Karissa Wikert

Mar 02 2016

Friends Club’s Recent Trip to Cuba

Cuba, Our Neighbor
Cuba is more than cigars, rum, and coffee—it is an underdeveloped country filled with friendly, welcoming, and optimistic locals who embrace all travelers—especially Americans. Recently, the Hills Bank Friends Club took two groups to Cuba for an educational experience. Where, unlike other trips, there wasn’t much time for leisure or relaxing. Time was spent learning about Cuba’s past, being introduced to Cuba’s way of living and beliefs, and understanding the misconceptions and truths about this island.


Cuban streets at daylight.

I can guarantee you will have a new perspective and outlook on the past, present, and future after visiting Cuba. Amidst the crumbling and “bomb-like aftermath” of the buildings—although you could easily imagine how detailed and vibrant they once were—we saw many classic American cars and locals who were dressed in what they deemed to be trendy clothing. It was very apparent how much they valued and craved the possible access to materialistic items and technology, things they may never obtain. Politics, government, and egos aside, the truth is that these people have had closed borders and limited access to items that we take for granted on a daily basis—toilet paper, simple hardware and building materials, food, technology, and more. Many times we were struck with humbleness and a bit of guilt, knowing how easy we have it when it comes to addressing basic needs and enjoying pleasures.

The small group travel was a perfect way to visit this country. Together, we embraced the food, which always included rice and beans and typically the choice of chicken, pork, lamb, or fish. It was probably the best I’ve eaten in awhile, as it was mostly organic.


Our Cuba tour guide, Kenia and me.

Our tour guide, Kenia, was with us for eight days, leading us on a journey through Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Havana. We hiked with a Cuban naturalist, took historic walks through the towns, stopped at the Playa Giron museum to learn more about the Bay of Pigs, and visited a tobacco farm. My personal highlights were a meeting with a retired Cuban diplomat, where any and all questions were welcomed; lunch at an organic farm; a visit to a local children’s project that teaches young kids acrobatics; and a dinner show with authentic Cuban music and dance. I reluctantly agreed to go on stage to do a little salsa but felt right at ease with some instruction and seeing a fellow Friends Club traveler right along with me!

Touring the streets of Cuba in a classic American car with friends.

Touring the streets of Cuba in a classic American car with friends.

The overall experience would not have been complete without a ride around the city of Havana in a classic American car. One Cuban driver asked, “you don’t have any cars in America like this?” Humorously, a person in our group said, “Nope, you have them all!” Interestingly, that was one thing Cuba has that we would like.

I’m still absorbing the information, insight, and feelings I had while on this Friends Club trip. It was such an eye-opening experience that clearly we should offer this trip again early next year. If you have any questions or are simply curious, I would enjoy speaking with you about the time I spent getting to know our neighbor, Cuba.

Friends Club Members in Cuba, January 2016.

Friends Club Members in Cuba, January 2016.

Karissa Wikert

About Karissa Wikert

Karissa Wikert is the Friends Club Director located at Hills Bank’s Iowa City Gilbert Street location. Karissa is from Ringsted, Iowa and a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa. She has worked in marketing and public relations for the past 12 years and enjoys travel and building relationships. Karissa can be reached at Karissa_Wikert@HillsBank.com.

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