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[P]
Our Trip to Cuba

By Xpat in Culture
Mon Jan 25, 2010 at 11:45:06 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

It's next to impossible to get an objective opinion on Cuba. Most Americans can't go there and form their own opinion. We went there because it promised to be an affordable family vacation with a direct flight from Quebec that avoided any of the latest TSA nonsense. If any of my American friends want a firsthand account of place that's been off limits to them since before I was born, here it is.


When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuban oil imports fell to 10% of their pre-1990 levels. They went from cars and large farms with fertilizer and pesticides to bicycles and community gardens. The annual 8-10 million ton sugar cane contract that Cuba had with the Soviet Union disappeared and the GDP of the country contracted by 35%. As a result Cuba put a much greater emphasis on tourism among other things. Building the infrastructure to support a larger tourism industry took time. Our beach, Cayo Santa Maria, is a part of an archipelago that stretches 40 kilometers north of mainland Cuba and the two lane road from the mainland was built from limestone quarried at the source of the road. All water is also piped from the mainland.

Everyone who works in the tourism industry, from waiters and chefs to chambermaids to bartenders have trained at a post secondary school that was remade for that purpose in the mid 90's. My experience last week was a direct result of that training.

The resort that we stayed in, Melia Las Dunas, is just 3 years old. Cayo Santa Maria, was developed less than 10 years ago and has roughly 5000 rooms in 6 resorts. The resort itself was beautiful, 950 rooms spread over about 50 bungalows. Cayo Santa Maria is a white sand beach with unbelievable turquoise water. The coffee in the huge open air lobby was the best I've had anywhere and I drink way more coffee than most rational human beings. The grounds at the resort were immaculate and our chambermaid left towels rolled in the shapes of hearts or cute animals along with a note and a fresh hibiscus flower every day in our spotless room. Kathy left her a little gift every day too of children's clothing, old prescription glasses, a couple of her handmade glass pendants and a convertible peso. We gave stuff that we used but no longer needed.

The house band played 5 nights a week on a small outdoor stage. That band was terrific. They played everything from Cuban standards like 'Chan Chan' to Santana to rearrangements of Beatles tunes.

When I think of Mariachi bands, I imagine Mexican restaurants in Dallas and sombreros and enthusiastic, if not always listenable, renditions of 'La Cucaracha'. Therefore I hesitate to use the term to describe our dinner entertainment, The guys who played at our tables were very good professional musicians. I was listening to, and seeing, fast, accurate leads played on acoustic guitars, and perfect 3 part harmonies. I couldn't dig my pesos out fast enough.

Cuban citizens are paid by the government according to their job in Cuban pesos with which they buy electricity, food, clothing and other necessities. Tourists use convertible pesos that have roughly the same value as a US dollar. The convertible peso, or CUC, is also used by locals to buy luxury items. The US dollar is not in circulation as of Nov. 2004.

We took advantage of a couple of excursions, one to the mainland, passport required, to two of the larger towns in central Cuba, Remedios and Santa Clara. The resort was an idyllic setting and it was possible to forget that Cuba is a 3rd world country, but it is, and going back to the mainland in our big, Chinese made tour bus and maneuvering the narrow streets lined with people, bicycles and donkeys really drove that point home. In central Santa Clara, Kathy and I went by ourselves down a main street open only to pedestrians. There weren't any tourist shops along that street and only a couple restaurants selling a large folded pizza sandwich to locals. People didn't give my wheelchair much attention but on more than one occasion strangers came to help us navigate a curb.

Every small town has a baseball stadium and each of the 14 provinces takes the best players for the provincial team. The best of the provincial team players are on the national team. Aroldis Chapman, a young left handed pitcher that throws 100 mph defected last year and signed with Cincinnati last month for $25 million over 5 years, which must seem like Monopoly money to him. I hope he handles it better than I would have at his age.

There were some small tourist shops around the central squares of Remedios and Santa Clara as well as the airport and the resort that sold identical, government produced symbols of the Cuban revolution. I don't know how it is elsewhere in the country but in central Cuba it seems that the government is anxious to put the face of Che Guevara on the revolution and not the face of Fidel Castro. Every little shop sold t-shirts, postcards and calendars with various iconic photos of 'El Che' and one had to look pretty hard to find anything with Fidel. It's also useful to bear in mind that our trip to mainland Cuba was along a route that was approved by the government. We didn't see beggars or any outward signs of unrest but largely rural central Cuba isn't Havana. How much of that is by design and how much is reality is something I can only guess at but my guess is it simply doesn't exist. Tourists don't just go wandering about the Cuban countryside and my brief interaction with locals in the towns or the resort was friendly but utilitarian. Still these are educated, literate people.

