We held a retreat to bring the Startup Cuba band back together. It was a needed, albeit brief, escape to take a little of the pressure off and recharge physically and emotionally. On an island. In NYC.
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Evan Elkowitz, Maday Martinez, Laura Catana, Reymel Casamayor, Marissa Daniela, Cray Novick, Chris Vázquez. Photo: Karen Vierbuchen

As a group of content creators who love to make videos, not being able to travel to tell stories has been debilitating to say the least. We’ve pivoted a bit in 2020 to go with the flow; posting more articles than videos and introducing Zoom interviews. So far, we’ve seen positive results. But still, we’re “people people” with a sense of wanderlust. For us, not being able to get on a plane with our cameras to eat new foods, immerse ourselves in different cultures, and share their stories has been challenging. Fortunately, with a little help from our friends at Café Bustelo and Collective Retreats, we did something about it. We busted out – old fashioned prison break style to go… camping, err, glamping with high thread count sheets.

The location we chose was Collective Retreats’ COVID safe Governors Island resort called Collective Governors Island. It was outdoors, breezy, and on an island with Lower Manhattan to the right and the Statue of Liberty straight ahead. No travel needed to get there – just an eight minute ride on NYC’s Governors Island Ferry ($3 rt for adults). Collective Retreats then picked us up in golf carts and shuttled us to the other side of the island. 

Related Post: We Went to Ecuador Before the Pandemic

I’d be lying if I told you that it wasn’t a little weird to be doing this during the pandemic. It’s not just socially weird: “Hi, I haven’t hung out with any one like this in a year, and I  forgot how to talk to others without Zoom.” But also, it’s not lost on us how many people have been impacted, the number of lives lost, and just how devastating the pandemic is to families and businesses. We get it, and we feel it too. From a safety perspective, our group and Collective Retreats took all necessary precautions to keep us COVID safe. This included social distancing, staying outside with a breeze, and wearing masks when that wasn’t possible. Plus, those of us who planned to be in close proximity to each other got tested before and after the event. I personally quarantined afterwards before returning home to my family. None of us got sick.

The pressure of managing jobs, businesses, and families for months upon months while balancing physical and emotional well being was evident, for myself included.

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Ken and Zuzy arriving on the Governors Island Ferry. Photo: Karen Vierbuchen

All that being said, we used the time together to talk about the state of the world. We didn’t want to waste a moment – we felt a moral obligation to it. Café Bustelo and Louie Estrada of Brooklyn’s My Cuban Spot got the conversation going with Cuban sandwiches, pan con bistec, chicharrones and empanadas con carne and guava y queso. The Café Bustelo was bubbling in the cafetera all day, and I was mainlining it until at least 3pm(thank you Collective Retreats for letting us crash the party with our own food).

“I think there’s so much power in humanizing your enemy. In meeting the person you think like, ‘we don’t agree at all!’ And then being able to share a coffee and realizing, ‘oh you’re also a human.’”

Laura Catana (@lalauracatana)
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Collective Governors Island. Photo: Karen Vierbuchen

As the Staten Island Ferry sailed through New York Harbor in all her bright orange glory, we sat in Collective Retreats’ adirondack chairs around an open fire to talk about how to bring us all back together. Not just physically in the age of COVID-19, but also culturally as a society faced with such division, polarization and…hate. I was watching everyone’s faces all day and noticed the sense of levity that the conversation provided. It was a release for us as it was obvious the extra weight everyone was carrying on their shoulders, a stark contrast to the last time we were together, pre-pandemic. The pressure of managing jobs, businesses, and families for months upon months while balancing physical and emotional well being was evident, for myself included.

“There’s seven billion of us. But at the end of the day we all have that common humanity…”

Marissa Daniela
collective retreats
Zuzy Martin-Aly (Craving Cuba) & Marissa Daniela (@mimaincuba). Photo: Karen Vierbuchen

We talked about some really good stuff. And, as we chatted we quickly noticed a common thread throughout our discussions: if  we’re going to bring us back together as a society, we need to be able to talk to each other (not you and me. Although, that would be great. Shoot me a note here; I’d love to talk). But rather, we need to be able to talk to people we don’t agree with, people  who think differently than us. Laura Catana said it best, “I think there’s so much power in humanizing your enemy. In meeting the person you think like, ‘we don’t agree at all!’ And then being able to share a coffee and realizing, ‘oh you’re also a human.’”

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Louie Estrada of My Cuban Spot. Photo: Karen Vierbuchen
Fully stocked and all was well with the world. Photo: Karen Vierbuchen

“There’s seven billion of us. But at the end of the day we all have that common humanity,” explains Marissa Daniela (@mimaincuba). I agree. A future with more joy, more positive impact and more discovery sure beats the shit out of the current state of things. 

Did we change the world? Um, not sure. But, it was helpful to get this stuff off our chest. And, if we can share the story through the video above, maybe we can open an eye or two. That’s one or two more than were opened before.

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Collective Retreats Summit Tent. Photo: Karen Vierbuchen

Watch this space for new stories from the content creators in our video (scroll all the way up to see the video) and Startup Cuba, and give us a shout if it connected with you. We’re going to do this again once the pandemic is over and our group can be larger than just our group of NYC locals. Join us.

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Watching sunset over the Statue of Liberty at Collective Retreats. Photo: Karen Vierbuchen

Watch Our Behind The Scenes Debrief From Governors Island

Watch our crew debrief from this event here.

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startup cuba youtube
Watch Startup Cuba replay videos on YouTube here.

Ken Deckinger is the co-founder and CEO of Startup Cuba and the executive producer and host of its namesake docuseries. A native of South Florida, Ken has been an entrepreneur for his entire professional career. Previously he was co-founder and CEO of HurryDate, pioneering the global concept of speed dating to 45 cities throughout the US, UK and Canada. HurryDate eventually evolved into online dating and was acquired by Spark Networks, the parent company of ChristianMingle.com and JDate.com. Ken is a graduate of Boston College and the University of Florida, where he was honored with the University’s Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year Under 40 award and sits on the Board for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He actively advises entrepreneurs and is a two-time protagonist of a Harvard Business School case study. Ken’s filmmaking and journalistic journey is inspired by a love of travel and authentic connections with other cultures. He believes that the more we know about each other, through stories, the closer we can become — thus the mission of Startup Cuba: to amplify the voices of the people sharing stories in the Latinx space. After living in New York City for 15 years, he encouraged his wife to move their family to Miami to get back to his South Florida roots. Needless to say, it was a short discussion and he and his family now call Boston, where his wife grew up, their home.

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