"Banned" in Cuba? Not If You're A Canadian Band

By: J. Comeau
Dartmouth High School
Dartmouth, NS

Over the March Break, the Dartmouth High School Grade Eleven and Twelve Concert band, with chaperones, Mr. Hill, Mr. And Mrs. Endres, Mr. and Mrs. Farmer, and Mrs. Carson, spent eight days together on their trip to Cuba.

Although the first and last days were devoted solely to travelling, the remaining six had enough fun and excitement to fill an entire month. Grade 12 trumpet player Joanne Haran sums it up: "Cuba was one of the most memorable experiences I've ever had. That and the time when I laughed so hard jell-o snorted out of my nose. Yeah, Cuba was amazing!" The group stayed in a hotel outside of a major tourist city, Santiago de Cuba. The hotel was not as luxurious as The Holiday Inn, but with the swimming pool, palm trees, and spectacular view of every sunrise/set, no one was complaining!


Tuesday was the first "actual" day of their trip. A bus tour of Santiago and its surroundings gave the students a good look at Cuban life; a museum gave them a little history; a castle gave them a little culture - and several breathtaking views. But possibly the most impressive aspect of
the day was the dance presentation. An internationally famous dance group put on a show that was in a word, spellbinding. Many of the students left the theatre trying to recreate the dance steps - but none were brave enough to attempt the fire-breathing.

It was back to school on Wednesday where the Spartans played for fellow musicians and then attended a class in salsa dancing. Several volunteers jumped up to learn the steps, and within a few minutes, Canadian and Cuban students were dancing together.

After leaving the school, the next stop was the beach - with water that was in the mid-20's! The water was so inviting that even Mr. Hill was seen in the water. Those who felt adventurous swam out far and let the waves pull them in.

A concert at the music conservatory filled the evening. This was the first instance where the band really had to adapt to their surroundings as there was only one lightbulb. Although this made the music a little hard to read, it proved to be a very successful night.

Thursday brought the only day which was completely devoted to music. The students found themselves at the conservatory again, this time to play with the Cuban musicians. The enormous band practised all morning and afternoon, in preparation for the joined concert that night.

The Canadian and Cuban students found time to mingle together at lunch, talking about their ways of life, and of course, their favourite music groups. However, the favourite time for all was the social/dance which followed the concert. As well as dancing to Cuban music, the massive group danced to music which the Canadians had brought, at which point the Spartans taught a few students from the conservatory how to breakdance.

After a day like Thursday, what should a band do? Relax! Friday was a day of leisure - but that doesn't mean they sat around all day! It took them over 400 steps, but the group made their way to the top of a huge mountain which held a spectacular view. There was one downfall to the mountain, though: bugs. Hundreds upon hundreds of tiny black bugs were attracted to white, as a few unfortunate souls found out, including Mr. Farmer.

Next was the coffee plantation where everyone was surprised that you couldn't buy coffee!

On the way back into Santiago, the group's translator, Julia, made a request for them to stop at an incredibly poor elementary school. Before their trip to Cuba, the Spartans gathered together boxes and boxes full of donations for all of the schools, including music paper, pens, candies, and basic things like soap and disposable razors. So, the group stopped at the tiny school, which had under 50 students, giving them some of the supplies. This meant a great deal to the woman who ran the school, especially since our group was the first to ever stop at their school.
Although very shy at first, as the children are taught not to ask for items from others, they eventually warmed up to the group, accepting small items like Canadian pins or candy. They even allowed a few people to take their pictures.

The last stop of the day was to another elementary school, this time in the city. There, three young girls gave a presentation about their school, the history, and the history of their city and Cuba. This simply floored the high school students as they realized that they didn't know a quarter as much about Dartmouth as the girls did of their city!

Saturday was another full day. The group travelled to an Artists Community where they played a short concert. They found out afterwards that this was the first concert the people had ever heard. As soon as the musicians packed up, they were invited into all the habitants house, where they bought much art and pottery. Every D.H.S. student left the community absolutely amazed by the talent that these people possess, and made it well known to every artist which they purchased from.

"Everyone Loves Marineland!" Alright, it wasn't the exact same, but the afternoon was filled at an aquarium where the students were treated to a dolphin and sea lion show. Also, about ten students swam with the dolphins, and another two were kissed by them. Although everyone agreed that it was quite "cheesy," the final verdict was that the dolphins were incredibly cute.
The group's last "actual" day was Sunday, which was filled by shopping, and one final trip to the castle. There, everyone took their last few frames of film, and sat for a while, just taking in the last bit of Cuba air and freedom.

So, the overall thoughts and impressions? First of all, less chicken would have been nice. "I went to Cuba liking chicken. But after eating it almost everyday for lunch, I couldn't eat it for a month when we got home!" said Grade 12 trombone player Jenny Winn. (This turned into a big joke amongst all, and many were looking forward to the airplane ride home so they could have something different. Guess what was served...)

Schedules mean nothing in Cuba. A two hour bus ride is actually four hours (as you have to share the road with cyclists and herds of cows - Seriously!), and lunch can take up to three hours.

It seemed that no matter where you looked, it was picturesque. But the resounding thought of everyone is, "I WANT TO GO BACK TO CUBA!"

This article originally appeared in The Mag, an online
student publication at Dartmouth High School Dartmouth, NS.