Havoc in Havana

The immigration officials must have found it very ironic that the children of the “Creating Modern Capitalism” generation chose the bastion of communist revolutionary belief for their spring break vacation. Despite the irony of it, roughly 10% of the current September RC cohort set off to Cuba for a week of cigar smoking, mojito sipping, salsa dancing and communist slogan reading. Despite bold threats of defection and abandonment of the capitalist dream from some – the writer was passed a note in class before the trip that read “If I get lost, look for me in Cuba”, a quote by Lorca – all seem to have returned with nothing more than a healthy tan and renewed enthusiasm.

The number of groups going to Cuba seemed to increase exponentially and inversely in relation to the number of weeks left before spring break. As a result, most of the spring breakers had strange Spangler-like encounters with fellow HBS students in unlikely locations such as Havana Vieja and nightclubs in Varadero. Any hopes of anonymous and irreproachable debauchery were quickly devastated. At least one group was granted official HBS Trek status by its own members. The trip organised by Ana Fernandes (NA) for a group of 22 Latin American and semi-Latin students was christened Ana Trek, quite aptly. Some of the semi-Latin members of the group came a step closer to achieving full-Latin status – they were baptized and renamed Graziela, Katia and Mojito Moooonson. Patty (NG), ironically of Jewish faith, was the master of ceremonies at the baptism! Another group called itself “The Last of the Mojitos” – presumably because its members set themselves the bold task of ridding the Caribbean island of the delicious cocktail by consuming unprecedented quantities of the beverage.
The groups seemed to do little to get away from their capitalist credentials while in the communist country. Seemingly unmoved by the compelling messages on billboards heralding the ultimate victory of the revolutionary struggle, the majority of HBSers spent the bulk of their time in the Cancun-like resort of Varadero, staying in 5-star hotels and smoking fat Cohibas. However, there were a few bold souls who ventured to discover the real Cuba, untouched by tourism. A couple of intrepid HBS travellers from NB befriended Cubans on the streets of Havana and earned an invitation to watch a traditional Santamaria ceremony – black magic-style African religious ritual. Another HBS student went in search for his roots, by visiting his grandmother’s native town. Matthias (ND), Pedro (NF) and Stephan (NF) got off the beaten track and stayed in spacious rented apartments in several small towns. Others contented themselves with the experience of eating a tremendous lobster dinner – each lobster was a least 1 foot long – in a casa particular (private house) in Varadero, organised by Rafa (NB).

Most groups also spent a few days in Havana, exploring the colonial streets of the capital and its breezy restaurants and bars. The typical Havana stay appeared to centre on long afternoons of music in some of Hemingway’s old haunts. It was easy to find remarkable musical talent and tunes … la Buena Vista Social Club around every corner

Despite adhering faithfully to their capitalist habits, the HBS students did much to dispel the image, often promulgated by students in other business school, of stiffness and insipidness. All parties displayed a great deal of flamboyancy. Our very own Iranian-born NF ballerina performed a fully clothed dance in the swimming pool and fountain of a Havana nightclub. Also memorable were the gyrations of the Ana Trek group on assorted dance floors. The trip seemed to foster closer links between some of the HBSers and “that’s what made it so beautiful”, according to one of the travellers. Not so beautiful was the site of one HBSer devouring an innocent female victim – the couple were unaware of the fact that the feast was captured on the screen over the dancefloor they graced ! At least one of the spring breakers revealed his true colors during the trip. Benji (NA) proved to be a hit with the ladies in his trip – as suggested by ample photographic evidence. One of the girls had the pleasure of sharing breakfast in bed with Benji and declared him to be a true gentleman.

It appears that trips to Cuba are not without their mishaps, however. Brett (NB) found himself the victim of a minor scuffle when he courageously stepped in to aid in defending the honour of Daniel’s (NE) girlfriend – fittingly named Daniela. It turned out that the provoker was also from Boston (one of the few Bostonians in Havana not associated with HBS, I hasten to add)! The result was a sneak excursion to two of the less frequently visited tourist attractions in Havana – the local hospital and the police station – both found to be surprisingly empty and orderly, despite the dilapidated d‚cor. Members of another groups found that the fourth emergency service in Cuba is not quite up to AAA standards when they were towed at 60 mph tied to the back of a truck by nothing more than a rope. The Ana Trek group experienced some of the traditional package travel difficulties – spending 6 hours in a tourist bus to complete a journey that would normally take 2 hours and spending a night in an insect infested hotel. Nonetheless, many in the group claimed that “going through tough times together” helped them bond!

Finally all the students returned to Boston, despite minor struggles through customs and immigration. Many were forced to leave behind their Cuban cigars and rum, but none will leave behind the bonding experience and the memories of their Cuban adventure.

March 26, 2001
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