We Went to Cuba!

When people learn that we have been to 44 countries in the past 3-1/2 years, they often ask which is our favorite. I’ve always had trouble answering that question. But now I can say without hesitation – it’s CUBA! There are so many reasons for that. Read on, and I’ll let you in some of the wonderful things I love about visiting this island country.

Cuban flag

The flag of Cuba

In July 2015, when the USA and Cuba restored diplomatic relations and opened embassies in both countries, I told Phil I wanted to go there, and I wanted to go BKFC – before Kentucky Fried Chicken. But I didn’t want to go with an expensive and structured tour group and I didn’t want to enter illegally from Mexico. What if something happened or they stamped my passport by mistake? I’d be in a heap of trouble. There had to be another way – and soon there was.

USA Eases Travel Restrictions

My first chance came when new US government provisions allowed citizens to go if we fit into one of twelve categories. I figured I could go as a “journalist” since I write a blog. But soon restrictions got even easier. Just as President Obama was packing his bags to visit Cuba in March – the first sitting president to do so in 90 years – our government announced that we could go independently, without having to fit one of the categories, with certain other caveats. (See CUBA TIDBITS at the end of this post for more on this.)

I immediately started looking for flights. I found a travel agency in Miami specializing in Cuba travel and bought our $350 tickets. Another $75 each had them provide us with entry visas. Two weeks later we made the 46 minute flight to Havana and I happily got my passport stamped. I just love being on the edge of change….

My LEGAL passport stamps for Cuba

My LEGAL passport stamps for Cuba

Arriving in Cuba was exciting even though we had to wait an hour and half for our checked bags (carry-on was too limited on this small charter). During the wait I did my money exchange of US dollars to CUC’s, the Cuban tourist money which is different from the currency local people use.

The CUC is valued at 1 CUC to 1 dollar, ostensibly. But the American dollar, unlike euros and other allowed currencies, gets a “haircut” at the exchange booth. It incurs a 10% penalty, in addition to the 3% exchange fee all foreign currencies are charged. That makes our dollar worth 87 cents. Phil explains away the penalty, saying the Cuban government has to get back at us for the 50 year embargo in some way. There’s talk of lifting the penalty but unfortunately it was still in effect during our visit. Never mind, as you read on, you will see how inexpensive our travel in Cuba was.

Another way I spent my wait time was snapping photos of how uniforms are jazzed up in Cuba.

Fishnet stockings on customs officer

Cuban customs officer jazzes up uniform

Fishnet stockings in Cuba

Fishnets also work with other uniforms

A Warm Welcome

Cubans seemed genuinely happy to see us Americans in their country. One week earlier President Obama and his family had walked the same streets we toured. Obama had made a rousing speech about restoring our two countries’ friendship that the Cuban people loved. When they talked of him to us, they often touched their hand to their heart.

Obama in Cuba poster "Yes We Came"

Poster commemorating Obama’s visit

Raul Castro and Obama poster in Cuba

Together – Raul Castro and Obama poster

Adding to the excitement, the Rolling Stones had been in Havana just days before we arrived. A half million people saw the Stones’ outdoor performance and the Cubans were stoked. Rock and roll had been banned in Cuba for many years after the Revolution. Then Fidel Castro determined that John Lennon was a revolutionary and he eased that constraint and put up a monument to him. Go figure.

Poster of Lennon and Che Guevara

Two “Revolutionaries” – John Lennon and Che Guevara

I Made History in Cuba

While researching for our trip I came upon a Miami Herald article about a Florida bank now authorized to issue a mastercard to be used in Cuba. Since we would have to take all of the money we needed in cash, I immediately applied for one. I was told that one other American had gotten the card before me but hadn’t used it yet so the race was on. When I got to Havana, I plopped that card down at a big hotel right away. The clerk shook her head, saying she couldn’t take American credit cards. I asked her to please just try. Was she ever surprised when it went through!

My family should soon be getting postcards purchased with the first American credit card used in Cuba. They will also get some of the first mail sent from Cuba in a many years. Restored mail service between our two countries is another new development. Oh, and the American credit card also bought Phil some Cuban cigars that made him quite happy.

First American credit card sale in Cuba

We made banking history in Cuba

Cigars purchase with American credit card in Cuba

Cigar purchase that made history

Inexpensive Accommodations

Throughout Cuba we stayed at casa particulars. These are private homes that are licensed by the Cuban government to rent rooms to tourists. They are highly regulated and highly taxed. Casa particulars have private baths, many have air conditioning and they usually cost 25 CUC a night, a little over $25. Most offer breakfast for an additional 5 CUC. Phil searched on the app CubaJunky but found our first place on trusty TripAdvisor. Airbnb is now also in the business, but it may cost you a little more.

Our havana digs

Casa Compostela was a lovely, antique filled dwelling smack in the middle of Habana Vieja, or Old Town Havana, exactly the kind of area where we like to stay. Out the door and we were in the middle of the action in this fascinating and quaint area. We had a private balcony from which we could watch Old Havana go by and hear the music on the street. Close the door, turn on the AC, and we could enjoy the quite, lovely sleep and dream of the exquisite Cuban coffee and breakfast we would enjoy come morning. This casa was larger than most we stayed in throughout Cuba and it was the only one that cost more, coming in at 45 CUC per night.

