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On August 4th to the 16th I traveled to Cuba with the St. Augustine-Baracoa Friendship Association (www.staugustine-baracoa.org ), which is a sister city organization between the oldest city founded in North America, St. Augustine, and the oldest city of Cuba, Baracoa.
This was my second time to Cuba, as I had travelled to Cuba with a small student delegation from my school in March of 2010. This time I travelled independently, meeting many new and wonderful people and having the best time of my life in Cuba. The town of Baracoa was celebrating its 500th year of existence, as it was founded on August 15th, 1511.
The beautiful colonial town of Baracoa was bustling with activity, as people were painting and working on restoration up to the final day. There were trucks everywhere and so many people that the city was bursting with its small colonial era streets so congested that I believe this was the first time that Baracoa had experienced a traffic jam! The leader of the delegation, Soledad, helped set up an arrangement for me to meet a medical around my same age who was having trouble learning English as she thought maybe I could be of some help. It turned out to be the best thing to happen to me there, to make a genuine friend. He and I spent lots of time together, mostly just walking around town talking about whatever.
Every day was a celebration, but there were a few highlights of my visit there that stand out. The first is seeing a presentation of Afro-Cuban folk performers, which was a very intense and spectacular event to experience. The way they move their bodies to the rhythm of the drums is fascinating, and the way they danced was so powerful that I could feel the pounding of their feet on the pavement of the road they were performing on. Then there was my walk with my friend to Yara, a fishing village with piers that the locals made themselves. Then there were the conga lines that randomly formed near the center of the city. This was a unique Afro-Cuban Conga, with drum players and a flute player that guided the crowd of hip-moving dancers. I joined one with my new friend, and this was easily the best experience of my life. The pulsating energy of this dance was so intense you could feel it everywhere.
The final celebration on the night before the 15th, there was a huge crowd gathered at La Punta to watch various events that would lead up to midnight with fireworks celebrating the day of the 500th birthday of Baracoa. The thing was that the celebration was nearly ruined by torrential rains, and my friend and I ran back to his uncle’s house through the pouring rain and streets turned into rivers. The celebrations continued, with the fireworks going off amidst the storm. The enduring spirit of the city would not be ruined by anything, truly Cuban.