Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba–an Illustrated Look

In Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba, writer/artist/photographer/
filmmaker and all-around creative whirlpool Jan Baross takes us into the daily life of Cubans. These excerpts from her book will take you with her.

The cover sketch of Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba gives you an idea of the delights inside.

Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba, as well as several other books by Jan Baross, is available on

When Jan Baross went to Cuba on a literary tour to meet with Cuban writers, she went with a notebook. And a sketchbook. I think she never travels anywhere without both of these indispensable tools. If you’ve seen any of her earlier books, which you can check out here, you’d have known she was going to write about this trip. And draw it. And completely delight you with it.

The result is Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba. The struggles, the joys, the color and music and dancing, these are the experiences Baross uses to paint her word pictures. Then she adds her delightful sketches made along the way. In these short word-and-picture sketches, she takes you behind the scenes of what she saw, heard, tasted, and danced.

Have a brief look inside the book. I think these excerpts will make you want to see more!

Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba

by Jan Baross

“Travel is the best way to stay amazed.”

My dream of Cuba began in 1957 when my parents said, “You can come with us to Cuba or you can go to camp and learn to ride a horse.”

I chose the horse.

They described Cuba as a lush island of spectacular beauty, endless music, and wide open fun. My youthful imagination took it from there.

Then, in 1959, I read about Castro’s revolution. Later, after living through the Cuban missile crisis, I was left with the conflicting impressions of beauty and annihilation. Now, fifty-eight years later, I was going with a troupe of writers to clarify Cuba for myself.

[Continue reading for some excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]

Sketch in Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba - "Mis nietos!"

WiFi Grandma
Hotel Paseo Habana, Vedado, Havana

I join our group on the hotel’s humid veranda where they’re scarfing down free introductory mojitos. I take a sip and nearly choke when an elderly Cuban woman shrieks and clasps her hand to her heart. She stares into a cellphone and shouts.

“Mis nietos! Yo no puedo creer! Te amo!” (“My grandchildren! I can’t believe it! I love you!”)

Apparently Grandma is viewing her grandchildren in the United States for the first time. When they answer on the speakerphone, their little voices yell, “Te amo, abuela!” (I love you, grandma!)

The old woman bursts into tears and then delighted laughter.

[Continue reading for more excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]

Sketch from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba - Cubans know how to stroll!

Strolling with Cubans

The early evening air is soft and warm as I amble past my neighbors.

I love how Cuban men and women carry themselves, as if they know how to have a good time, or have recently had one. Their loud, animated exchanges remind me of Italians. They talk exuberantly in the parallel language of hands. As they pass, they smile and say, “Buenas tardes.”

Their “good evening” doesn’t sound like the Mexican Spanish that I am used to hearing. “Buenas tardes,” becomes “Buen tar,” as though someone is holding onto their tongues. It has a softening effect on their words.

[Continue reading for more excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]

Ms Baross goes dancing with a Cuban - rumba!

Dancing at UNEAC
(The National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba)

The band plays a captivating rhythm.

Everyone moves, rocks and sways.

A man with coffee-colored skin and green eyes is sitting at the next table surrounded by three black women with huge smiles. He lunges over and asks me to dance.

I’ve never danced rumba.

He takes me in his arms and begins to move.

The beat is so deeply rooted in his body that it awakens the same rhythm in me. Our legs move weightlessly like soft light between shuddering ferns.

If this is dancing, I haven’t lived.

Ms Baross goes to Cuba - and eats at Los Naranjos

Los Naranjos Restaurant
Calle 17 #715, Paseo & A. Velado, Havana

Our second evening in Havana.

The evening air is so hot that my fellow writers and I decide to take a stroll in search of an elusive Havana breeze.

As we cross the street, a man with a big smile introduces himself as Alex and waves us into his mansion. Naturally we follow the adventure through a small tree-lined garden.

Upstairs is a wonderful restaurant with a colorful bar, a cozy sitting room and a long banquette. This was his family’s mansion that had to be abandoned during the revolution.

Two years ago, Alex returned from the U.S. to open his Los Naranjos Restaurant. The major problem was how to advertise in Cuba.

Just as Alex thought he would be forced to close his business, an American tourist wandered in to dine. The American was so impressed that he posted a rave review on the web. Ever since then, the restaurant has become a dining destination in Havana.

