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This accommodation will allow you to immerse yourself in the local culture, as you share breakfast and lunch with the owners, as well as fellow travellers. You can even practice your Spanish on them, and they’ll certainly do their best to help you understand the country as a whole.
- Exploring this wonderful Caribbean country
- Learning Spanish with up to 80 hours of Spanish lessons
- Cruising through Havana in 1950s cars
- Exploring the culture and history of this incredible country
- Seeing what life is like living in the world last Communist states
- Gaining impressive Cuban salsa moves with included dancing lessons and other cultural activities
- Trips to the Caribbean beaches
Xtreme Cuba Gap Year Experience
Much of the time in Havana will be spent learning Spanish, and you will be given 3 x 45 minute lessons every weekday. Don’t worry though, it’s not like school the lessons are informal and delivered by local teachers! The lessons are tailored to your level as well, with a test at the beginning of the program used to established what you need to be taught. You’ll be in small classes too, with about 6-8 pupils being the maximum.
You won’t just be learning the language in Havana though ” you’ll be learning the culture and traditions as well, and what is more Cuban than throwing your hair back and taking to the dance floor? Cubans love to dance, and you’ll get a couple of dance lessons each week to learn the basics of dances such as the cha cha cha, rumba and, of course, salsa. Okay, you won’t be an expert when you leave, but you’ll impress everyone when you get back home! You might even impress some of the locals with your moves when you head to one of the many different vibrant music venues throughout the city in the evening!
On Saturday or Sundays in Havana you’ll have the chance to get involved with the arts and crafts initiative on the Paseo del Prado Boulevard. Artists set up workshops to share their creative talent, teaching children for free. There are 40 or more artists and literally hundreds of children drawing and painting using all manner of waste materials into sculptures and imaginative objects.
- Part of our ‘Donation initiative’ is to contribute to the energy and excitement at the Paseo del Prado. We make discreet donations of materials and you will assist various artists, offering guidance and encouragement to the kids, and helping to deliver their mentor’s vision. Please, if you can, bring some small items from home as donations for the children. Having something to give will make your experience more meaningful. Cuba has been choked by sanctions for so many years they are short of many things we take for granted!
- Our objective is to engage the children’s time productively, creatively and educationally. Attendance is entirely voluntary – this is not a school. You will need to use your imagination and fledgling Spanish-language skills to encourage the children to come along.
Projects – Playa Giron – weeks 3&4
After the first two weeks in Havana, it’s time to head to Playa Giron and nearby Punta Perdiz, 200km south-east from Havana, world renowned because of the ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion in April 1961. Punta Perdiz is adjacent to the Zapata Peninsula, where lies the ‘Gran Parque Natural Montemar’, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It contains the largest wetlands in the Caribbean, home to flamingos, manatee, crocodiles and the world’s smallest bird, the bee hummingbird. Here your time will be split between helping the Cuban Red Cross and local International Diving Centre protect this area and manage tourism sustainably and responsibly.
- You’ll help clean up a section of the reef and beach, which are prone to picking up discarded and wind blow rubbish. You can do this whilst snorkelling.
- You’ll also participate in underwater surveys to log certain species that may be in danger, changes to reefs and rates of growth, and to examine the Lion Fish epidemic that is becoming quite a problem across the Caribbean.
Both projects help to improve the environment and marine life for future generations.
Onshore at Punta Perdiz ‘Campismo’, we are renovating the sport and recreational facilities with a good lick of paint and with new sports equipment. Basketballs, volleyballs, nets and bibs etc will be provided to encourage local games and good team spirit. Until recently Cubans have not been allowed to mix with tourists (unless they work in the tourism sector) so they are super excited to meet us.
- Each volunteer group will undertake to renovate a different part of the ‘Campismo‘ thus paving the way for the next group and leaving a lasting legacy in the form of improved facilities and good memories, ensuring that the Campismo’s are more comfortable for future Cuban families.
Back to Havana Weeks 5-6 Projects in Havana
Depending on the group we change different projects through out the year but below is an example of some of the projects you could be involved in.
There are three main ongoing projects and the choice as to which one you’ll work on will be made during weeks 1 & 2 – when you first arrive in Havana and weeks 5 and 6. These projects are;
Arco Iris/Rainbow Project
‘Arco Iris’ is a community centre in a particularly run down area between Old Havana and Centro. The centre is a ‘home away from home’ for kids whose domestic circumstances are difficult. As well as hands on renovation to make this building fit for purpose, you will help pack the centre with activities – after school homework supervision, academic classes e.g. teaching English, arts and crafts activities and drama and music. It will be a privilege to work with such a group of fun loving kids and local people who are trying to create something special where they live.
