Highlights from the Stellae Boreales Trip to Cuba, 2013
The thrill of the first notes of the first concert that filled the sanctuary of the Iglesia del Carmen with rich, glorious sound. ~JH
Finding the culture absolutely thriving and diverse. I loved the turquoise waters of the beach, the waterfall and the caves. It was also such an eye-opening and enriching experience to meet and dance with the Cuban music students. ~EI
Insecticide on the airplane. ~EB
The colour of the cars, the jungle, the colour of the buildings, the old square, the colours of the clothes, the artisan market. The colours of Cuba! ~HL
Dancing! Spending time with such spectacular people! ~UM
Meeting the people at the music school and dancing with them. I also liked playing at the church and at the Canadian Ambassador’s house. ~SK
The last beach – 9 out of 10! ~AF
Swimming in the giant waves at the beach. ~RJ
Jazz Café or beach. Performing at the Canadian Embassy. ~BF
Talking to Cuban people, Cuban music and dancing at the Jazz Café. Swimming at the beach and at the waterfall. ~OB-L
Watching our kids learn salsa dancing from the Cuban kids’ expert moves. ~GH
Riding the CocoTaxi along the Malecon. Watching an appreciative crowd rise to their feet in a standing ovation for SB’s first concert. Alberto’s gracious hand as we disembarked the bus. Best of all, Martha’s smile. ~AL
I appreciated our tour guide, Martha, giving us such insight into Cuban life. ~LJ
Walking through the jumble of streets of Centro Habana with its density of Cuban life, crumbling facades, colour, old cars, hanging laundry, couples walking, children playing, card games and conversations. ~DH
Laughing with a wonderful group of people while learning about a very interesting country and listening to superb Cuban and Canadian musicians. ~SW
The great sense of pride I felt listening to our wonderful musicians perform in the beautiful venue of the Canadian Ambassador’s home. The warmth and enthusiasm with which we were received created a welcoming atmosphere and vibrant exchange between the Ambassador and our group. ~LI
Being entertained by the Canadian Ambassador to Cuba at his palacial, tropical residence. ~NL
Enjoying everyone’s joy engaging with all the Cuban musicians. ~SP
Improvising with students at A.G. Caturla Arts School. ~JG
The air, sea, beach, food, music and RUM! ~KS
Swimming, eating delicious food, playing cards and playing with Ensemble Alternativo. I love being in Cuba. ~DH-W
Getting sprayed with mist and water at the waterfall. The currents were very strong. ~AW
Dancing late into the night. ~JL
The enthusiastic locals, floating in the turquoise waves, and the friendly spirit of the group. Love Cuba! ~LA
Food, friends, amazing landscapes, Cuban music, dancing, meeting new people from an amazing but very different culture, and last, but not least, the beach and waterfall. ~AT
For me there was no highlight. This is my last trip with Stellae Boreales. I treasured every moment. Every day was special in its own way. ~SS-P
After a refreshing three-and-a-half-hour sleep, we headed down to the cafeteria for a hearty breakfast of bread. We had a last look at the hotel and its surroundings: the peacocks, the locals hanging out on the sea wall, the tiling patterrn on the lobby floor. Once we had loaded the suitcases crammed with tourist paraphenalia onto the bus, we watched the sunrise as we were driven to the airport. We unloaded our luggage and waited in the check-in line for a long time. The currency exchange centre had run out of Canadian money and instead we were given American money. Then we went to our gate. And boarded the plane. And eagerly watched the safety demonstrations. Fascinating. Our flight to Toronto had several confused or badly behaved passengers on it: one man refused to wear a seatbelt, another promptly stood up and began gathering his bags when we touched down. Every 15 minutes the pilot announced a period of turbulence that was to last 15 minutes. We passed quickly through cutsoms at Pearson. It was weird to be able to communicate so easily with the airport staff after a week of language barrier struggles. The airport's free WiFi was put to good use streaming The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080 from YouTube. By trying not to look like criminals when passing security checkpoints, we ended up looking like criminals as a result of our forced neutral faces (at least I did. You know who this is.) After a delicious lunch at the airport, we went to our gate. And boarded the plane. And eagerly watched the safety demonstrations. One of the flight attendants burst out laughing while delivering an announcement in French and wasn't able to finish. The plane's take off sounded like dubstep. We flew to Ottawa at a "crusing altitude of 23 000 feet" with cabin-something Tyler. We were warmly greeted by friends and family and the weather (see what I did there?). What a comfort to be back in our rich country of standard plumbing and abundant toilet paper. Bye.