Casa Particular in Havana Cuba

Lovely Casa Compostela in Old Havana

Our room in Havana

Our Havana casa particular private room

A Havana street view

View from our Havana balcony

There are not many hotels in Cuba, although there are a few really nice ones, reminiscent of Cuba’s pre-Revolution heyday as an American playground. All hotels today are government run, pricy and fully booked. We visited several of them, mostly for their wifi, fancy cocktails, and well-kept cigars in nice humidors that Phil liked.

Viva Havana

Havana has to be our #1 favorite place in Cuba and we would return, even just for a long weekend like Americans used to do. It has so much appeal – magnificent, crumbling old buildings with no modern architectural anomalies to break up the continuity. In some ways the condition of the buildings was sad, but you could feel the hope, and you could see the restoration in process. UNESCO and other organizations are busy preserving these grand structures and a far-sighted city historian has undertaken a massive and impressive restoration project in Old Havana. I read recently that Starwood has inked a deal to restore 3 of the grand old buildings and open its hotel brand in Havana.

Thousands of OLD AMERICAN CARS

Havana’s Malecon is wonderful 5 mile strip that runs along the sea and stretches the breath of the city. The most impressive way to experience it is in a beautiful old American car. What a joy it was to ride in a red ’52 convertible, chauffeured by a young, handsome, cheerful Cuban man, straw hat raked back on his head. Adrian grinned widely when I told him he has the best job in Cuba. Our tour along the malecon and around Havana’s streets cost us 30 CUC and got me a stint in the driver’s seat.

American woman in American car in Cuba

Adrian showed Phil the car’s original straight six engine and original parts, unlike many of the old cars that are pieced together with “bubble gum and baling wire.” The 29-year-old got his car from his grandfather and spent a year getting it ready for service as a taxi and tour car. The horn that sounded like a wolf whistle went off frequently as he passed some of his amigos, or a pretty girl. His is a private business, he told us, for which he paid a marketing fee to our day-guide, and regularly pays a large tax to the State. The government inspects these cars monthly and does a major inspection annually, Adrian explained. He said that there are over 200,000 classic American cars in Cuba. This could be a collector’s dream land.

Let’s Eat

Don’t believe ’em when they tell you the food in Cuba is not good. While it’s true that the Cubans get coupon books to obtain their food rations from the government, restaurants for tourists have other purveyors. Remember, tourists have been coming to Cuba all along; it is only Americans who were not allowed to come by our government for the last 50 years. During this time some pretty fine paladares have emerged.

Paladar menu board in Havana

Drinks and apps at a Havana paladar

Drinks and snacks at Havana paladar

Mojito, Bucanero and plantain chips

Paladares are private family-run restaurants that were first legalized by Fidel Castro in 1995. During the economic chaos of the ‘Special Period’ the government could not provide as much for the people. Paladares became a source of income for Cubans that could run restaurants. Like casa particulars they are required to pay a steep monthly tax to the government and had severe restrictions. Then in 2011 some of the restrictions were lifted by Raul Castro so that paladares can now seat up to 50 people, hire non-family members and serve foods other than pork and chicken, like lobster, prawns, beef and wine.

We had some really fine dishes, meats with demi-glace and lettuce salads with cheese and nuts, at top paladares. At some mid-range places we enjoyed the national dish called rope vieja, or Old Clothes, which despite its name, was a wonderful shredded lamb in a tasty sauce. Our favorites were the lobster tails, which we could get for $10-15, and the tender, succulent grilled pork ribs at Taverna Botilja in Trinidad, that literally fell off the bone.

Famous Ropa Vieja or "Old Clothes" in Cuba

Ropa Vieja or “Old Clothes”, shredded lamb in sauce

dinner at our casa particular

Several times we chose to eat dinner at our casa. For this we told the owner what we wanted and at what time and it was lovingly prepared for us. It was here that I got home-cooked black beans and rice, root vegetables such as malanga (similar to taro) or sweet potato, a salad of shredded cabbage and thinly sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, fish and the best and biggest lobster of all. At this casa, the owner said he goes to the market in the morning and “looks the fish in the eye” before he buys it.

Lobster in Cuba

Lobster cooked at our casa particular

Beyond Havana

Getting around Cuba is pretty straightforward. The government controls most of the the travel services, so there’s no need to shop around or haggle (except for local taxi’s that may be “off the meter”). You can take the tourist bus which some people told us they liked. Other buses are reserved for locals only, and they looked crowded and hot. We opted to do our long distance rides in a taxi or a taxi “collectivo” which is a larger car or minivan shared by several people. Very reasonable prices, $30-$60 for both of us for a day-long trip and less for the 3 hour ride to Vinales. It wasn’t hard to compare that to the $100 taxi ride just from the Miami airport!

