Mound House Sponsors Cuba Trip

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History, Culture & Environment

Following the success of its first international travel program to Belize in 2019, the historic Mound House is promoting its next trip, to Cuba from Thursday, April 30, through Friday, May 8!

“I organized trips like this when I was with the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and found them very enjoyable,” said Penny Jarrett, the Mound House Education Coordinator who will be the Tour Leader. “After moving to Fort Myers Beach and discovering what a close community this was, with people who are largely retired, passionate about history and the environment, and love to travel, this seemed the ideal area to begin another international travel program. Of course, the Mound House is the perfect home for that, as it is the island’s cultural and environmental learning center.”

On the Belize trip, Penny discovered that “people had a really good time and that was a very big WOW! While we visited terrific sites and did many fun activities like snorkeling, it was the group comradery that sticks out first and foremost in my mind and heart, as those who did not know one-another before the trip became fast friends and those who were already friendly developed deeper relationships. The other major benefit I took from the Belize trip is that Holbrook Travel really knows how to coordinate an excellent adventure, as the guides and driver they provided were topnotch and extremely hospitable, so everything went as smooth as possible! Holbrook is professional and knows how to accommodate trip guests, and that makes for an outstanding journey.”

Tale of Two Islands

Birds in Zapata National Park wetlands. Photo by Marco Zanferrari courtesy of Holbrook Travel.

Penny chose Cuba for the next Mound House international travel program “because that island parallels much of our own history on Fort Myers Beach. Cuban fisherfolks would travel to Estero Island, and some of the remaining Calusa Indians left here and relocated to Cuba before going extinct. This means that Cuba has a similar history to our area, as the Spanish migrated to both islands. We will examine Cuba’s Spanish-inspired architecture, as well as investigating and enjoying its shorebirds, wildlife and nature, along with fun activities like snorkeling, so when you combine the cultural, historical, archaeological, and environmental aspects of Cuba, it made perfect sense to be our travel location. On top of all that, many folks requested that Cuba be the destination, so that is another positive.”

The Cuban trip will be full of highlights, Penny explained. “We will really pack in the adventures and experiences, as we did a great deal of research into our various locales! We will tour Havana, both by historic 1950s Convertibles as well as by foot, including the archaeological museum of the City Historian that is in a historic building with murals dating back to the 17th century, along with a pre-Columbian art exposition with objects from the 16th through 19th centuries, so that should be an excellent experience. We will go to the home of Ernest Hemmingway, where he wrote classics like “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and The Sea.” Another highlight is dinner just outside of Havana, with the nightly firing of the cannon ceremony at the La Cabana Fort!”

In addition to Havana, “we will visit Trinidad and Cienfuegos,” Penny continued. “Trinidad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its colonial Old Town and cobblestone streets that everyone describes as quite lovely! We will do a walking tour, visit its museum, and interact with local artists, along with the chance to purchase their works. A highlight is a visit to a closed sugar mill on a former plantation that relates to the slavery of not only the local indigenous people but the African slave trade.”

The group will journey on to the Zapata Peninsula and the city of Cienfuegos “that people say is charming and right on the bay,” Penny related. “We will snorkel at Zapata, as that is the largest Cuban national park and extremely historic, as it was a site for the Bay of Pigs Invasion by the United States. It is then back to Havana for one final night before departing for home, so while it is a full schedule, it is a manageable itinerary. It may sound like a lot of walking, but the pace will be moderate rather than strenuous.”

The Cuba trip is $3,130-per-person, Penny stated. “We needed a minimum of 8 people to guarantee this price and already have that registration figure; if we can increase our attendance to 14 people, the price will decrease. This fee does not include your air fare from Miami International Airport, nor your various tips, and if you want single-room occupancy, add another $440. To make it easy on everyone, I hire a shuttle to take us to and pick us up from the Miami Airport and we all split that cost. Of the people registered for the Cuban trip so far, three went on our Belize excursion, so it is exciting to have some return travelers along with new participants!”

The 800 Pound Gorilla

If you want to join the Mound House’s International Travel Program to Cuba, contact Penny to reserve your spot and make an initial down payment by the end of March at 239-634-7602; for more information, call her directly or pick up a trip brochure at the Mound House. “Of course, the great unknown right now is the threat of the Coronavirus,” she explained. “Holbrook Travel is being as flexible as they possibly can be right now, but if conditions worsen, their preference is to postpone rather than cancel the trip, and they hope to make that decision by early April. Holbrook Travel is doing all of this in good faith, so if you pay but ultimately decide you should not go, they will return your entire deposit except for a small cancellation fee.”

The Mound House, at 451 Connecticut Street, is the oldest standing structure on Estero Island, with overflow parking at 216 Connecticut. The Town of Fort Myers Beach operates the Mound House as a museum complex that offers numerous educational programs each month, including guided tours to explore the 2,000-year-old Calusa Indian Shell Mound, beach walks, and kayak eco-tours. Admission is $10 for ages 13 & up, $8 for students with IDs, $5 ages 6 to 12, and 5 & under free, with Town residents receiving a 50% discount. It is open Tuesdays through Saturdays through April 30; then Tuesdays, Wednesdays, & Saturdays for the balance of the year, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information & programs, call 239-765-0865 or see www.moundhouse.org.

Penny hopes that the Coronavirus ends up being “mostly a wake-up call to humanity, as when I was with the Cincinnati Zoo, we made a big effort to reduce the consumption of wildlife from the Chinese markets, as this has been going on for a long time, so that might be the only good thing to come out of this entire calamity. I prefer, however, to concentrate on the positive and that we will be leaving for Cuba on April 30, so join us for a great itinerary, a very good trip, and a thoroughly enjoyable time!”