Imagine my surprise, returning to my hotel at the end of a long day to find that the towels had all been arranged on my bed so that they resemble swans. I found that this display of housekeeping origami was more the norm than not. Now think about walking into a small bodega-type store only to find that boxes of vanilla- or chocolate-filled cookies were pretty much the only packaged goods on the shelf. Not far away stretched a canopy of foliage where I spotted the world's smallest bird, the bee hummingbird.
Another day, I walked around a village that's completely wrapped around an eco concept, where a restaurant is solar powered and the hotel was built to accommodate the resident trees. In this village, Las Terrazas, I sat at a coffee shop high above lush gardens, ordered a cappuccino and stared into the foam at the barrista's insistence: the chocolate powder was sprinkled in the form of Che Guevara. Welcome to Cuba, a land of diversity and disparities, a land with warm, welcoming and exceedingly creative people, and protected green spaces that would satisfy even the most discriminating birder or botanist. I found a family of potters, a young jazz ensemble, a choral group whose repertoire included everything from Renaissance to Japanese folk music, and a slew of contemporary painters producing some very surreal work that I would gladly own.
Because it's difficult for Americans to travel to Cuba directly, I signed up with International Expeditions so that I could see the less touristy side of this politically-charged isle.
The above slide show will give you a glimpse into Cuba's colorful treasures.