I am always ready for adventure! Aren’t you? Working for Cisco’s AppDynamics on the Customer Success Team provides me with a sense of continued adventure, and I knew that I wanted to add a bit of unique excitement when I used my annual volunteer hours. (Cisco gives us FIVE days to give back each year in ways that are meaningful to each employee!) So, this year, I signed up for a journey to Cuba where I’d volunteer at organic farm called Finca Agroecologica el Paraiso in Viñales!
My incredible Cuban adventure was organized by Bright Light Volunteers, who partnered with the founder and owner of the Yoga Movement, the studio at which I practice. Not only did it provide me with the opportunity to work with the local farmers in Cuba, but it also allowed me to deepen my yoga practice and immerse myself in the Cuban culture for 10 incredible days.
The day I arrived in Cuba felt like I had taken a time machine back to the 60s and 70s. Talk about surreal! Everything was so colorful, the people were so friendly, and the culture was contagious. I couldn’t wait to be part of it! The first few days of the trip were spent in the exciting capital of Havana, and there was lots to see and do in such a bustling city! Then we headed out to the farm in the Viñales Valley. This was by far the most beautiful farm I have ever seen throughout my travels.
On the farm our daily tasks consisted of weeding, planting, and picking the fruits and vegetables. I saw my first cashew fruit (which I learned looks like a tomato with the cashew nut as part of the stem and tastes unlike any other fruit), banana tree, and jícama plant. It’s incredible how many different plants you see growing in the tropics. In between our work on the farm, we were fortunate enough to spend quality time with the locals and be exposed to Cuban culture.
Our residences were called Casa Particulars, which are accommodations within a Cuban family’s home. My roommate and I had our own separate bedroom and bathroom – the perfect balance of personal space and family feel. During dinners, we had live music almost every night and some salsa dancing after which we would play dominoes, a local favorite.
By day two, the neighborhood children heard that I brought my own domino set and gathered around on the action. Despite language barriers we found a common thread through dancing and dominoes, which made our group feel like we had known each other for much longer than just a few days. Prior to going out to the local salsa clubs and later the famous Buena Vista Social Club in Havana, we even got to take some salsa lessons in Viñales. Despite being extremely uncoordinated, I was able to grasp the basic concepts of the dance and successfully put them to use.
As part of our cultural enrichment we rode horses through the Viñales Valley, which beats any bus tour! Our group also rode ox-carts (yes, that is still a thing in Cuba) to the organic tobacco farm, one of Cuba’s most popular exports, aside from the rums, sugar, coffee, and fruit. At the farm we got to learn how to properly roll the cigars and the process that the tobacco leaves go through prior to becoming a cigar. While still in capital, we had the chance to take several different vehicles (among them being a 1959 Dodge Custom Loyal Lance Convertible) along the Malecón, where we not only enjoyed the sunset, but also learned about the rich history of the area and famous monuments.
This whole experience humbled me, making me realize how small the world really is – how we can connect through much more than just our languages, and it helped me gain further appreciation for things that we take for granted in America. To have this unique opportunity to “step back in time” and learn about a whole new culture was so rewarding.
Originally from Moscow, I started traveling at a young age and my close friends will confirm that travel is my version of caffeine and adrenaline. It’s hard to stay in one place when there is so much of the world we all can see!
With Cisco’s encouragement of giving back, with five days paid to do so, I urge my fellow Cisconians to take advantage of this incredible benefit, and make a difference in someone’s life! Whether it is in your local communities, or traveling to do so – it is such an enriching experience.
After my experience helping the farmers in Cuba, I was further able to appreciate the work I do at AppDynamics & Cisco in helping customers realize the full potential of our products and services. I loved coming home to tell my team all about my latest adventure, and encouraging them to find a way to give back that speaks to them. It boosted team morale and brought us all closer together and everyone was excited to hear about Cuba.
So, are you ready for adventure? I know I’m eagerly anticipating my next journey already!
Want to work for a company that encourages you to give back? We’re hiring!