Caribbean editor Gay Nagle Myers is in Cuba on a six-day Friendly Planet travel agent fam trip, exploring Havana and its environs. Her second dispatch follows. Click to read Gay's first dispatch.
I saw firsthand the quality of emergency medical treatment in Cuba.
The husband of one of the travel agents on the Friendly Planet fam trip this week took a bad fall off a curb at the Plaza de la Revolucion in Havana.
Taxis were not readily available to get him to the nearest hospital, so our guides helped him onto our tour bus, the driver Asam expertly maneuvered through traffic and pulled up to the closest hospital 10 minutes later.
Later, his wife Linda Spiegler, a travel counselor with Frosch Travel in Washington, D.C., reported that he received excellent, immediate care that required several stitches to close the forehead wound.
"My husband Paul is a doctor himself. Both he and I were very impressed and pleased with the speed and quality of the care he received, the explanation regarding the medications dispensed and the follow-up instructions given before he was released from the emergency room," Spiegler said.
For travelers, health insurance while in Cuba is mandatory and was included in the Friendly Planet guest information packet along with options for additional coverage.
For Cubans, health care, like education, is free.
Paul rested for a day and then rejoined the group in good spirits despite a large dressing covering his forehead wounds and a couple of black eyes.
"Our number one export is doctors. They all are well-qualified once they receive their medical degrees here and are sent all over the world to assist when international medical emergency crises erupt," Jorge Mario Sanchez , a professor at the University of Habana, had told us earlier in the week.
Three days later, at Las Terrazas, a countryside community outside Havana founded after the Cuban Revolution in 1959 by campesinos (local famers) to help each other overcome the hardships of sleeping in huts with thatched roofs and living without electricity, local schools or medical services, I met the young nurse who cares for the 267 families who live and work there.
"I take care of their basic needs at the clinic here, but we send to hospital when serious. We need to have an ambulance. We don't have one. Pregnant women leave at 37 weeks to go to the main clinic or maternity home close to hospital to await the births of their babies," she said.
Las Terrazas is now part of a 12,000-acre national park with protected species of birds and marine life.
"We have 31 species of birds here, 11 are indigenous, the rest arrived without visas but are allowed to stay," our guide Cecilia told us.
We visited the local bodega at Las Terrazas where the Cubans living there shop for basic foods using the quotas in their subsidized ration books.
The inventory was minimal -- eggs, bread, rice, sugar, beans, root vegetables. I watched as the bodega worker measured out one cup of cooking oil for a customer and then checked off the amount in her ration book.
Every Cuban has a ration book. Those who can afford it supplement the basics by shopping at other stores where more foods are available.
I visited the studio of the artist Ariel who makes beautiful paper from the pulp of recycled scraps of typing paper, pushing the pulp through an antiquated Russian washing machine, pressing it between rags and hanging it up to dry.
Ariel then paints the birds at Las Terrazas on these papers. I bought several.
"What is this bird called?" I asked, pointing to a brightly colored green-red-blue bird in flight.
His answer was somehow lost in translation. I think he said, "It's a Cuban tootie."
I also bought two miniature wooden hummingbirds that Ariel carved from scraps left over from the carpenter shop next door.
"You will hang in your garden?" Ariel asked me.
"No, from my ears," I answered, pointing to the bird earrings I was wearing that day. "I will make into earrings."
"Ah, you are clever," he said.
No, the Cubans are way ahead of me in that area. They waste nothing, they make do, they create, innovate and take what they have been dealt and deal with it.
We can learn so much from them.