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A.L. travel agents visit Cuba

Larry Alvey, left, and David Nelson of 4-Seasons Vacations in Albert Lea sit on a seawall in Havana, Cuba, called the Malecón. It stretches for eight kilometers. — Submitted

Larry Alvey, left, and David Nelson of 4-Seasons Vacations in Albert Lea sit on a seawall in Havana, Cuba, called the Malecón. It stretches for eight kilometers. — Submitted

David Nelson and Larry Alvey from 4-Seasons Vacations in Albert Lea recently returned from a cultural tour to Cuba. They were part of the people-to-people cultural exchange program that allows U.S. citizens to visit Cuba.

They were hosted by the Cuban Travel Service and visited a variety of venues in Havana and the western side of the island. Alvey said they experienced music, relived history from early Spanish days to present and enjoyed their food — rice and beans are a staple along with chicken, lamb, pork, great fish and limited beef. Desserts were always good with a lot of ice cream and flan, he said.

“We visited a state-run cigar factory, Cuban rum distillery, tobacco farm, museums, a local craft market, a neighborhood mission project and School City, where many former military buildings are now used for schools in the city,” Alvey said.

What they didn’t see were McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Walmart and the like, as no American companies are represented in the communist country, he said. They also visited Ernest Hemingway’s home and ate at one of his favorite harborside restaurants.

The 1950s were present in all the cars driving around the city.

“We saw just about every make and model of U.S. automobile produced before the mid-1950s,” he said.

It truly is a cultural experience, he said, to visit Cuba as they inch in “baby steps” toward a more open society.

Being so close to the United States (90 miles from Key West, Fla.), the Cuban people would like to have more trade with us and hope that one day their baby-step advances will open even more doors and exchanges, Alvey said.

He said now is the time to see what Cuba is like before entry is open to everyone. 4-Seasons will host a trip to Cuba in Nov. 29 to Dec. 7, 2014, fully escorted right from Albert Lea. All visas and travel documents will be included and explained.

Alvey said Cuba is a safe place to visit, has beautiful jazz style music and the people are anxious to visit with us while there.

“We want to keep the ‘people-to-people’ dialogue going,” he said.