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The Carroll County Chamber of Commerce's upcoming cultural exchange trip to Cuba has generated an overwhelming amount of interest, chamber President Mike McMullin said.

The nine-day, eight-night trip will begin Memorial Day weekend and take participants from Miami to the Cuban cities of Camaguey, Cienfuegos and Havana.

McMullin said 34 tickets have been sold and only a handful are left even after the travel agency organizing the trip, Central Holidays West, reallocated tickets from another group that didn't sell out.

To put the demand for the trip in perspective, McMullin said last year's chamber trip to Italy only sold four tickets. People can go to Italy on their own anytime, said McMullin, but they can't go to Cuba except on cultural exchanges like this.

"I'm looking forward to stepping back in time," McMullin said

Because of the United States' trade embargo on the communist regime since 1960, the island country has been isolated in many ways, he said.

"The hotels there were the best in the world in 1957," said McMullin, "and they still have these old cars from 1957 that the Cuban people have kept up. It's like a blast from the past."

Cuba was a popular vacation spot for Americans prior to the Cuban Revolution, which placed Fidel Castro in power for about 50 years. Since 2011, the embargo has loosened slightly to allow travel to Cuba for cultural exchanges.

Participants are scheduled to visit a rodeo, schoolhouse and a Cuban home. They will meet artists, attend a ballet and visit a cigar factory, the Bay of Pigs Museum and the home of Ernest Hemingway.

McMullin said the trip is about building relationships with Cuban people, "but it's a wonderful time to build relationships with other people going on the trip as well."

The trip costs $3,499 and includes airfare from Miami, hotels, meals and activities.

"This trip is on a lot of bucket lists," McMullin said.

He said some people going on the trip heard stories from their parents about what Cuba was like before the revolution and they are anxious to see it now.

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