Today we visited the Santa Maria beach for one last mouthful of salty water. Luckily, the sun came out after the huge thunderstorm from the night before. To make things more exciting, there were some big waves! It was so much fun riding them as they pushed you back towards the shore.
Next, we headed over to the community centre to deliver some donations and get some Salsa lessons! The owner was so grateful for our donations as were we for the opportunity to learn how to dance. It was an amazing experience getting to meet the instructors and students. I think we were all wishing we could dance like them!
Next, we had some delicious food at a local restaurant.
After going back to the hotel and getting cleaned up, we headed over to a concert hall to perform, along with the Ensemble Alternativo and A.G. Caturla Arts School. They were all wonderful performances. We got standing ovations and fit in 5 bows! I think that was our best performance in Cuba!
After that, we went to a hotel for dinner with both groups. The food there was great and I loved bonding with the Cuban musicians. Leaving was hard; it felt like I’ve known these people forever! But, we had to go because we have an early start in the morning!
I’m writing this the day after I should have written it because there was no time yesterday (we danced until about 12:00pm). Anyway, instead of going to the beach, my mom and I decided to go to the Revolution Museum. We didn’t even make it to the front door because we were persuaded by a bike rickshaw driver, named Alexis, to take a tour of Havana. Alexis was extremely nice, and we ended up paying him more than 400% the rate, plus 2 cigars. Aftewards, we had Salsa lessons in the blazing sun before returning to our hotel. Then we had the concert and the dance with Cuban students.
(Please note: Certain elements of this documentation may be slightly exaggerated.)
The sun pierced through the clouds igniting them with a yellow glow. The yellow rays reached into the girls’ room as they slept. It was bliss! Then suddenly, a piercing screech broke the silence. Hailey was up in a flash having a silent heart attack. What was that noise? Allison rolled over sleepily and smacked the alarm clock. Thus ending the noise and beginning a typical day for the girls on their trip.
Groggily, the girls stumbled over each other and threw things into their bags. Hailey grunted, Allison yawned and their roommate Brooklyn slept. After cough medicine, the girls set out on their mission. After a bus ride into the depths of the Cuban jungle, they arrived at a small tobacco farm. “Black market, eh?” Hailey asked. “Let’s check it out”, Allison answered. The girls scouted out the land. Checking, always checking for signs of their mission. Tobacco leaves hung from poles in the barn and chickens wandered aimlessly around. Instructions from the commanders whispered in the girls brains, “always remember to document.” Out came the cameras, wildly clicking, capturing anything that could be used as evidence.
All seemed well among the gently swaying palm trees and clucking hens. But suddenly there was a strange rustling in the bushes. The hairs on the girls’ necks stood up. Danger was coming. Out of the foliage it came, pouncing and growling - a drooling monster with sharp teeth and claws. It slashed at the air and gave a terrible cry. In a flash it was charging at Hailey’s legs. Its claws sunk into her leg and the monster circled around her. Hailey cried out for help. Not a moment too soon, Allison came to Hailey’s rescue. She kneeled down and with one swift motion, started petting the puppy. “I gotcher back”, Allison reassured.
After quickly testing and examining the coffee and tobacco, the bus rolled on and they continued on their mission. However, in what seemed like merely seconds, the girls woke from their quick slumber and stared anxiously out the window. Hailey let out a cry of horror, “We’re rolling backwards!” The bus was currently on a narrow winding road that was hugging the mountain side, and it was indeed moving backwards down the mountain. The girls grabbed their seats, their hands getting white at the knuckles. There was a car that sat motionless behind them, getting closer by the second. When death seemed to be closing in on them, the bus driver put the brakes on. Relief flooded the girls’ bodies and they began to relax. But tension was rising among the crowd on the bus. What lay ahead? What was looming up the winding road? Apparently nothing, because the bus was moving forward again shortly after.