Alex serves us lobster and an amazing salad that has to be one of the high points of my culinary world.

Alex says, “When you Americans come to my restaurant, you are family.”

With such open-hearted people, it’s not hard to get adopted in Cuba.

As we leave, we remind each other to post rave reviews.
[Editor’s Note: They did! So did a lot of other people. You can read reviews for Los Naranjos Restaurant in Havana, Cuba, here.]

[Continue reading for more excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]

And old man discourses with Ms. Baross in Cuba, in Havana's  Central Park

Central Park
Paseo del Prado, Central Havana

I’m catching a bus in Central Park when a young newspaper vendor pursues me, waving a copy of the propaganda rag, Granma

An older gentleman sitting on a park bench raises his finger in the air. “Señora. Fear nothing. Cubans protect strangers.”

My protector wears a torn, short-sleeve yellow shirt and his eyes are cataract gray.

Like most Cubans I meet, he talks loudly and with ferocious passion. He speaks like the best lecturers on the good and evil of his country.

When I run for my bus, he surprises me by struggling to his feet and running alongside with his hand out. I give him money, of course, because I now realize the old gentleman’s trade is discourse. His intelligent tirade is the way he supplements his unlivable government pension. My CUCs are his next hot meal.

I hop on this bus, watching as he returns to his bench.

[Continue reading for more excerpts from Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba]

Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba and sees street art in Callejon de Hamel

Callejon de Hamel, Havana
From Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba

A friendly transvestite tours me through the tiny Callejon de Hamel street, named after a wealthy French-German arms dealer who lived here. It’s more of an alley, barely 200 meters long, but it attracts hundreds of tourists because of the colorful street murals and wild sculptures created by Salvador Gonzales Escalona

As a self-taught artist living on Hamel Street, Salvador began painting murals on his neighbors’ walls in the ’90s.

He is still adding images to three-story high apartment buildings. Salvador describes his work as surrealism, cubism, and a little art-naive.

Tourists fill the tiny coffee shop, a small art gallery and a colorful canopied area where Santeria priests dance to rumba every Sunday to evoke the spirits of Orishas.

On the way out, I notice a gray-bearded man sitting on a painted bench, with one bare foot in the lap of a young girl. She’s in the process of giving him a pedicure.

My transvestite friend tells me the bearded man is the famous artist, Salvador Gonzales Escalona.

Ms Baross in in Cuba meets artist José Fuster.

Jaimanitas, Cuba

José Fuster’s installations remind me of Watts Towers in Los Angeles. Fuster is a well-known Cuban artist, painter, sculptor with his most visible contribution being the public art in his home town, the fishing village of Jaimanitas, outside of Havana.

In the last ten years, Fuster has decorated over 80 of his neighbors’ homes so that the small town itself has become a unique work of art. It’s reminiscent of Hamel Street in Havana but on a much grander scale.

I follow children running through shining archways and past giant tiled figures. All surfaces are covered in bold murals and decorative design. It’s truly amazing.

The inclusive Artists’ Wall is composed of tiles by other Cuban artists.

Fuster has installed a theater and public swimming pools which he sponsors with the sale of his paintings and ceramics.

Fuster says, “I keep working every day to do something more spectacular.”

I hope you enjoyed this small taste of Jan Baross’ views and insights in Cuba. You can purchase your own copy of Ms. Baross Goes to Cuba on Amazon. Many of the sketches in this book have also been included in her Cuba coloring book. You can also see the whole range of Baross’ books, including her wonderful magical realism novel, Jose Builds a Woman, also available on Amazon.

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Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links. If you click on one of the links and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. This helps cover the costs of running the site and it costs you nothing extra at all. And I never recommend anything I don’t use or love myself. I loved this book! Thanks for considering it.

37 replies
  1. Kerri
    Kerri says:

    Cuba is such a fascinating place and these extracts give some insight into the rich fabric of this country. As I read the restaurant one, I could picture myself sitting on an upper level paladar, eating local Cuban fare which was ridiculously cheap and wonderful to eat. As we sipped mojitos, we looked over the Cuban life playing out below us. A fabulous evening. Sounds like a very interesting book.

