- Written by Jessica Riel
- Published: 10 February 2017
You’re walking on cool mosaic tiles in the lobby of an old Spanish-style hotel while a warm breeze carries in the sound of chattering voices from outside and a bird flies through an open window, up and over your head.
The scene changes, and now you’re outside that old hotel in a plaza, surrounded by people of all ages. A cluster of old men sit along a low wall in the shade of giant trees; children play while their parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents chat; and before you is the oldest church in Cuba, fresh yellow paint on centuries-old adobe walls.
This isn’t a dream, and it’s not a flight of fancy, either. This is Thursday morning at 11 a.m. at the Northfield Senior Center, and you’re one of many attendees to the Arm Chair Travel series, enjoying companionable lunch (optional, with a suggested donation of $2.50) while taking a trip through another land through the stories of a pair of travelers and their vibrant photos.
On a Thursday in January, 2017, Martha Tenney and Carol Pike, both retired teachers and residents of Northfield, led a gathering of senior center goers on a trip through central Cuba, from a small city called Remedios to the university town of Santa Clara, onto the city of Matanzas and ending on the resort beaches of Varadero. This was part two of their three-part presentation on their journey through Cuba in May, 2016, with a “people-to-people” tour group through the Grand Circle Foundation.
Joe Manning, also of Northfield, found the presentation very interesting. “I like to travel but haven’t traveled that much,” he said, so this series gives him a chance to experience more of the world than he otherwise would. Cuba has a special significance for a man of his age. “I remember all the tough times that Cuba went through under Castro.”
Tenney and Pike spoke of their visit to a farm called “Finca Luna,” finca meaning farm and luna being a composite of the two owners’ names: Luis and Nancy. There they sat down for a lunch al fresco served buffet style while musicians played, and peacocks and chickens roamed freely underfoot. They learned about the farm’s products, which included coffee, bananas, mangoes, cashews, flowers, and foliage plants.
Their presentation concluded on white, sandy beaches with views of turquoise-blue sea in the tourist resort region of Varadero, which has been open to non-American visitors for more than 20 years, helping to keep the Cuban economy going. This place, though beautiful, was “very artificial,” said Tenney, and, with mile after mile of hotels, “not really Cuba.” At the edge of the ocean sits Xanadu Mansion, built by wealthy American business owner Alfred Irénée du Pont in the late 1920s and now a boutique hotel and golf club. Outside in the parking lot, a 1950s American car in pristine condition sat, its “Taxi” marker indicating a Cuban driver was waiting for his foreign client.
Tenney and Pike, along with their fellow travelers, brought small gifts to share with the local people: toothpaste, soap, and other toiletries; children’s toys and books; pencils, pens, and paper; and even pieces of musical instruments and dance shoes. These and other seemingly commonplace items are still hard to find in Cuba. While many things appeared to be shabby or in disrepair, everything that could be reused and repurposed was. Carol was impressed by the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and pride of the people.
Part three of the trip to Cuba will continue later in 2017 with a presentation on the capital city of Havana.
The Arm Chair Travel series begin in 2014 with a “trip” to China: a woman whose son lived there shared photos and spoke of the culture, history, and people she encountered on her visits. Since then, other excursions have included the Amazonia, Berlin, Brazil, Costa Rica, Croatia, Egypt, Iceland, India, Morocco, Poland, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey.
“We have about five or six people who have traveled all over the world,” says Heather Tower, director of the Northfield Senior Center, who arranges the sessions. “It’s been drawing more and more people.”
The next gathering will take place in February. For more information, visit the senior center page on the town website at www.northfieldma.gov/senior-center and click “Senior Newsletter” to find and download the most recent calendar, or call Heather Tower, director, at (413) 498-2901 ext.114.