I just returned last night from Cuba where I had the privilege and pleasure of guiding CNN TV anchor Michael Smerconish and his family on a week-long ‘people-to-people’ vacation.

Michael interviewed me three months ago on his Sirius XM Radio show, following which he invited me to prepare an itinerary for he and his family to experience Cuba first-hand.

I was already in Havana when the family flew in from the USA on July 31st for three nights at the flagship Hotel Nacional, followed by two nights in Viñales, and a further two nights in Havana.

What a tremendous experience! The family–Michael and wife Lavinia and children Michael, Wilson, Lucky, and Cait, plus her husband-to-be Jason–proved a delight to spend time with. Better yet, each family member displayed an open-minded passion to understand Cuba, and it was my duty and delight to help make that possible by giving context to their experience and by introducing them to a coterie of Cuban friends.

Michael Smerconish and family in La Guarida, Havana, cropped; copyright Christopher P. Baker

Michael Smerconish and family on the stairs to La Guarida restaurant, Havana, Cuba; copyright Christopher P. Baker

On day one, I asked my close friend Urbano to drive the family to dinner at the world-renowned paladar (private restaurant) La Guarida in  his 1958 Edsel Corsair convertible, accompanied by Michael in a 1959 Ford Thunderbird. Restaurant owner Enrique Nuñez kindly showed up to greet Michael’s family and begin the week-long conversation about Cuba’s remarkable renaissance in entrepreneurship. Great start! Michael is a cigar lover and aficionado and, no surprise, we inaugurated the week with a great smoke… a daily routine that added immensely to the experience.

Highlights of our second day walk in Habana Vieja included visiting the Taller Experimental de Gráfica (experimental graphic workshop), a bodega (ration store), and a solar (slum), where we got a first-hand look at some the very worst urban living conditions that exist side-by-side.

At Las Terrazas, artists Henry Aloma and Lester Campa provided insights into Cuba’s art education system and yet another look at the possibilities of private enterprise and personal artistic expression. And back in Havana, my pal and fellow motorcycle tour guide Luis Enrique demonstrated how Cuba’s mechanical wizards resolve the difficulties of maintaining their 1950s automobiles and Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

I’ve no doubt that the biggest thrill for Michael was our visit to Finca Pinar San Luis, where I introduced he and the family to tobacco farmer Hiroshi Robaina and his farm manager Ivan Hernández.

For a full sense of this fascinating week, including the encounter with Hiroshi, read Michael’s story in the Philadelphia Inquirer and watch  his CNN video clip.

If you’re interested in your own customized ‘people-to-people’ tour of Cuba, I’ll be happy to prepare (and possibly lead) a curated itinerary. Click here for more details.

 

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Christopher P Baker

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Christopher P. Baker, one of the world's most multi-talented and success travel writers and photographers is considered the foremost authority on Cuba travel and culture. Winner of the Lowell Thomas Award 2008 as 'Travel Journalist of the Year,' he has authored more than 30 books, leads tours for National Geographic Expeditions and other companies, and is a Getty Images and National Geographic contributing photographer.