Like many of you, we watched in horror last weekend as Hurricane Irma marched slowly across island after island in the Caribbean, including our beloved Cuba. Irma made landfall there as a deadly Category 5 storm, one of the most powerful ever recorded, and left a trail of destruction along Cuba’s north coast, from Baracoa to Matanzas, before veering north towards Florida.
Havana was spared the worst of Irma’s ferocious winds. But heavy rains and 36-foot waves crashing over the Malecón seawall flooded low-lying areas of Old Havana and Centro Havana. Collapsed buildings and downed trees and power lines left 10 Cubans dead, according to authorities, a number that may rise as the flood waters recede and sunny skies return.
To support immediate relief efforts in Cuba, we recommend giving to Friends of Caritas Cubana (Catholic Charities) which will earmark your donation for emergency food, water, medical supplies, and the like. For more on how you can help, see below.
Our People Are Okay
Many of you have asked us how our people in Cuba are doing, and how Irma will impact travel to Cuba going forward. Thank you for your concern. We have been in touch with most of our guides and partners in Cuba and can happily report that, to our knowledge, everyone who works with Cross Cultural Journeys and their families are safe and healthy.
One guide, Arturo Mesa, told us “Horrible noise of the winds through the night but we are ok. No studio anymore though, because it is gone with the wind… I did not attach the beams correctly to the roof tiles and they separated from the structure and fell completely on my books and stereo, but that was it. I am going back home to see how I can be smarter this time, but those books….damned Irma!”
Another one of our guides, Cal Salermo, said, “We’re fine. My wife, my youngest son and myself are well. It was scary… One of the windows was damaged and I’m fixing now. My parents, my oldest son, the rest of my family and the friends I’ve talked to are well…”
Our close friend and guide Jesús Noguera is visiting the U.S. currently and was actually with us near Seattle when the storm hit. He also reports that his family and friends are safe and sound.
Impact on Travel
Based on initial reports, we expect all of Cross Cultural Journeys’ upcoming Cuba itineraries to proceed as planned.
Commercial flights to Cuba have already resumed. The worst damage to Cuba’s tourism infrastructure was in the eastern and central provinces along the north coast. Resort zones like Cayo Coco and Cayo Santa Maria sustained tremendous damage and could take months before they begin receiving travelers again. Fortunately, none of our upcoming trips go to these areas. Varadero experienced some damage, and parts of nearby Matanzas were flooded. But we won’t be visiting there until January, on our Cuban Musical Odyssey with Roger Glenn.
This morning, the Havana staff at one of our travel partners reported: “Matanzas was damaged; but it is recovering… [It] will be ready to be visited in a week or so, showing good conditions to visitors.”
Other important destinations like Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Bay of Pigs in the south, and Las Terrazas and Viñales to the west were all far from the storm track and should be relatively unscathed. We are closely monitoring reports of the storm’s impacts across Cuba and will share any important news here and on our Facebook and Twitter pages.
How You Can Help
Many Cubans lost their homes and all their possessions, and the rebuilding, especially along the northern coast of Cuba, may take a long time. Often, the worst humanitarian impacts of a storm like Irma are not felt in its immediate aftermath, but in the weeks and months that follow, as people displaced from their homes and livelihoods experience homelessness and shortages of food, water and medicines.
If you would like to send immediate support to Cuba’s hurricane relief, please donate today to Friends of Caritas Cubana. They will make sure your funds are earmarked for this purpose. Meanwhile, we will monitor the relief efforts and evaluate the best ways to support ongoing humanitarian and rebuilding projects in Cuba through our sister organization, the Cross Cultural Journeys Foundation.
And of course, we encourage you to continue to visit Cuba and spend your travel dollars supporting the island’s fragile economy.
THANK YOU for helping our beloved neighbors. These storms know no borders or embargoes.
Cilla, Leif, Alexis & Carla
The Cross Cultural Journeys Team