Are You Really Ready For Cuba?

With the recent ease in travel restrictions from the U.S. to Cuba, there has been so much chatter and buzz about how folks just “have to get there to see it in it’s buff”, or just “have to see it before the Americans take it over”. Literally, every other time I mention that I’m going to, or coming back from, Cuba, I get a response similar to the above mentioned remarks.  But, is that REALLY what we Americans want?  To see Cuba “in it’s buff”? Do we really want to experience Cuba before it is “Americanized”?  Can we really handle that?  You’d be surprised by the true answer, I think.

The idea of traveling to a place that for the past 50 years, or so, was “forbidden” to U.S. citizens seems exciting. Adventurous. Brave. Cool.  It proves that you are a world traveler.  That you don’t need to be surrounded by all of the creature comforts of home.  That you’re not sheltered. Right? Well, based on my experiences over the past year with taking groups to Cuba to participate in People-to-People exchanges (1 of the 12 categories that allow U.S. citizens to legally travel there), not everyone is REALLY ready to see Cuba “in it’s buff”, or before it is “Americanized”.  Not everyone is the experienced traveler who is ready to be exposed to ALL parts of the globe. And, guess what? That’s okay.What is not so okay to me is that folks leave the comforts of the U.S. talking on and on about how they are ready to go full-force into the experience of this once “forbidden” country, and nearly spasm out the moment they realize that, say, the air conditioning in the room is not has forceful as it is in their State-side home. Or, that the hotel’s complimentary breakfast buffet is not the likes of their IHOP breakfast. Or that Cuba’s national dish doesn’t taste the way they want it to taste. I’m serious.  I can’t make this stuff up!

I admit, to some, to many, the first visit to Cuba can be daunting. The country may appear to be still in the 50’s, but it’s slowly making progress.  So, sure, it takes some a minute to adjust, and move on with their visit.  But, some visitors do not seem to make the adjustment, and unfortunately, they spend their entire visit to the place they couldn’t wait to experience in “its true form” complaining, retreating, and missing out on the moments.What a pity.

Cuba is not for everyone.  It simply is not!  Not everyone finds it easy to maneuver through the underdeveloped roads to the underdeveloped towns, differentiating between the two types of Cuban currencies, eating the staple beans, rice and meat, while occasionally swatting flies or accidentally getting whiffs of vehicle fumes. Cuba is for you if you go knowing what to expect, and with an open mind, an open heart, and a little knowledge of the history of the country.  Having a little common sense will also help.

A few take-aways, in no particular order (this is not a full list):

  • The hotel room star rating system in Cuba is not the same as it is in the States. Their 4 star is closer to our 2 star.
  • Just because you are “promised” a certain type, size, make or model vehicle, does not mean you are “guaranteed” it.
  • Sometimes the AC works, sometimes it doesn’t. 
  • The food in Cuba tastes different from the food in the U.S. because it is different from the food in the U.S.
  • You will lose money on the currency exchange.
  • The official language in Cuba is Spanish (Surprisingly, I have to remind people of this!)
  • Most of the Cuban people do not understand American slang. (Again, surprise!)
  • Cuba is underdeveloped by U.S. standards. (Yep! Surprise!)
  • Travelers from the U.S. have to meet at least one of twelve qualifications to LEGALLY travel to Cuba from the U.S.
So, think about it.  Are you REALLY ready to visit Cuba?  Know that spending most of your visit griping and complaining about how the country doesn’t have the comforts of “home” won’t change anything. Are you ready?  If your answer is yes, great for you!  It is truly a remarkable place filled with a rich culture and friendly people just waiting to greet you!

Trinidad, Cuba – Life at a Nice Pace

Trinidad, Cuba became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.  The city, with a population of about 30,000, is on the Caribbean coast close to the Escambray Mountains, with beautiful views of both hillsides and sea.  With its quaint, old-world charm, picturesque beauty and really, really friendly residents, surprisingly, the city is unsullied by, but not void of tourists. There are little taxi cars and a small bus “station” to shuttle about the day-trippers.  It’s so pleasant to wander through the mostly traffic-free, cobble-stoned streets, hearing to clopping hooves of horses, while dodging slow-walking dogs and cats.

Plaza Mayor, the town’s main square, boasts a plain cathedral and five ornate, colorful, colonial mansions. There is a park with bronze greyhounds and a statue of Terpsichore, the muse of dancing and song. There are several casas de musica (music houses), with one next to the cathedral.  The tiny school houses, casa particulars (private homes with rooms for rent), pastry shops and the open air markets keep the day wanderer entertained for hours.  We did not stay at a room at a local home this time, opting, instead to spend our 2 nights at Brisas Trinidad del Mar.  While the resort staff was lovely, and the resort grounds made it easy for me to create stunning photos, and it was great to start and end our days with the sand and surf as our back yard, the resort left a lot to be desired.  It’s barely a 3-star resort by U.S. ratings.  I didn’t necessarily mind sharing my room with sand crabs and lizards, but I did mind the somewhat dirty and very smelly rooms, and the bad, bad food. My group and I agreed that the next time (and there will be a next time!), we’ll stay closer to history in one of the homes.