Men's Basketball: Ragin' Cajuns Basketball Cuba Blog - Day 1
Louisiana men's basketball arrives for its historic trip to Cuba
HAVANA – After an early flight, a tour of some of the historic sites of the city, and getting ourselves established in our hotel and internet issues/restrictions, the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns men's basketball has arrived for its six-day trip to Cuba.
Louisiana will play three games during its historic tour of largest island nation in the Caribbean, facing the Cuban National Team beginning on Tuesday with another pair of games set for Wednesday and Thursday. The Ragin' Cajuns will participate in a kid's clinic on Tuesday and will remain in the nation's capital through Thursday before heading east to Varadero.
The team left Lafayette late Sunday afternoon and after dinner in Baton Rouge, settled in to our hotel near the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport. An early wakeup call and a 6 a.m. flight on Monday from Baton Rouge to Atlanta greeted the travel party before our connection flight left for Havana by mid-morning.
Going through customs can get a little nerve wracking, at least it was for me being it's my first trip out of the country since a week-long trip to Mexico City in 1984. But going into a country with the political landscape of Cuba and things
Many people can best describe Havana as a city where time has stood still for over a half century. That description is completely accurate. Yes, the old American/European cars from the 1950's are prevalent around town and the architecture in many areas of old Havana is quite frankly, a scene straight out of a Hemingway novel.
And from the time we left Jose' Marti' International Airport, located on the outskirts of town, until we checked in at the Parque National in old Havana, you can still see signs of Fidel Castro's influence on the country.
Situated on the streets leading into the city are the pro-government billboards – "not propaganda" as described by our Cuban tour guide. More signs, including one that says "Socialismo o Muerte" (Socialism or Death) are visible, along with more old cars and busses filled with people.
Our first stop after arriving in Havana was Revolutionary Square, site of the Jose' Marti' Monument and home to several governmental buildings. On one corner opposite the Marti' Monument is a governmental building, with its famed silhouette of Ernesto "Che" Guevera, on the side. Just a half-block over on another corner of the square is another governmental building, with the image of another early Castro supporter, Camilo Cienfuegos – another Castro supporter.
After about 20 minutes in Revolutionary Square, it was back on the bus and through old Havana to San Carlos de la Cabana and a trip to the La Triada Cigar Store where you could stock up on authentic Cohibas and other cigars. While we were there, many of us took a tour of the fort – at least the areas we could get into without paying a fee – while also trying to find places to get cool (yes, it's hot and humid in Havana in August).
The trip has been described as a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Ragin' Cajuns and their travel party, but it is more important for another member – Martin Bastanzuri, a native of Cuba and the father-in-law of former UL Sports Information Director Daryl Cetnar.
Bastanzuri, who grew up in the town of Cardenas, is making his first trip back to the island since he was eight-years-old and fled with his family in 1962. The family would eventually settle in south Louisiana where his father, who had an engineering degree, would use his expertise in the sugar cane industry.
Tuesday will start bright and early for the Ragin' Cajuns with the first game set for 11 a.m. EST (10 a.m. back in Lafayette). After a quick lunch after the game, it's off for part of the educational part of the trip – a Four Square Walking Tour of old Havana.
Keep up with the Ragin' Cajuns this week on our tour of Cuba. Look for recaps from games and updates from the player's perspective that will be released in the evenings (and before 10 p.m. EST when the internet is shut down) on RaginCajuns.com.