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Stan and Knight Tours spent a mid-winter break exploring the island of Cuba. On the first part of the trip. he participated at a United Nations conference as a Delegate from World Affairs Napa Valley, along with representatives from 75 countries.

While in Havana, Stan connected with a local guide and explored the historic harbor town, once the vital hub of Spanish activity in the new world.

The Cuban people, despite living with hardship and poor economy, are among the friendliest people I have met in my world travels. There is a sense of egalitarianism, "joie de vivre" and racial harmony. A sign in the airport referred to "True Cuban Emotions." I wondered if the authoritarian system creates a shared sense that everyone is stuck with the status quo, because getting ahead is difficult here. In scenic Cienfuegos town, the colorful market was full of friendly locals, who welcomed my feeble attempts at Spanish, "Uno caffe negro, por favor." It worked!

Music and dance are a big part of Cuba's cultural scene, with both Afro-Cuban pop and Spanish-influenced rhythmic salsa sound. Yunaisy Parra (below), the wife of my guide in Havana, is a professional dancer, shown performing at an outdoor show on the Havana seaside.

Then, an excursion into the countryside staying with locals in "casa particulare," homes with a spare room and hearty breakfast for $25 a night. A stop at Che Guevera's tomb led to the historic city of Trinidad. A trek by horse-cart into the countryside near Trinidad, led to a rustic hut serving refreshments made from a sugar cane press.

One of the oldest European-built cities in the new world, the historic town of Trinidad looks much like old-world Europe, with cobblestone streets, colonial-era churches, archways and villas. Very few Americans visit this scenic gem on the south coast, but I met tourists from France, Canada, Mexico and Turkey.

Last stop was scenic Cienfuego, where Stan's host was a retired government official. He outlined Cuba's history of popular uprisings since colonial days and how the idealistic Castro revolution gave way to government by an elite, while ordinary citizens struggle to get by.

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