I've never been to another 3rd world country so I have no ability to compare Cuba directly, but there are a few things Cuba has going for it. Illiteracy was eliminated in the 60's and today there is a 98% literacy rate. The infant mortality rate is just a step behind Canada at 29th in the world, which is remarkable for the 3rd world and according to our tour guide there is a doctor for every 175 people. Cuba has a very low crime rate, especially for violent crime and is considered by experienced travelers to be one of the safest destinations in the world.

I read a bit about the history and culture of Cuba in preparation for our trip but being in rural Cuba is quite a different experience. It was like traveling back in time. I hope I get another chance to do it.

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Our Trip to Cuba | 40 comments (36 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
OH MAN SWEET VACATION (2.10 / 10) (#1)
by zombie lonelyhobo on Sat Jan 23, 2010 at 12:54:10 PM EST

THANKS FOR THE BLOG ENTRY MAYBE NEXT YOU CAN TELL US HOW YOU'RE SO SICK OF THAT BITCH AT WORK AND OMG IT SUCKS AND -EMO- THE FUCK OUT

OR MAYBE YOU SHOULD TAKE THIS TEDIOUS BULLSHIT TO YOUR FACEBOOK PAGE WHERE ALL THE PEOPLE THAT PRETEND TO BE INTERESTED IN YOU CAN FELLATE YOUR EGO
NIGGA YOU DUMB

WTF?? (none / 0) (#4)
by achievingfluidity on Sat Jan 23, 2010 at 03:16:09 PM EST

NO RLY.

--
ANNOY A LIBERAL USE FACTS AND LOGIC


[ Parent ]

this isn't interesting, (none / 1) (#2)
by Ezra Loomis Pound on Sat Jan 23, 2010 at 01:09:04 PM EST

much less useful. No mention of prices, important or doable things like routes to the red light district or museums of the revolution and shit like that.

In fact, all it is hodgepodge of random observations of what you, evidently a pretty unobservant person, saw and did.

:::"Let me tell ya, if she wasn't cut out to handle some fake boy online, well sister, life only gets more difficult, and you only get more emo as you age." --balsamic vinigga :::#_#:::

East London, "Sleeping Beauty Motel" (none / 0) (#38)
by hugin on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 12:14:23 AM EST

kick ass hoes walk upand down all day, and there is a great breakfast grill shack across the street, can get drgs too delivere dby africans on bicycles that one of the ho's i fucked under a mr bean vacation billboard in an alley (also i fcked another one there this time i lead her there (the first one had shown me it)).

This is a clip that shows the Phantom makeup being applied to Michael Crawford as well as other behind-the-scenes footage as he prepares to perform on the Bob Hope Show. A must-have for any Crawford fan. Enjoy!
[ Parent ]

Congratulations (2.00 / 6) (#3)
by balsamic vinigga on Sat Jan 23, 2010 at 03:14:39 PM EST

you must hold the record for the most boring traveler to ever pretend to be interesting, no small feat considering your competition.

---
Please help fund a Filipino Horror Movie. It's been in limbo since 2007 due to lack of funding. Please donate today!
Excellent subject but... (2.50 / 6) (#6)
by mybostinks on Sat Jan 23, 2010 at 03:29:43 PM EST

this could be much more interesting.

It almost sounds like you didn't do anything. No whores, midgets, trailer parks or weird shit in the rural areas?

I would have probably been thrown in jail if I were able to go.

Expand on your impressions/experiences etc.

Yea I love to stay in ghetto motels in new areas (none / 0) (#39)
by hugin on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 12:16:11 AM EST

or countries.

This is a clip that shows the Phantom makeup being applied to Michael Crawford as well as other behind-the-scenes footage as he prepares to perform on the Bob Hope Show. A must-have for any Crawford fan. Enjoy!
[ Parent ]

lol, American tourism... (2.50 / 6) (#8)
by nostalgiphile on Sun Jan 24, 2010 at 12:59:09 AM EST

"Still these are educated, literate people.

