I have been to Cuba three times and I love this place. 12 million people live on this fascinating beautiful island with more than a few diverse cultural backgrounds.
Cuba (discovered by Christopher Columbus) was a part of the ‘slave trade’ back in the day and the ruling Spaniards’ all but eradicated the indigenous peoples that lived here. They have twelve provinces, and they joked that because so many Canadians come here they are going to give us our own province.. about time I say!
Most I met are happy and friendly and content with their lot. The freedoms are coming for them albeit at a much slower pace than the rest of the world. The embargos may be hurting, but then there is very little crime, drugs or greed on this self contained island.
The Cubans have the basics in place (not so the rest of the world) which I feel everyone should have, like food, water, shelter and education. It’s mandatory that everyone be educated, plus it is all free. Secondary education is also mandatory or two years in the military.
Health care, dental and eyes are also free! Even we don’t have free dental and eye care. Oh.. and doctors are required to make house calls to all their patients at least a couple times a year! They want the physicians to educate their patients on how to stay healthy .. good point, I think.
We have problems with our kids dropping out of school and using drugs.. not so in Cuba. Cubans have little access to internet and TV is censored, although our hotel room carried CCTV (Chinese TV broadcast in English with the moderators mimicking the western journalists style of delivery.. you need to see it ).
Isolation from the rest of the world has it’s own charm. First off you’ll notice we aren’t all walking around with our handheld devices keeping in touch with stuff back home.. we need down time anyway, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?.
Phones will work btw.. they have Cubacel but as always, be careful about those data roaming charges.. ouch! Internet data cards at the hotel are expensive, and rarely work fast if at all.
The charm and architecture of old buildings drew me in, some if not all, are deteriorating but all are still inhabited. The antique American cars, the classics, are still running although not a lot, be wary of renting one as a taxi you could be left stranded somewhere.
Arts are alive and well in Cuba, the government supports and pays for students wanting to pursue this avenue. I found the art work amazing and I finally bought a painting for myself. Can you even believe the ingenuity of the Cubans.. carving anything in wood, antlers and even coconuts! They can make things out of tin, pop cans and even auto parts.. the list goes on.
Turning over the items to see if they were made in china became a boring game.. everything is made here, by hand, I swear there was no imports! Having said all this you will be hard pressed to do any real shopping here. Its just not possible other than art and souvenirs’.
My advice is to soak up the culture along with the sun and just enjoy a slow relaxing holiday. Take in the entertainment at the resorts it is usually very good. Don’t go to Cuba for the food, although fresh fish is great, their expertise in the arts does not extend to food presentation.
If you are staying close to a city .. do make the effort to go and explore. We got the best meal ever in Varadaro. We followed a man on the street that had a menu sign with a lobster featured on it. He led us down a side street and into a house with four tables in a tiny living room all occupied with guests.
We sat outside on a tiny patio and had a beautiful meal of lobster and salad and some wine, it was delicious. I had to use the ladies room which took me through a tiny kitchen where I seen they were cooking on a hotplate! Everything was clean and orderly though.
The resorts are huge and kept nice (pools are not heated) rooms are clean.. beds are of the hard variety and bedding is sparse. Same with amenities like towels and facecloths (bring your own face cloth). Towels for the beach can be iffy as well. The glorious beaches make up for the small inconveniences.
The side trips to go snorkeling and a Jeep safari are worth it. I was introduced to scuba diving there as well. Seeing as how shopping is limited, spend your money on these excursion. A trip to Trinidad was well worth the inconvenience of a long bus ride.. busses are new and air-conditioned (from China I think).
DO NOT give money or encourage begging.. everyone has a job in Cuba, tip the gardeners and ones that are giving you an actual service. We are the ones that are doing a disservice with our generosity. ALL of our guides said “PLEASE DO NOT ENCOURAGE BEGGING!”
Hemingway loved this island and lived in a hotel in the middle of Havana. It is still a thriving hotel and this is my third time here and I’ve yet to explore it.. dam! Next time I am going to stay there.
Change is coming…you can see it and you can feel it, but much slower than our fast paced way of life.. god I love it here!