- You’ll be working to inject new life by painting murals, construction, after school activities like home work supervision, arts and crafts and eventually drama and music shows.
Centro Deportivo La Habana
Most famous for the baseball players it has produced this public sports facility hosts several different schools, sports clubs and all the community centres in La Habana, making it an extremely important and well used facility.
We will focus primarily on the dug-outs for the baseball teams, these over-used facilities have become derelict and in need of renovation. We will finish the project by hosting a match against one of the junior sides when team Leap can see how they fare against some of the most talented junior players in the world.
Rafael Trejo Boxing Gimnasio Project
Boxing is the country’s second favourite sport surpassed only by Cuba’s well- documented passion for baseball. Here the niños begin their training very young.
Here Hector Vinent Charon (a 2 time Olympic gold medalist) trains the niños. He believes that boxing teaches skills such as confidence that children can use in everyday life, regardless of what they may achieve in the gym, “it effects how you act in the classroom or on the street. It’s not just boxing.”
- Despite this upbeat philosophy the Gimnasio looks pretty gloomy and could use a lick of paint. Your first project will be to source paints, brushes and other materials locally to spruce up the outside of the gym. With the help of Vianko, our Director of Arts, and a team of young Cuban helpers, you will paint a colourful collage on the outside of the building, featuring boxers from the club who have gone on to represent their country.
- Time permitting you will also spruce up the interior walls and start to repair various sections of the stadium seating. The club is functional, but with a bit of work and effort it could be a much more inspiring.
Each morning Monday to Friday from 09:00-11:45 you will receive 3 x 45 minute intensive structured Spanish lessons (each lesson is followed by a 15 minute break). Tuition is delivered by an accredited and licensed Cuban teacher, and lessons take place in the Casa. On the first morning there will be a short test to establish your level and requirements.
* The Cultural Immersion content will feature additional Spanish language tuition, oral comprehension and dialogue (approx. 4 hours per week).
There are 2 dance classes per week – each approximately one hour duration, during which you will be taken through your paces learning Salsa, Son, Rueda de Casino, Mambo, Cha Cha Cha, and Rumba and perhaps a few moves you haven’t heard of… The lessons are delivered a short walk from your Casa by a licensed dance instructor, and in the evenings there are MANY free live music venues where you can do your homework!
We have included weekend activities. First two weekends you will be accompanied on a daytrip to a beach directly east of Havana. Journey time is 30 minutes by bus and you will enjoy the exhilarating rollers that break on these pristine sandy beaches.
Third weekend will feature a two-night trip to Viñales, a three hour drive to the central western region of Cuba. The Viñales Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site owing to the outstanding landscape, traditional architecture and agricultural techniques still used.
Havana is an exciting city with many interesting neighbourhoods. However, to experience the ‘real’ Havana you need to stay in Habana Vieja. From here you are a very comfortable walk to the best bars and nightlife, and during the daytime you will be living among the real Habanos working in shops, bars, art galleries and going about their daily lives in this atmospheric part of the city.
Havana has a unique distinction, being the safest city in the Caribbean and Latin America generally. There are a number of reasons for this, but what it means for the curious traveller is that you will be able to enjoy unprecedented access to local people as you wander around the ‘barrio’ that makes up Habana Vieja.
Your Casa has been specially selected for its central location in ‘Habana Vieja’ and quality of service. The local cuban staff are on hand to help you all the time. Expect to stay with up to 30 other gappers all in the same building. You can see more here on our blog.
During your volunteer placement at Punta Perdiz you will be staying in a a combination of accommodations. Some of the time will be in a lovely Casa Particulare in Playa Giron. You may also spend some nights at Punta Perdiz Campismo in series of blockwork cabins with concrete floors and en suite (cold water only) that form the accommodation units at the Campismo. Each cabin consists of bunk beds and includes a fridge. Most Cuban guest’s at the Campismo will self cater with an outside BBQ. Our group will be self-sufficient and have a daily rota for preparation meals and cleaning, overseen by your program manager. You should bring a sheet, mosquito net and towel and will be encouraged to leave some or all of these items at the end of your stay (more ‘Donativo’!).
Trip Frequently Asked Questions
- Airport pickup and transfer
- Dinner when on the cultural exchange project
- Approximately 80 hours in Spanish lessons
- Cuban dance lessons twice a week
- Three cultural sessions per week
- Two trips the beach
- A visit to Vinales Valley
- Costs for visas
- Spending money
- Travel insurance