I've never been to another 3rd world country so I have no ability to compare Cuba directly, but there are a few things Cuba has going for it."

-1,-1,-1,-1

"Depending on your perspective you are an optimist or a pessimist[,] and a hopeless one too." --trhurler

Was he expecting retards (none / 0) (#11)
by tweet on Sun Jan 24, 2010 at 08:10:47 PM EST

on every corner, one wonders?

_______________________________________________
Not everything in black and white makes sense.

[ Parent ]

The few things of which he speaks (none / 0) (#29)
by undermyne on Sun Jan 31, 2010 at 11:31:42 AM EST

center around the overall lack of niggers. Which is the true measure of 3rd world status. 3rd world is a PC way of saying planet of the apes.

"You're an asshole. You are the greatest troll on this site." Some nullo

[ Parent ]
If this is the case (none / 0) (#33)
by Monkey on Tue Apr 20, 2010 at 04:53:19 PM EST

then by that metric, the U.S. must be a pretty fucking poor country.

[ Parent ]
So you are saying They are like the grey goo (none / 0) (#40)
by hugin on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 12:17:33 AM EST

we imported them here on ships, but thery kept replicating.

This is a clip that shows the Phantom makeup being applied to Michael Crawford as well as other behind-the-scenes footage as he prepares to perform on the Bob Hope Show. A must-have for any Crawford fan. Enjoy!
[ Parent ]

Nice Book Report (3.00 / 3) (#12)
by GhostOfTiber on Mon Jan 25, 2010 at 08:39:40 AM EST

Did they mention that cuba is amost the #1 spot in the world for women and children being trafficed in the sex trade? Did they mention that it exports and serves as a waystation for most of the drugs entering the US? Did they also mention that both of these aren't considered crimes by the government?

It's really easy to have low crime statistics when the goverment doesn't call them crimes. While I think there's an argument to be made for victimless crimes of drug use, human trafficking is a violation of most morals and laws anywhere you look.

You may want to try a statistics site. Also be aware you're generally railroaded through the nicer areas. I had a buddy go to jamacia and he said it was night and day. If you're in the "resort areas" you're fine. Cross that really tall wall and you're in the ghetto.

[Nimey's] wife's ass is my cocksheath. - undermyne

I used to collect soviet propaganda (none / 0) (#13)
by Del Griffith on Mon Jan 25, 2010 at 01:46:32 PM EST

when I was a kid... this reads like one of those come visit the miracle that is Cuba.

Jesus Christ, how much of Stalin's cock did you suck prior to arriving in Cuba?

How did you not get arrested for having visited there?

Why are you telling us any of this propaganda bullshit?

-------
I...I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. Because I'm the real article. What you see is what you get. - Me


He's Canadian. It's not a crime in Canada. (3.00 / 3) (#16)
by Michael David Crawford on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 01:06:38 AM EST

All over Vancouver were billboards that said "Cuba Si", advertising it as a vacation spot.



[ Parent ]

it's a crime to be canadian (none / 0) (#19)
by LilDebbie on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 10:48:50 AM EST

at least in my book

My name is LilDebbie and I have a garden.
- hugin -

[ Parent ]
Cuban vacations are becoming hip. (none / 0) (#14)
by sudogeek on Mon Jan 25, 2010 at 06:18:31 PM EST

Just look at the NYTimes travel section this week.

For years, the only way to go there was two flights. We typically flew from Miami to Managua then Managua to Havana. The Immigation agents in Managua were very hip to the Helms-Burton law and would not stamp US passports on exit or re-entry to Nicaragua; neither would the Cuban authorities. You can do the same from Mexico, DR, etc.

One of the reasons that the dollar was banned in 2004 was to snuff out the shadow economy related to narcotraficantes operating out of Pinar and Matanzas. In the late 90's, there were some beautiful mansions going up in south Pinar and a lot of go-fast boats. You could get literally anything or anyone for dollars but I think it got a little too corrupt and out-of-control. I haven't been there in 10 years so I don't really know. I'm just saying.

