New Mexico teens take ‘unique’ trip to Cuba

A man walks along the ledge of a building after hanging two giant Cuban flags, next to the US embassy, in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015. The embassy will hold a ceremony on Friday, Aug. 14, to raise the U.S. flag, to mark its reopening on Havana’s historic waterfront. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) –  A group of New Mexico high school students went on a unique trip to a country that’s been off-limits to most for decades.

“Actually seeing Cuba was very different from what I had envisioned,” Bryan Metzger, 18, from Albuquerque Academy, said.

Metzger, along with ten other students, went to Cuba with the New Mexico Human Rights Projects in late March and returned in early April. Along with his peer, he’s now reflecting on the one-of-a-kind trip.

“To go to Cuba at this specific time, while it’s in transition, was this especially unique opportunity to go,” Amali Gordon-Buxbaum, 16, of Sandia High School, said.

The students were selected based on essays they submitted about the Cuban embargo.

Under the Obama Administration, U.S.-Cuban relations have dramatically changed, to include an ease on travel restrictions.

“We, as the United States, have kind of misunderstood Cuba for a long time,” Daniel Gugliotta, 18, of Manzano High School, said.

And for the first time in more than 85 years, a sitting U.S. President made a trip to Cuba. The New Mexico teens arrived in Havana just days after the President’s visit.

“We heard…a lot of ‘This building was painted for the Obama visit,'” Marena Trujillo, 16, of St. Pius, said. “There was a lot of that on our tours.”

That was agreement upon the students: Cuban people were very friendly and welcoming. They also said the country was rich in history.

“The thing that left the biggest impact on me was all the different types of people we met,” Atalie Brown, 16, of East Mountain High School, said. “Everyone was so nice to us.”

Many of the students said they were interested in Cuba before learning of the opportunity to go on this trip. Several of them raised their funds to go. In the end, they said, it was a historic trip well worth the price.

“You can’t really make assumptions about a country before you get there, because we all had our own assumptions about Cuba and then we got there and pretty much all of them were proven wrong,” Brown said.

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