    • Donna
      Donna says:

      You paint a beautiful picture of Cuba, also, Kerri. I think you will enjoy reading the other vignettes and looking at the amusing sketches in Jan’s book.

  2. Donna Janke
    Donna Janke says:

    This looks like a fascinating book. I am reminded of a quote saying life is made up of moments. I like how Jan Baross has used a series of moments to paint a picture of Cuba. I found all the snippets you shared interesting, but connected particularly with the dance piece (I like the rumba) and Strolling with Cubans. I’ve just finished an introductory Spanish course and in one of our classes we talked about some of the differences in how the language is spoken in different countries. The instructor mentioned that Cubans drop a lot of sounds.

    • Donna
      Donna says:

      You’ve hit on the exact reason I loved this book, Donna. These small glimpses of everyday life, the peeks and overheards and insights, add up to a full picture that tells a whole story. I also loved the dance one. It made me jealous!

    • Donna
      Donna says:

      I agree about the sketchbook, Bola. I’ve done it a couple of times and it helped me see things in a new way, as well as cementing images in my brain. I only wish I had half the drawing talent that Jan has!

  3. Marcus and Mel
    Marcus and Mel says:

    We have always wanted to visit Cuba before it changes and the cruise ships sail in. I know it’s very selfish, great for us visiting tourists loving the old cars, cigars and bars but not so much fun living there and struggling to make a living.

    • Donna
      Donna says:

      I feel the same. I have long wanted to visit Cuba, before the influx of US tourists changes it irretrievably. Of course, there have been European, Canadian and other tourists visiting Cuba for years. But now, with Fidel gone and more and more tourists pouring in, I think the changes are bound to accelerate. Still, it is clear from Jan’s book that it is not an easy life for most Cubans. Tourism is bound to be a big economic boost for many.

    • Donna
      Donna says:

      I feel the same, Michele. Long fascinated. And hoping my “one day” is soon, before the flood of US tourists changes the country irretrievably.

  4. Jenna
    Jenna says:

    Sounds like a great book! Love the addition of sketches and the additional coloring book offered as well. Cuba has always fascinated be and I’d love to visit sometime–thanks for giving us a taste through a sample of the book!

  5. Vicki Louise
    Vicki Louise says:

    This looks like a fascinating book – and I love the illustrations. She certainly has a way with words, I can just imagine being there with her from the excerpts. I long to get there before tourism ruins this time capsule of a country!

    • Donna
      Donna says:

      Exactly my thoughts, Vicki. I do believe the influx of US tourists is going to make such a huge difference in the country. Some of the changes will be good, I’m sure, as in more money, more employment and more opportunities for Cubans. But some will be sad indeed.

  6. christina
    christina says:

    Looks like a creative way to portray Cuba. The illustrations are great. Cuba has an air of mystery around it. It’s in the top three places I really want to visit. I hope I get there soon!

    • Donna
      Donna says:

      I so agree, Vicki. I’d love to be able to capture this essence with a drawing pencil. But my words and camera will have to suffice for now.

  7. Megan Jerrard
    Megan Jerrard says:

    Thankyou for sharing these excerpts – Jan has such a wonderful way of storytelling with both her sketches and her words – looking forward to reading the whole book 🙂

  8. Steven
    Steven says:

    Hey Donna,
    What a beautiful account and insight to a trip. I found myself smiling through this with the start of WiFi grandma. I’ve been dying to visit Cuba for sometime now. The temptation to hop on a plane from Central America crossed my mind but my wife and I had a trail we committed to. Soon enough we’ll be able to see much of this on our own when we finally visit. Thanks for these photos and this post!

    • Donna
      Donna says:

      I also fell in love with WiFi Grandma! I’m glad you enjoyed the excerpts. Jan has done similar books with her sketches about Paris and my home town of San Miguel de Alende, in Mexico. She has a special gift.

  9. Jerold Last
    Jerold Last says:

    Some of you will also enjoy reading my mystery novel, “Rum, Cigars, and Corpses,” available from Amazon either as an e-book or a paperback. It’s based on a person-to-person tour my wife and I recently took to Cuba and incorporates many of the same experiences (food, music, color, murals, cigars, vintage cars), but especially the people, as seen through the eyes of my fictional tourists.


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