You're an arrogant, condescending, ignorant dipshit. - trhurler

Definition of irony: (1.50 / 2) (#15)
by Liar on Mon Jan 25, 2010 at 07:45:59 PM EST

"Every little shop sold t-shirts, postcards and calendars with various iconic photos of 'El Che'"


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
Yes (none / 1) (#17)
by BJH on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 03:38:09 AM EST

That particular piece of irony has been around for just about as long as I've been alive.
--
Roses are red, violets are blue.
I'm schizophrenic, and so am I.
-- Oscar Levant

[ Parent ]
Turning rebellion into money (none / 0) (#18)
by Harry B Otch on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 04:49:34 AM EST

Well, what the hell else are you supposed to do in a closed economy like that?

-----
A lamentable petty bourgeois cry of fear.-.
[ Parent ]

Somebody raves about Cuba... (3.00 / 2) (#20)
by mirleid on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 11:00:00 AM EST

...rigth wing nutsos come out of the closet all over the place.

No, not you GoT - we've known you're one of them all along.

Chickens don't give milk
If you're going to Cuba (none / 0) (#21)
by Scott Robinson on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 11:55:57 AM EST

Go stay in a Casa Particular.

If it's far enough away from the tourist districts, you can pick out the secret police.

Here is a similar story (none / 0) (#22)
by Phssthpok on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 03:57:00 PM EST

That my mother wrote in 1998. Posted as a child for collapsibility.
____________

affective flattening has caused me to kill 11,357 people

CUBA - February 1998 (3.00 / 4) (#23)
by Phssthpok on Tue Jan 26, 2010 at 03:57:46 PM EST

We just returned from a week in Cuba. It was interesting - very interesting.  We went out of curiosity; we went because the Pope had just visited; we went because we were in the Bahamas anyway; we went because we werent allowed; we went because it was a challenge.

There is a US embargo against Cuba. It is illegal for US citizens to spend money in Cuba.  The penalty, under the Trading with the Enemy Act, is up to a $250,000 fine and up to ten years in prison. The 1996 Helms-Burton Bill provides for a prejudicial fine of up to $50,000 on US citizens who visit Cuba at their own expense without US government permission.

In our Bahama week, prior to our Cuban odyssey, I read the book Waiting for Fidel while a storm pounded the shore. That book prepared me for the reality of Cuba: waiting.

A journey is an adventure when the outcome is uncertain. Our adventure began at daybreak on a clear windless Friday on Elbow Cay in Abaco, Bahamas. We walked, motored a boat and took a taxi to the airport to wait an hour and a half for our flight to Nassau on which we hoped we had a reservation. We did. Upon arriving in Nassau, we waited at the airport Dollar Rent-a-Car desk for five hours for our Havanatur agent Michael Larrow (242 322-2796). When he finally showed up, we paid cash for our round trip Cubana Air tickets. We hoped we had reservations. We didnt. While waiting  standby, I was getting concerned. I was almost hoping we would be left standing-by. I was scared about going to Cuba; I was formulating alternate plans but the agent put in a good word at the counter and we were finally issued passage. We waited at the gate for another two hours before departing in a shabby old Soviet jet.

We touched down in Havana on that rainy evening.  We waited an hour for our turn at immigration. We had no hotel reservations but we wrote Hotel Inglaterra on our visa because the guide book advised leaving no blank lines on the tourist card. I asked the agent not to stamp our passport. He smiled and complied. We were in with no trail! I only hoped we could exit as easily.

An airport Taxi pimp found us an illegal ride in a Soviet Lada. I was amazed to see that it actually operated. The drivers wife and kid were along for the ride. He took us and all of our scuba gear to the Hotel Inglaterra. When it started raining he stopped under an overpass, rearranged our bags to shut the trunk and put one bag on my lap. The Hotel Inglaterra was full.  So he then came up with plan B: a Casa Particular.;a private home. He drove us to Martas illegal Bed and Breakfast. After the occupants of the the wrong apartment pointed us in the right direction, our driver yelled a dozen times from the street upstairs to Marta. We were ushered up marble stairs into a palatial 1920s apartment with 15 foot ceilings and a host who spoke some English-our first English on our journey. My Spanish is limited.

This home stay was the highlight of our adventure. Really. It was wonderful.  Our hosts Juan and Marta were a charming couple in their 50s. They enlightened us to Cuban life:

He had been a Master Merchant Marine for 30 years. He traveled to communist ports in China, North Korea, Vietnam, Albania, Libya, East Germany and the Soviet Union. The apartment has treasures from around the globe. Then, the Soviet subsidy stopped with their break-up in 1989. Because of the lack of funds, the Cuban economy collapsed in 1993. (Thats when tens of thousands of people were fleeing in boats to Miami.) Cuba sold the fleet of 90 cargo vessels. Juan became unemployed.  