A short stop to investigate a lookout and a restaurant followed. Next, was an endeavour so intense it had never been attempted by humans. Exploring Cuban caves. A steep incline to the opening lay ahead. Inside the cave darkness crept in and surrounded the girls. Water dripped from the cavern walls and ran down the girls’ backs. Hailey bent down and began to crawl through a narrow passage. The walls seemed to be closing in on her, and panic rose within her. When all seemed lost, she emerged from the passage and the space around her ballooned into a yawning cavern.
But their adventures were not over. A mysterious man in a boat beckoned them to come in and explore. The girls felt it their duty to investigate, so they embarked on the journey. After a short ride a light emerged at the end of the tunnel. It grew until it was no longer a mere light, but their hope of escape. Slowly putting out of the cave, the boat had charted its course straight for the sharp edge of a waterfall. At the last possible second, the boatman turned the boat full circle and the girls’ lives were once more spared.
The bus hurried away from the cave as they were told their final destination would be unreachable after a certain hour and it was still more than sixty minutes away. The girls thought that it would be good to take advantage of this time to rest so they would have maximum energy for their last endeavour of the day. They arrived with just under an hour to complete their last task. A narrow bridge led them across a trickling stream, and after paying a small fee, they began their trek up the mountain. The stairs were numerous, with multiple ups and downs, steep and dangerous. An ominous road could be heard in the distance getting louder as they approached. After one final flight of stairs they had arrived. The girls craned their necks to look up at 250 feet of crashing water. The spray surrounded them and their hair began to cling to their faces.
Allison was the first of the girls to venture into the water. The current was strong as she struggled towards the waterfall, not sure what she was going to find. The rocks were wet and she slipped several times. After taking a moment to catch her breath, she pulled herself over the last rock and lowered herself into the upper level of the rock pool. The flowing water was now powering against her, pulling her backwards. She looked up staring as gallons of water pounded towards her. The sight was phenomenal and mesmerizing but terrifying. Allison had never seen anything like it in her life.
She was about to turn and see where her partner was, when the rock beneath her foot moved. She lost her balance and her head slipped under the water. The fast moving water rushed around her, clouding her vision. She would not be able to hold her breath for much longer. Desperately she made one strong attempt to break the surface. As her head emerged, she found that she had drifted away from the falls. Hailey beckoned to her from the water below. Their time was up. The bus was waiting to take them back to base.
They padded onto the bus, tired, yet satisfied. But just when they thought they could relax, a note pad and pen was tossed at them. It was time to file mission reports. Hailey sat down and tried to find the words to say about the exciting day. Finally the bus rolled back to home base and the girls ran up to their room. In their room they saw their long black cases which contained items of instrumental value to their mission objective. They felt somewhat relieved that these items did not have to be used that day. Overcome with exhaustion, the girls reflected on their day and felt a sense of satisfaction with the exciting events that helped completed their mission.
~HL & AT
Today everyone rose bright and early after our dynamic dancing excursion, and enjoyed a hearty breakfast before leaving to attend a workshop/rehearsal with a professional Cuban ensemble named “Alternativo”. The exchange was held in a stunning old building adorned with pillars and gothic decorations that overlooked the ocean. We met the Cuban orchestra and had the privilege of performing “Jealousy” for them. It was an incredibly enriching experience to play our pieces for them in such an intimate and heartfelt manner. Afterward, they played a few selections for us, and I was profoundly impressed by their musical prowess and rhythmic precision. Their playing was intriguing but they played in such an effortless and impassioned way, that it was evident to me that an acute musical intuition and zealous passion were woven into their heritage. We were able to rehearse our exchanged pieces together, and although it was a concentrated rehearsal, I felt that it was both productive and enlightening.
We then loaded up our violins and drove to a beautiful restaurant that was located in a courtyard. The idyllic ambience and scrumptious food made it a very memorable meal that certainly satiated my appetite. At that very same restaurant, a new Cuban quintet arrived and we were given the opportunity to play for them as well. They were very loquacious and amiable and we got to see their first performance – since they had only founded their group a couple of months ago. Their musical style was very rhythmic and impressive. It was fascinating to see the ease with which they blended percussion, woodwinds and violins to create such mesmerizing music. One aspect of their performance that especially piqued my interest was their spontaneity and true passion and sentimentality. They seemed to thoroughly enjoy the music they played and that pure love and dedication to music really radiated from their playing, and made the experience even more auspicious for the spectators. We were even able to learn a few of their rhythms and beats, and combine different skills in smaller groups. By the end of our workshop, everyone was able to play together in a variety of different beats and it was an incredibly entertaining experience for both the violinists and parents alike! It was a unique opportunity to see a new musical perspective and to be unified even more poignantly through the ubiquitous language of music.
