Excited and full of anticipation. That’s how I would describe my feelings and those of my Sport Tours International compatriots as we landed in Havana, Cuba in late April. We were traveling to Cuba to pave the way for two teams who will be visiting the island this summer. It was the first visit for three of us but a familiar return for Lee Frederick, Sport Tours’ founder, who had accompanied Coastal Carolina’s men’s basketball team on their historic visit to the island last year.
Sport Tours International will arrange the tours for the women’s teams from Louisville and Bowling
Green to Havana in August. They will be the second and third University basketball teams from the USA (and the first women’s teams) to visit Cuba since President Obama announced a move toward normalization with our next door neighbor in 2014.
Over 55 years ago, on October 19, 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower announced to the American people that he had ordered a commercial, economic and financial embargo of Cuba. “El Bloqueo” (the blockade), as it is called in Cuba, remains in effect today. In spite of lifting many of the travel restrictions and the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries, many barriers remain. Cuba has always been so close (90 miles from Key West) and, yet, so far way.
Although business meetings and preparations for our team’s visits took up much of our time, we were able to see and enjoy some of the beautiful and historic parts of Havana. The Capital City is a bee hive of activity these days. While we were there, Fast and Furious 8 was being filmed in the city streets and Chanel was debuting their new fashion lines and fragrances using Old Havana as the backdrop. In the last seven months, Havana has welcomed Pope Francis, President Obama and hosted a free Rolling Stones concert. “Havana is one of the most exciting places on Earth at the moment” observes New York Magazine.
Even with all the action, the best memories of our visit are the personal ones - the dinner gatherings with Cuban friends; a walk back to our hotel at night thru the narrow streets of Old Havana; a jog along the Malecon, Havana’s historic seawall; the electric Cuban music in our hotellobby, the classic taxi’s waiting outside in the square and a visit to Vinales, a small town in the middle of tobacco country.
Cuba is calling. After more than a half century of awkward and unfortunate silence, the conversation is beginning again. There is much to talk about, to catch up on and to share. Sport Tours is fortunate to be able to play an important part in this new and exciting exchange. We are looking forward to Louisville and Bowling Green advancing the conversation this August. It promises to be a fun and fascinating time.