In order to save the economy, Fidel decided to allow private enterprise and go on the dollar standard. Marta opened a restaurant at that time. Everything was wonderful for a while-until Fidel realized he should tax their efforts. The 100% tax proved excessive, so Marta shut down business and went underground. They get by today on their food rations as long as they can supplement their existence with our patronage.

They are bored. Juan spent the day at the cinema; Marta with friends. They have a nice home, but they cant sell it. They finally got a car after saving for 30 years but they cant sell it either. They hope to get a telephone some day. They miss their children who escaped to Spain but they are happy for them. They know they will have a better life. Our host proudly bragged that their 26 year old son already has a car and he has been in Spain only 4 months. I asked if they have grandchildren and Marta said no because their 30-year-old daughter married out of convenience not love. Our host kept saying that Cuba will have the oldest mean population by the year 2005 because there are few children and the young adults are finding ways to escape.

We took lessons on using their bathroom: First, you had to fill a bucket in the bathtub with water and pour it into the toilet bowl to flush. (I remember that trick from our earthquake days.) The toilet tank had a crack and replacements were not available. Toilet seats obviously werent available either. Then, to use the shower, you had to turn a switch on (which turned a light off), and wait a bit for the coils to heat the water at the shower head. Then, you turn the shower on a trickle so you dont get scorched. I had a cold shower before we figured it out.

We were hungry so went out on the town. Our B&B was on the main street of Havana, Calle 23 in Vedado. We walked the two blocks to the Habana Libre Hotel which was a bran-new Hilton before being nationalized in 1959. Now it caters to the European business men on holiday without their wives. The Cuban girls were out in full evening wear waiting for a date or their dreamed-for ticket off the island. The cabaret on the 25th floor had a two hour queue to pay the ten dollar cover  because they had to slowly copy each passport; an anti-terrorists measure. We stayed at the bar downstairs. I drank Havana Club Rum-aged seven years. I was too tired to go up anyway.

Saturday morning we awoke to puffy white clouds filling a blue sky. We looked out our window to the tree-lined street below to see the most classic American car on the empty main street. Our host told us the green 50's model was a Buick. We then had breakfast with American coffee. Habaneros drink a small sweetened espresso.

We decided to spend the day planning our week and trying to get in some sightseeing. We walked the eight blocks to the Cubana Air office to confirm our return flight and book a flight to the Isla de la Juventud. I had wanted to go to Varadero to see the beach resort, the nationalized Dupont Mansion and scuba dive but the storms had blown out the north shore. The travel guide book said the island off the south shore had the best diving anyway. We got to the office ten minutes before noon. It was closed; it closed at noon. It would reopen Monday. From there we walked over to a travel agent. They were not able to confirm our return flight or book a flight over to the island because the computers were not available until Monday. She was able to take our money to make a reservation for the hotel and diving on the island. She couldnt confirm it though because the phone lines to the island werent working that day. She didnt want to make reservations unless we had transportation. So, we decided we would take the boat to the island 100 miles off shore. The travel agent told us to go to the bus station to get our boat tickets. We took a private taxi to the bus terminal but the office was closed for the rest of the day. We were told to return at 6 the next morning.

We took a state taxi to the opulent 1930s Hotel Nacional for lunch. We sat on the veranda watching the sea smash into the Bay of Havana break wall. We were serenaded by salsa mariachies. On the wall down the stairs to the restroom (which did have a toilet seat) was a fine photo of Fidel with Hemingway. After lunch we walked out to the cannons aimed out to sea. They were actually fired-but missed- during the Spanish-American-Cuban war in 1890. That bluff gave us a spectacular view of Havana. We walked back to our apartment stopping to admire all the old American classic cars. The city seemed frozen in the 50s; when Fidel took over. There werent many cars or bicycles. The people got around on camels; semi-trucks pulling containers with humps over the axles. Maintenance seemed minimal; buildings chipped and in need of paint; sidewalks torn up to expose faulty underground wiring; but there was no litter.

