The Cuba 20 Leadership Camp – Part 4

Thanks for returning to Part 4 of my recap of The Cuba 20 Leadership Camp. If you want to get caught up of my journey so far, check out Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3. Part 3 left us with a story about the Cuban Teeter Totter craze, breakout sessions where I learned more than I taught, a pig roast, and the night that changed my life.

Ryan Eller in Cuba

Part 4 brings us the last day of the Leadership Conference, juggling with mangos, the saddest story you’ve ever heard, a birthday song, and our dashing escape from Cuba.

Juggling with Mangos

The backdrop of our conference was breathtaking. The beautiful landscapes beyond the fence, the generous shrubbery, the banana and mango trees offering us shade from the glaring Caribbean sun. These mango trees littered the ground with ripe and delicious fruit that made for wonderful juggling balls. I had somewhat learned to juggle on a Bucket List trip that my beautiful wife planned for me, but I was certainly was a novice.

Josh, AMO, and I were tossing some mangos around when we learned we had a juggling master in our midst. This Cuban was a skilled juggler and had taught many, many people how to juggle. He set us all up with mangos and explained to us that juggling is not about mastering three balls at one time, but mastering one.

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Ryan Eller juggling in Cuba

We started with one mango, and didn’t move on to juggling the next until we could easily, almost inherently juggle with one mango. This is a lesson I have carried with me ever since. Never take on more than you can juggle. Master one thing before trying to master three. Laugh at your mistakes, and most importantly, learn from others.

The Saddest Story I’ve Ever Heard

Days 2 and 3 of The Cuba 20 Leadership Camp went as well as the first day, as the participants were eager and encouraging participants. We all the good fortune of meeting two brothers who served as our interpreters throughout the conference. These two brothers had moved to Cuba with their family as young boys in the 1950s.

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They were originally from Trinidad and Tobago, and they have been trying to return ever since. Their parents died not long after Castro came into power in Cuba, and the two boys were left parentless, moneyless, and without any hope of returning home. They have never been allowed a Visa to return home, but have not given up after over 50 years.

They told stories of the life they’ve lived in Cuba over the years. A hard life composed of few victories and many setbacks. Even though they have never led the life they wanted, they have never lost hope and they have never lost faith. They inspired us all, and taught us invaluable lessons about resolve, hope, and perseverance.

Birthday Surprise

The last day of conference happened to be my birthday, and I had a hard time being away from family on my special day. Don’t get me wrong, being in Cuba with some of my best friends was awesome, but I was missing Kristin! That morning we had a rousing breakfast at the hotel, and not one of my friends said happy birthday. Those punks had either forgotten me or were just being jerks.

I set in the backseat of our tight car seriously bummed as we headed to finish off the conference. I moped around during the plenary as Jerrod and Mario led the group in the opening session. All of the sudden all of the eyes were upon me. The guys on the trip had conspired with the Cubans to sing me happy birthday. Birthdays in Cuba are a big deal, and they proved it to me.

Ryan Eller in Cuba

The two tallest Cubans there came up behind me, grabbed me at the knees and threw me on their shoulders. Every participant there sang me the traditional Cuban birthday song. It was one of the greatest memories of my short life, and I will never forget it.

Swimming in the Rain

I have consistently tried to follow the philosophies of Live Your List. Be inspired, don’t be average, live everyday as an opportunity to be more and do more. Up to this point on our trip we had worked very hard, including extensive travel and long days. We headed back to our resort hotel for a few hours of rest and relaxation.

We all decided that a nap was well deserved and probably necessary for the cohesiveness of the group. I had the great idea of heading to the pool and laying by the pool. Then it started to rain. I looked over at Jerrod and challenged him to a game of pool rugby….an opportunity to swim and play in the rain. He was less than enthused, but I convinced him that we were unlikely to return to Cuba, and we had yet to swim in this tropical paradise. This was truly and opportunity to Live Your List.

Ryan Eller swimming in the rain

We convinced AMO and Josh to join us, a challenge they readily accepted. We spent the next few hours laughing, playing, and making fools of ourself in the pouring rain. The Cubans sat under the awning by the bar laughing at us for looking and acting so ridiculous. It was an amazing moment, and a perfect example of us trying to live an inspired life. It certainly is better than the nap we could have taken.

Escape From Cuba

After our rugby match in the pool, Jerrod received a call from our host who said our scheduled flight out of Cuba had been moved up by almost a day. We had 45 minutes to get our stuff and get to the airport, or we would be pretty much stuck in Cuba…this was not something we wanted. We rushed around and grabbed our stuff to try to make the 30 minute ride to the airport. We had to say our goodbyes to our hosts, the hotel, and the beautiful country on our way to the small airport.

We arrived to the airport in just enough time to rush through security and load the small plane. We had no plans once we made it into the US, but we had to catch that plane. We flew into Miami happy to be back in the safe confines of the United States. Our only option was to take a cab to Ft. Lauderdale and sleep in the airport. This was a first for me, and certainly an opportunity for me to check something off of my Bucket List.

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Ryan Eller asleep in the airport

We all had different flights out in the morning, and made it home safe and sound. It was an amazing whirlwind of a trip, and the start of a new journey for me. This trip truly changed my life and my view of the world.

Ryan Eller and Jerrod murr in Cuba

It is remarkable how the small things can really alter your life. Big smiles from the translator. Playing with some kids under a mango tree. Eating roasted pig with people from another country. I remember so much about this trip, but what I remember most about Cuba is that we are a kindred spirit on this Earth. We all have dreams regardless of background, financial situation, language, or political affiliation. We want to live an inspired life. We want to impact others and leave the world a better place. This world is much, much smaller than we could ever imagine.

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