After returning to the hotel and enjoying some much-needed rest and relaxation, we drove to the Canadian Ambassador to Cuba’s home. The architecture and design was magnificent and the tropical foliage was luxurious to behold. Inside his spacious home, the Ambassador was very hospitable and greeted us formally as we entered the main area. I thought the design of the house was very reflective of Cuban and Canadian culture, and it was inspiring to see how seamlessly our cultures were shared! I found the venue very elegant, and the ebullience of the guests contributed to its friendly environment. I was motivated to perform with professionalism and conviction. I could really sense the tangible unity and solidarity that we gain from playing together and from sharing the gift of music with such a culturally diverse audience. Even after playing, the other guests were very effervescent and forthcoming and it was a perfect opportunity to explain the origins of Stellae Boreales and to converse about their own experience in Cuba. Overall, I was especially impressed by the Ambassador’s kindness and welcoming attitude towards our ensemble. He provided us with an outstanding chance to experience music with both Canadian and Cuban cultures. Today was an incredible learning experience that allowed us to delve even deeper into this vibrant culture and to explore the vivacity and diversity of Cuban music and I’m sure that it will be a highlight of our wonderful trip!
Today we got up and went to go do a workshop with the professional group “Ensemble Alternativo”. First we played for them and then they played for us. They were really good! Finally, we joined forces to play a couple of pieces, “Rajando a la Mateodora” and “Jealousy”. It was very nice to play with them; their coach is very good. The Spanish piece had a nice strong beat; playing it, you kind of feel as if you ought to dance.
After lunch, we performed a piece for the “Habaneros” string quintet. They performed several pieces for us; I loved every one of them. They all had a very strong beat and it made me feel like moving. After, the lead violinist had us all stand up and we were divided into 5 small groups. Each of the groups played a rhythm and we represented the different instruments. I was in the group that was the maracas. After we were all secure in our parts, he had us stop and then the quintet played a pretty melody. Gradually, he brought us all in group-by-group. I was amazed as each group was playing a different rhythm. You wouldn’t think that it would come together so well. It sounded really beautiful.
After the workshop, we headed back to the hotel. After a quick rest, we headed off to the Canadian ambassador’s home for a performance. The house was easily recognisable by the Canadian flag that flew in the entrance. The house was huge and beautiful. There was even a pool. Before we played, we spoke a bit to the ambassador.
The acoustics where we performed were nice. When we finished performing, the ambassador stood up and thanked us and then the greatly appreciative audience rose and gave us a standing ovation. Following our spectacular performance, we stayed around for a while. Then we headed back to the hotel, had a late dinner and went to sleep. In conclusion, it was a great day.
I know that personally, I am cherishing every moment I am spending here, as it will be my last performance tour with Stellae Boreales. I have enjoyed getting to see and know Cuban culture as well as getting to spend time with the people in this group. SB is a wonderful ensemble; the people in it are the best I’ve met. They are nice, polite, funny and take care to include everyone. SB has meant a lot to me these past few years and I hope that everyone in the group, present and future, will have as great a time as I did.
Today was very eventful, as we went to a Cuban school, visited an art gallery, went to the beach, and returned to the Jazz Café to listen and dance to some music.
When we first arrived at the Cuban school, I was kind of surprised about the nice greenery and space there was in the school. Right through the front gate, there was a lawn with gardens of trees and flowers, and then the entrance to the actual building. We performed inside, where there was a roof over our heads, but no door or wall on one side. Instead, the room was open to yet another garden, which could be seen from inside the school. Even though it was really hot inside, it was still lots of fun playing with the school orchestra. Actually, there were multiple groups inside and out of the first orchestra we listened to.
I guess I should explain how the performance was laid out: the school orchestra started with one piece, then we performed our four pieces, and the various school groups finished off the concert. There were also two solos, performed by school students, which were really good. According to the vice principal of the school, the groups had only been practicing together for two months, so the result was incredible! At the end of the performance, all the Stellae Boreales members, and the students at the school stood up and danced to the final pieces played by the school group. It was loads of fun, listening to the different groups play, comparing the piece styles between Cuba and Canada, and finally, giving out the donations. When the performance was over, we handed out some Stellae Boreales hats to the students and performers. It was great to see them all put them on right away. We also handed out pins in the shape of a Canadian flag, and other musical donations like strings and bows. It was amazing getting to see different types of music, and also how well they played.