Back home Marta cooked us an illegal lobster dinner. We dressed to go out. Marta told us not to talk to black people. We talked about going to the Tropicana, a Las Vegas type show, but it was outdoors, there were occasional showers and the $100 price tag was a bit steep; The Copacabana Club was similar; The Habana Libre Cabaret Caribe line was too long so we decided on the Hotel Nacional Cabaret Parisen.  We never got there. I now know that we should have gone to the cabaret Palacio de la Salsa in the Hotel Riviera.

On the way to the Cabaret Parisen we walked by a small indoor/outdoor arena with live salsa music. It was the nicest music I have ever heard. I would have liked to have gotten their recording. There were lots of kids hanging around and climbing the fences to the sold out event. We hung around and got hustled by a black man and his girlfriend. He said he was a good black man, not one of the bad ones we had heard about. We walked about ten blocks to his favorite club. He wanted us to pay his cover and buy him drinks. The club was a noisy disco. He assured us  that there would be live music  but I didnt like the acoustics anyway. We left with him in tow begging for dollars. We went back to the live concert but it was letting out. We had missed the 10 pm show at the Parisen so we walked back to the Libre for drinks. It was getting late so we went back home. We never got to a club.

We woke up early Sunday morning and took a taxi to the bus terminal to get our boat ticket. No, they said at the boat counter, this is where you buy the bus-boat ticket. You must go to the boat dock to get the boat ticket. We went back to the get our luggage and say our farewells to Marta. We negotiated a price to the dock in Batabano 100 miles to the south with a private driver. Half an hour into our drive across the width of the country we were stopped by the Policia. Two more cop cars showed up. During the half hour detainment, I was afraid that we would be deported or that our taxi driver would be arrested for illegally transporting tourists. We were finally let go. It appeared to be mistaken identity. The cops were looking for someone else and our driver was the nephew of some police commissioner. We drove another hour on an empty freeway that doubled as a military runway. We went past bunkers. The road degenerated into a Y with no signs. We waited for a truck and asked for directions. At the next unmarked intersection we asked a pedestrian for directions. At the next one, a car, and so on until we got to the dock two hours early. We got the last seats on the Soviet hovercraft (hydroplane?). We paid $11 for our two hour passage and another $34 for our bags. After searching our bags the Military inspector held our five dive knives for the passage. We waited for two hours with about 150 passengers before boarding. We were the only tourists. It was here that we really learned about the Peso/Dollar situation.

Cuba is officially on the dollar standard. All tourists must use US Dollars. Tourists are not allowed to use Pesos. The exchange rate is between 20 and 25 pesos to the dollar.  Items are priced with one Peso/Dollar amount. Thus the $11 boat fare was 11 pesos for Cubans or 50 cents. They pay 1/20 of what we pay. We went to buy coffee in the waiting room but because we didnt have little enough money they gave it to us. The same thing  happened at lunch on the boat. Lunch was 1 or 2 pesos but since we only had dollars we couldnt come up with the 5 cents in pesos so the lady sitting next to us bought.

The boat was a disappointment. We climbed into the back compartment and sat with 50 people. The windows were covered with permanent curtains. We were on a boat ride across the Caribbean and we could see nothing. We could barely see over the side wall at the bulkhead opening. I forgot to bring paper with me to the toilet which had no seat and didnt flush. I noticed others had used newspaper. Half way across to the island the boat stopped. It became a three hour tour. Our fellow passengers didnt seem concerned. They just waited.

We finally made it to the island. We didnt take the horse drawn taxi. We found a normal Lada to take us to the Hotel Colony 50 miles away, if we would buy gas first. The island was covered with overgrown grapefruit orchards. Our taxi driver stopped, climbed a tree and picked us some. He pealed it, cut the top off and we squished the juice into our mouth.

The Hotel Colony was isolated, 50 miles from the nearest town. This Hilton had just opened before it too was nationalized in 1959. It was deserted. It looked like it has been asleep for 40 years. The maintenance was substandard but clean. We walked out the pier. The turquoise Caribbean was muddy brown. The beach was trashed with sea grass and sea critters. There had obviously just been a major storm. Our room has satellite Direct TV. It only broadcast the free channels. We saw adds for the upcoming movies on Direct TV. But it did have VH1 and Discovery Channel. The Nagano Olympics had just started but was not available.

