timistravels

My job allows me to visit a lot of Alaska on a yearly basis. I wanted to capture the trips in one location!

Cuba; Some final thoughts!

on January 3, 2016

Cuba

Overall; Dec. 18-29, 2015

In retrospect this was a very memorable trip for a lot of different reasons. Cuba was fascinating, fun and (really) frustrating at times. Up front I know it would have been a lot less frustrating if we spoke Spanish fluently. Our most said words were; “hablo un poco español”, but by the end of the visit it had improved a lot, but those that speak Spanish will do much better. If our first night had started off better it may have eased some of the continued stress of the trip. Sadly our Cubana air flight was 5.5 hours late getting into Havana, THEN our luggage took another 2 hours to be delivered. Finally, as we cleared customs my husband’s Passport was stamped. We had been told “they never stamp Passports, only the travel visa”, well ‘they’ were wrong.  We worried a lot about this, and in the end just had to stop thinking about it.

Thankfully we had 25 Euro to pay for the cab ride to our casa because the Exchange booths at the airport had run out of money. BUT since we were so late NO ONE was at our rented apartment and at 1:30 in the morning we were not surprised but we were so tired.  Eventually a neighbor across the hall heard us knocking and came out to see what was going on. He called a woman upstairs and about 20 minutes later she came down with the key. Finally to bed by 2 a.m. It was a long day. We knew of the US embargo against Cuba (who doesn’t) but President Barack Obama’s recent efforts to restore relations with the Cuba gave us hope about our visit.   In the end it was NOT a problem to have a stamped passport, OR that we got in late, but all those things added stress when we didn’t need any!   We had a lot of highs and a I had a lot of lows, here are a few of our thoughts on the overall trip:

  • Our first 4 days in Havana it rained each day, mostly on and off and actually it cooled down the city and offered great views of waves breaking over onto the streets of Havana.
  • The food is very, very bland and there is not a lot of variety. We heard that there is a food ‘revolution’ happening, but for the most part it is chicken, pork, beef, lamb, with rice and boiled veggies. If we were lucky we got some tomatoes, cucumbers and greens on a plate before dinner. We brought some Chipotle sauce and carried it with us to use on virtually any meal!
  • There is limited wifi and you can purchase a card with a code to use it. When we saw 100’s of people with cell phones OR computers sitting in a park we realized that must be where the wifi exists. Each town had one main park/square with it available. It was 2 CUC’s for 1 hour of usage.  We were happy to find any at all as we had not expected any opportunity for communications.  It was nice to let Mom know we were safe.
  • There are 2 forms of money, the peso’s the locals use and the CUC’s that most tourists use. However, IF you can get some peso’s it costs less for you to purchase street food, pizza’s, churro’s etc. They are MUCH cheaper with peso’s. For Example: a pizza on the street might say “10 peso’s (local money) or 2 CUC’s (tourist money)”. The rate is actually 1 peso= .27 CUC meaning that it costs that the pizza for 10 peso’s would actually only be about .40 CUC’s  a lot less than 2 CUC’s. We traded some of our money for peso’s and were glad we did for a few of these opportunities. Cabs were another place we wish we had more peso’s.
  • We did eat several street side pizza’s. Usually a great breaded crust and a little bit of cheese with some sauce on the top.  They were good.
  • For the most part you will only use CUC’s but most people also accept Euro’s.
  • We met some local’s at our first rental and they helped us secure lodging for our last night in Havana. They also showed us some of the ‘ropes’ of cab rides etc. We will certainly keep in touch with them as they were very helpful and we will suggest to our friends to go through them to rent places in the future etc.
  • The locals are very nice and are very happy to see engage in conversations or at least attempt to engage in conversation with you. The locals are very helpful allowing you to use phones or call their friends to ensure you get to do what your plans dictate.  They do NOT want to talk anything about politics though our last hosts were the most vocal about it. Lionel was an engineer who spoke English, Russian and Spanish. He’d lived in Russia for a year back in the 80’s. He is a very PROUD Cuban and spoke highly of free education, free medical etc.
  • Cubana Air is known to be late, if you fly them be sure to build in an extra day between connections!
  • There are a lot of means of transportation, typical yellow cabs (we never used one), the old 1950’s taxi’s, bicycle taxi’s, pod taxi’s and horse or cow pulled carts.  Nothing is off limits.
  • Casa Particular’s are the way to go for lodging. You typically meet local people and it helps with the transitions. Everyone was more than willing to let us use their phones to call ahead to the next place to stay.
  • All men stare inappropriately at all women.  it is a tad disconcerting, and it is very cultural.  I didn’t appreciate it.
  • Most hosts will offer to make you breakfast and dinner for an additional cost. Breakfast is a great deal and starts your day off on the right foot. We never had dinner as we didn’t want to be tied to a time frame.
  • Yes there are old cars, EVERYWHERE. Most don’t have their original motors, but the car bodies are original! Some are in better shape than others.
  • We met a lot of tourists from Europe and enjoyed the company of other world travelers.  Germans, Polish, French topped the list, but there were so many languages being spoken around us it was hard to discern them.
  • I/we need to improve on my Spanish… my limited words helped a little, but most Cuban’s speak none to very little English. The younger kids are now being taught in school, but up until 10-15 years ago they learned Russian! It was fun to talk with the youth that are learning it as they really want to practice!

In the end our Cubana Air flight was on time leaving and we made our connections. Nothing I worried about happened, and we are really, really, really happy we went to see Cuba now, before KFC, McDonalds and Subway line the city streets.

FYII: Our agenda was such:

  • 4 nights in Havana
  • 3 nights in Viñales
  • 3 nights in Trinidad
  • 1 last final night in Havana before flying out the next day

 

https://timistravels.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/various-sights-in-havana-cuba-hotel-national-hamels-alley-etc/#comment-371

https://timistravels.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/vinales-cuba-my-favorite-part-of-the-country/

https://timistravels.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/trinidad-cuba-history-and-beaches/

 


7 responses to “Cuba; Some final thoughts!

  1. Sharon Young says:

    Great account Timi. I can believe you must’ve had some frustration as normally you just bubble over about things. Sounds like overall a good experience though. Dale loves all the car pictures and we’ll have to ask Harry for his rating on Cuban cigars. 😉

    Like

  2. Val says:

    Loved all your comments and insights. Thanks for taking the time and effort to share.

    Like

  3. Karen Whorton says:

    Fascinating Timi, thanks for sharing your adventure sounds fun and frustrating! Saw some pics showing not much changed since we were there almost 25 years ago!

    Like

  4. uli says:

    Hi Timi…you and I had a very similar itinary and very similar impressions. I was there in March of 2015…..I loved every minute of my trip and can’t wait to return before it gets commercialized or “Americanized”.
    I enjoyed meeting you today
    til next time
    uli

    Like

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