Then we went to an art gallery to, well, look at art. The different types of art were interesting, with twists to what would look like, at first, for example, an insect. In this case, the sculpture of the insect was gigantic, with perfect details and everything for it to deserve a place in the art gallery. It would have been, for me, one of the highlights of the gallery, if not for the human inside the bug. Instead of a normal insect body, it was a human inside. That kind of really made me rethink my opinion of the piece. So yes, it was still one of the highlights of the gallery, but not in the way I thought it would be.
In the afternoon, we returned to the beach we had gone to on the second day here in Cuba. The “Jellyfish Beach.” Or, at least that’s what I call it. There are tiny, transparent jellyfish that swim everywhere while you’re swimming. If you move your arm through the water, you can feel them bumping into you. Today, we discovered something else, almost as interesting: a coral reef. There are tropical fish that hide under the rocks that dart out at you. They come in every colour: yellow, orange, blue, etc. So, AF and AW tried catching some with a plastic bag. It didn’t work. The last time we had gone to the beach, DH-W had brought a floating mini soccer ball and a water Frisbee, which we had passed around in the water. DH-W hadn’t gone to the beach today, and he hadn’t lent us the toys, so we tried to make a ball with a plastic bag by filling it up with air. I didn’t think it would work, and guess what? It didn’t. So, in conclusion, plastic bags are useless for catching fish and being a ball. After, we tried tossing around a plastic bottle. The wind kept blowing the bottle to destinations other than the one we wanted, so OB-L had this great idea of filling up the bottle with water. Then he threw the full bottle at his brother, AB-L, who missed the throw. They then started a brother-to-brother water fight. I concluded that the bottle wasn’t the best idea either. AW eventually found a coconut to toss around, but by that time, I was too tired to play, so I went to the shore and sat in the water, enjoying the waves. When we left the beach, I was kind of glad, because I was so tired from swimming around the whole afternoon, but I wish we could go back every day.
The very last thing we did today was return to the Jazz Café to listen to some music played by a known band here in Cuba. At first, when we were asked if we wanted to go, most of us had voted not to go, since we were all so tired from the day’s events. But then Karoly stood up and told us that we were all going to go. So, we got ready and went to the lobby to go on the bus to the Café. When we got down, three others weren’t there, and Karoly told us that he wasn’t going either, because he had a headache. So, the three boys didn’t have to go, and the rest of us who were still really tired were forced to go as well. Even though my mom asked me if I wanted to stay at the hotel instead of going, because she was staying behind, I voted to go to be with my friends. I think I made the right choice. In the bus going there, SS-P and I, being so tired, played “I Spy”. The only object we could think of was a tree. So, we played “I Spy” with a tree. Here’s how the game went:
SS-P: I spy, with my little eye, something that is green.
JL: Hm. Let me think. Is it a tree?
SS-P: How did you know? Okay, your turn.
JL: I spy, with my little eye, something that has leaves.
SS-P: Okay, wild guess here. Is it a tree?
JL: SS-P, you’re too good at this game! How did you guess it so quickly?!
And so on and so forth.
I think that PL, who was sitting near us, was getting quite annoyed, but when you’re bored, you have to do what you have to do. When we got there, we listened to a few songs before actually starting to dance. SS-P, UM and I were pretty much the only ones dancing for the first few songs, while everyone else was still drinking their Pina Coladas. We were taught some new dance moves by Martha, and I had lots of fun. After a while, AB-L got everyone up to dance, and started pairing up people to dance together. Let me just say that SS-P told me after that she wanted to kill him for his idea. We were there for the rest of the day, and some more into the morning.
This is also where I hand the blogging over to SS-P, because my blogging day is over. Actually, I’m writing this part the day after I’m supposed to write, because we were at the Jazz Café for the whole night and a bit into the morning of the next day, so to explain what we did, I had to write it today, or the day after my blog day. Anyways, all I have to say is that I had and am having an amazing time here in Cuba, and even though our trip is already half over, I’m looking forward to everything else we’re going to do.