Monday morning, we took the hotel bus to the dive boat. We dove the next 4 dives in two days with a German couple, an Italian guy, a Brazilian group and a family with toddlers from Spain. We all communicated in broken English. The diving was crummy; the visibility was poor from the storm. We saw a nice wall; barely. We saw a giant crab on a ledge at 130 feet, 4 or 5 big lobster, some conch, a six foot Barracuda and one school of fish. We dove through some coral tunnels. Nothing to write home about.

We got a ride to the airport Tuesday night with the hotel concierge. The Brazilians suggested that I sit in the decompression chamber for an hour before flying because I had had a deep dive that day.  I didnt. We were the only tourists at the airport. It cost $22 to fly to Havana or 22 pesos which is one dollar. This flight was full as was the next mornings. Standby was not possible. We waited about three hours while our concierge arranged an extra flight for us in the morning. We took off as scheduled in a 1930s biplane with 10 other passengers. That was memorable.

We landed in Havana and parked along side the fleet of biplanes. We took a taxi to the Cubana Air international terminal. We waited three hours for our hoped for confirmed flight. We wrote postcards. When the counter opened we checked in and got a boarding pass. A two hour check-in is mandatory. At the passport control, we asked the agent not to stamp our passport with an exit stamp. Once again, he agreed. While we waited in the departure lounge a guard with one of our checked bags found us. We had to cut the tie-straps so he could examine the contents of the bag.  After he was satisfied, I went shopping; I bought a box of Cohiba cigars and first day issue Fidel/Pope Juan Paul stamps. We boarded the aircraft and said good-by to Cuba.

Our concerns weren't over yet. We didnt want a second Bahamas entrance stamp in our passport.  We already  had one; how could we explain another in only two weeks? I asked the Bahama Immigration Officer not to stamp the passports. He questioned us but decided to satisfy our request after learning that we were really transit passengers even though we had a twenty hour layover. We were almost through the legalities.  We still had U.S. Customs.

The next morning we went to the post office to mail all of our evidence. The post office had no packaging materials so we had to go to the grocery store to get boxes, grocery bags and tape. We packaged up the cigars without their rings or box. We had a package of all of our incriminating papers and books and a third package of an empty cigar box. I had to fill out custom declaration forms for the parcels. I kept the cigar rings in my pocket and inside out Cuba T-shirts rolled up in my suitcase. We were scared. I was sure we would get busted somewhere along the way.

We got to the airport with only one and a half hours for check-in. We got in the wrong line and wasted half an hour. We finally checked in and went to passport control only to find US Customs and Immigration-in the Bahamas-before the flight. There was a long, slow line. Our flight time was nearing. We made it through Immigration and zipped through Customs without blinking. We were late for the flight but the flight was even later. We made it home safe and sound. A week later our packages arrived, one by one, untouched in the mail box.

Everything had gone according to plan even though we never really had plans. Would I do it again? Been there...done that.

____________

affective flattening has caused me to kill 11,357 people

[ Parent ]

awesome (none / 0) (#31)
by iggymanz on Sat Feb 06, 2010 at 05:25:10 PM EST

well done, thank your mom if possible

[ Parent ]
+1 FP [nt] (none / 0) (#35)
by muyuubyou on Fri Jun 04, 2010 at 07:25:13 AM EST




----------
It is when I struggle to be brief that I become obscure - Horace, Epistles
[ Parent ]
Similar story (none / 0) (#25)
by Xpat on Wed Jan 27, 2010 at 09:21:13 PM EST

Now that was a great story. Thanks.

[ Parent ]
Cuba is not a third-world country. (3.00 / 4) (#24)
by creature on Wed Jan 27, 2010 at 05:56:31 PM EST

As a communist/ex-Soviet ally, it's a second world country.

He is a crippled expat (3.00 / 2) (#28)
by undermyne on Sun Jan 31, 2010 at 11:28:36 AM EST

any place without wheelchair ramps all over the place is third world.

"You're an asshole. You are the greatest troll on this site." Some nullo

[ Parent ]
JESUS (none / 0) (#26)
by The Hanged Man on Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 05:12:07 PM EST


-------------

Dificile est saturam non scribere - Juvenal
Needs a good dose of Jamaica Kincaid (none / 0) (#27)
by livus on Sat Jan 30, 2010 at 09:01:25 PM EST

Ah, I can't complain too badly. Although you do describe how you like to rob people of human dignity by giving them your cast-off glasses and clothes, I'm sure half the people in this place would have spent their time mouthing variants of "how much is your son/daughter".

