, and exquisite home now serves as a public meeting place - photo by Sylvia Frain

The next morning we toured the Traditional and Green Medical Clinic in Havana where a team of doctors explained how Cuban medicine offers a series of holistic health care. The doctors work in teams and have regular meetings to discuss patient care.

Doctors give us a tour of the homoepathic lab, color/chrome therapy, acupuncture rooms, and physical therapy facilities. Photo by Sylvia Frain

therapies such as Light therapy or Color Chrome therapy uses ultraviolet and  infrared light, homeopathy, acupuncture, physical therapy, psycho therapy and herbal remedies.

Color or Chrome Therapy

An integral part of the medical treatment for the doctors was looking at each patient and treating the mind, body, and spirit.

There work included a new line of homeopathic research with Chilean doctors who have researched traditional indigenous knowledge and homeopathic practices with desert flowers from Chile.

I went for a medical consultation with

Doctor Idania explaining Traditional and Green Medicine Practices in Cuba with Translator and Guide Jesus Garcia Marin. Photo by John Duvall 2010

Idiania, who was a trained oncologist who spent 5 years in a UNICEF-run orphanage in Ethiopia after the war with Eritrea, where there were over 20,000 orphans.

She then went on to study Chinese Traditional Medicine for three years and practiced both types of medicine for several years. Then she completed a three-year training homeopathic medicine  and now practices an integrated approach of holistic medicine that diagnoses and treats the mind, body and spirit.

Dr. Idania, MD, holistic healer -Photo by John Duvall

She told me about great results their group of medical practitioners were having with autistic children and young adult patients with Downs Syndrome. One of her patients with Downs Syndrome arrived at the clinic to buy some homeopathic drops while I was there and in my brief encounter with him I was could see the work she was doing was effective.

After visits to the idyllic senior center in old Havana.

Senior Citizen Hostile in Havana - Photo by John Duvall
Senior Hostel - Photo by Nicole Alfaro

The group visited a model urban farm in suburban Alamar. Alamar is a large housing complex outside of Havana with some 10,000 residents.

Lettus at organic urban farm in Alamar, Cuba. Photo by Sylvia Frain and Nicole Alfaro

Sylvia’s video clip from the bus on the way to the farm at Alamar, while our guide, Jesus Garcia Marin talks about riding his bike to the farm to buy fresh vegetables.

Our group headed out to the UNESCO Heritage City of Trinidad where we met with the town restoration specialists. After the meeting he showed an art studio were one of his paintings was exhibited.

Then we headed off to Topes de Collantes, some 8,000 above sea level. Topes de Collantes features KurHotel, a health spa  where Cubans go for up to 21 days of healing and R&R.The spa offers a variety of traditional and alternative treatments including hydrotherapy, mud baths, massage, psycho therapy, physical therapy, Chrome color therapy, laser therapy, as well as cool tropical air at 8,000 meters of elevation surrounded by waterfalls, jungle, and organic coffee plantations.

Topes de Collantes is up in the clouds and the cool mountain air provided cool relief for the intense heat of Trinidad. We stayed at the hotel Los Helechos, the ferns, where we enjoyed rooms with balconies looking over the jungle. Topes is right next to biodiversity preserve.

After a tour of the area and meeting about the work of the biodiversity reserve, we toured the organic coffee plantations and tasted some of Cuba’s finest organic mountain grown coffee. We went to the local university and met with several Deans and Professors.

Agronomy Professor and Philosophy Professor at a rural university specializing organic agriculture in the Escambray coffee region

A graduate from their program man who grew up on a coffee cooperative on the mountain was our local guide, Jer Luis, was a trained agronomist and was getting a master’s degree via distance learning.

"I am from the mountain and my thesis is on the effects of agriculture on the ecosystem" - Photo by Nicole Alfaro

Then half the group stayed with at the hotel and got first hand looks at medical care in Cuba as one of our delegation members got a double ear infection. She received tip top care.

A few delegates got full body massages, while the rest hiked down to a waterfall where we swam in the natural pool on a guided tour of the flora and fauna from JerLuis.

The Escambray mountains rest atop a layer of quartz covered with a rick red soil.

Entrance to a small cave in the Escambray mountains
Hike to the waterfall - Photo by John Duvall
Swimming at the waterfall - Photos by John Duvall

Topes de Collantes was made a biodiversity preserve and is host to a many plants and insects.

UNESCO Biodiversity preserve - one of the largest preserves in the WORLD

That night a few of us went to some pre-Carnival outdoor music in Trinidad.

The next day we drove to Cienfuegos in the middle of Cuba where we met with folks for the ecology center.

Visit to the Center for Environmental Studies

Center for Environmental Studies of Cienfuegos

The subtitle of the Center for Environmental Studies of Cienfuegos is “…a bridge towards sustainable development.” The work of the team there was very impressive.

Ecologist work with local residents for sustainable solutions

There are five major initiatives, however, each based on a philosophy of working with the local populations, local and federal governments, and scientists to create sustainable development.

There main areas of investigation.

Environment: Contribute to the conservation and protection of the environment through scientific and technical development and innovation.

Environmental Engineering: Identify, evaluation and offer ecological solutions to environmental problems with an emphasis on industry –high level scientists look for alternative solutions to prevent the correct industrial pollution.

Then off to Jibacoa coastal region.

Jibacoa beach

I went to meet an old friend who works at the local TV Station.

Julio Cabezas and Valerie Landau, reunion after 35 years

I first met Julio Cabesas in 1975. He was 14 and I was 17. My mother was working with Cuba theater director Huberto Llamas. Huberto had recently completed his university training and was completing his community service by setting up a community theater project in a new rural community that was built in the early 1970s, La Loma del Tanque. Julio was recruited by Huberto and training in diction.

He then served as radio announcer for the local radio station and is a ham radio aficionado. The radio program he hosted served as a kind of radio bullitin board. Since the majority of people in Cuba do not have telephones and the mail service is not reliable, each local community has a radio show where people can send messages: everything from lost dog, to birth announcements, messages about illness for relative and friends.

It is a popular show, particularly for those living in remote areas.

Julio then went on to take a five month course in videography and is now the camera man for a local show of participatory democracy. He interviews local townspeople and asks them what they would like to see improved.

Cabezas family - Photo by John Duvall

Then he gathers the clips and creates a montage, which he shows to the local administrator who, live, on TV, must address the complaints. They then have live call in for follow up questions. He says this forum serves the local community very well in keeping local administrators in check.

“Imagine.” Julio said, “We are a community of approximately 36,000 people. So after you go on the air making promises of fixing wrongs…you better make good on your word. All of your neighbors heard you promise. And many of them call in during the live section, if the administrator tries to cover up or misrepresent the truth. It is a very powerful tool for our community. I am very proud of my work and of our town.”

Professor John Duvall tasting rum from the Havana Club factory nearby where Julio

READ the Prequel about Julio Cabezas and his story

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