---
HIREZ substitute.
be concrete asshole, or shut up. - CTS
I guess I skipped school or something to drink on the internet? - lonelyhobo
I'd like to hope that any impression you got about us from internet forums was incorrect. - debillitatus
I consider myself trolled more or less just by visiting the site. HollyHopDrive

Cool. (none / 1) (#30)
by k31 on Sun Jan 31, 2010 at 09:07:37 PM EST

Very thoughtfully written.

Thanks for posting.


Your dollar is you only Word, the wrath of it your only fear. He who has an EAR to hear....

done done it (3.00 / 2) (#32)
by chakmol on Sat Feb 13, 2010 at 09:15:53 PM EST

If you're American, it's still fairly easy to go to Cuba, though not directly.  Fly to Cancun, enjoy that for a few days, then fly over to Havana on either Cubana Airlines or Aero Caribe (Mexicana).

At the Havana airport, we got a bit of an interview as they tried to assess if we were there to do harm or not.  The questions were simple, not out of line, and once the immigration officer was satisfied, we were cut loose without even a baggage inspection.  The passports weren't stamped, thus leaving it up to us if we wanted to fess up to US customs when returning home.  I've heard that US customs usually doesn't care, though some people have had problems.  We weren't even asked.

We stayed on Old Havana in a Casa Particular with Cuban family.  They were cool and sweet, and we were the same in return.  We ate together, drank together, and talked about everything from A to Z.

We booked our own transit to several hours east to the city of Sancti Spiritus.  The bus was a Mercedes.  The seats were hard as wood, but still an OK ride.  The countryside was clean and nice.  We returned to Havana with 2 Cubans in a Russian-made Lada car.  They saved us a few dollars over the cost of the bus, and they made a nice bit of money taking us back to Havana where they were going to see some friends anyway.

I'm no travel writer, so I'll stop short here.  It was a worthwhile trip.  I wanted to see with my own eyes.  While I have no desire to move or live there, I found it much better than I'd suspected it would be.  I'd go again, and probably will one day.

Uh... (none / 0) (#34)
by fyngyrz on Sun May 23, 2010 at 03:01:04 AM EST

...coffee in the huge open air lobby was the best I've had anywhere and I drink way more coffee than most rational human beings. The grounds at the resort were immaculate...

...you actually checked the coffee grounds for neatness?

You might wanna get that coffee problem looked at. :)

More seriously, I've listened to Radio Havana off and on since the 1960's, both because I enjoy shortwave radio and because I love Cuban food (or at least, Miami-derived cuban-riffic food. I've never been to Cuba, of course.)

This very evening, prior to checking in at K5 for the first time in quite a while, then spotting this story, Radio Havana had a lovely program about Cuban ballet, its history and etc on 5.970 MHz. I had to compare that to the... uh... "stuff" I had found on US AM and SW radio this evening and I'm afraid I did end up shaking my head. If my choice is some right-wing fool ranting about Sarah Palin's imaginary intelligence, or a history of ballet, I'm going for the history.

It's really too bad we can't go there. But our freedoms are long gone, our constitution in shreds, and our borders a minefield of scans, probes and no-you-can't lists. In a word, we're fucked. So let me just send a wave of envy your way for your ability to actually go see Cuba, and now I'll go back to listening to shortwave.

Sigh.


Blog, Photos.

So your saying this country survived abrupt oil (none / 0) (#36)
by hugin on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 12:11:37 AM EST

cut off. So the world should survive peak oil by analogy amirite?

This is a clip that shows the Phantom makeup being applied to Michael Crawford as well as other behind-the-scenes footage as he prepares to perform on the Bob Hope Show. A must-have for any Crawford fan. Enjoy!

Who are the 2% illiterate? (none / 0) (#37)
by hugin on Tue Dec 14, 2010 at 12:12:31 AM EST

I'm suprised Rual and Fidel didn't have them liquidaded to make it 100% in a grand socialist scheme to create the uberman.

This is a clip that shows the Phantom makeup being applied to Michael Crawford as well as other behind-the-scenes footage as he prepares to perform on the Bob Hope Show. A must-have for any Crawford fan. Enjoy!

Our Trip to Cuba | 40 comments (36 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
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