Taxi "collectivo" in Cuba

Our taxi “collectivo” with 2 Dutch women

Vinales

Vinales is a tiny agricultural town with a gorgeous valley that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here tobacco and sugarcane fields lie side by side and rocky limestone outcrops, known as mogotes, dot the landscape. Our casa in Havana arranged a taxi for us which we shared with two young Dutch women, Mireille and Miranda. Like many travelers we met, they had not reserved a casa in advance and took the recommendation of the taxi driver. Who knows if he got a kickback, but who cares?

Vinales outcroppings

Their casa, like ours, was fine and they cost the usual 25 CUC. We enjoyed the family we stayed with – four generations living together, from the abuela (the grandmother), the mother, son and grandson. As is often the case in casa particulares and paladares, we walked through the family home to get to our private room with bath, AC, and private patio. It was a brightly colored house with an inner courtyard and was right where 3 streets converged. Stepping out in the morning presented all sorts of interesting daily transportation options to observe. Like other cases we stayed in, the parents had outside jobs and the grown child ran the guest services. Here the son and his wife made our breakfasts and took care of our needs.

The Green Valley That Grows Cigars

We easily arranged an English-speaking walking tour, government sponsored of course, of the spectacular Vinales valley. Our guide was an engaging naturalist who showed us the many fruits, flowers, and vegetables the valley produces. The scenery here is some of the most picturesque in Cuba and included watching oxen plow the fields. Horses, while abundant, are not permitted to do this kind of heavy work, only transportation and racing. We learned that citizens are not permitted to kill either horses or cows – only the government can do that. Our guide said that if you kill one, you will turn white “because you will go to jail and not see the sun”.

In Cuba much of the plowing is done by oxen

Oxen plowing the tobacco field

A visit to a tobacco farm

We visited one of the many tobacco farms and learned what goes into operating it. The government takes 90% of a farm’s production for its cigar factories. Ostensibly the government regulates tobacco quality and sales, though I think I detected some innuendos to the contrary from our young guide. The farm gets to keep the remaining 10% of the crop and rolls and sells its own cigars directly. When I pressed one young man at a farm on how much the government taxed the farm on its 10% portion, he seemed to get rather nervous and told me, “I’d better not talk about that”. It struck me how foreign that is to me and how grateful I am for my liberties to speak out about my government.

Vinales cigar tobacco drying in barn

Tobacco for cigars drying in the barn

My favorite part of this day was watching a man in the tobacco barn roll a cigar which he then handed it to me to light up. I’m not a smoker but since you don’t inhale a cigar, I didn’t hesitate to take a draw – at least for the photo op for Phil and our fellow tourists from many countries. I ran into some of them later and they told me that photo is going around the world!

Smoking a Cuban cigar in barn in Vinales

My Cuban cigar

Our Wild Adventure in Trinidad

We booked a “collectivo” minivan for the all-day ride southeastward to Trinidad. This colonial city lies nearly  halfway to the Bay of Pigs and Guantanamo, the American owned naval base and infamous prison that has been figuring into the embargo negotiations recently. Our van companions included a delightful Israeli couple near our age, a pair of very friendly Scandinavians and a young Italian couple who sat up front and translated between the driver and us non-Spanish speakers.

The Israelis never book their casas in advance, preferring to get dropped off in the town square until something presents itself. So when our driver took us down the funky, unpaved road outside of town, Phil and I figured he must be taking the young Italians to their less expensive casa. Families sat outside their open doorways on logs and stumps placed there for seating – mamas with hair in rollers, kids playing stickball in the street, and shirtless men staving off the southern heat. Phil turned to the Israelis and said, “If this were our place, I’d tell the driver to keep driving.”

HA – it WAS our place. We had gotten our referral from a blog written by some other travelers and the nice folks at our previous casa had called ahead and booked it for us. Later I recall reading that the bloggers said they preferred to stay outside the tourist area and “see how the locals live”. Well, this fit the bill for them but it wasn’t our style.

This arrangement got even more tangled. I could see from the open doorway that the casa we booked was lovely inside, but the owner denied that we had a reservation. “No,” he said to us. “I told your casa that we had no space for you. But I will help you find a place.” We were tempted to get back in the van and go on to the town square with the Israelis, but we were so tired from the 9-hour journey that we let him call the young women down the street. We moved into “Casa Brenda”, a 3 room separate apartment a few doors away, turned on the AC and flopped down on our 2 beds.

Casa Particular in Trinidad Cuba

Phil at our new casa

casa brenda

Brenda, her mother and other family members lived up the street where we were soon summoned to have a cold guava drink and hand over our passports to register. None of them could speak English so we didn’t learn how Brenda acquired this apartment to use as a rental. We assumed it had long been in the family, like others we encountered. Through sign language Brenda indicated that breakfast would be served there in the family home and we quickly told her no breakfast. She and lovely Adiari ended up bringing a fine breakfast to our casa at our requested time both mornings, which was more comfortable for us and gave them some added income.

Owner of casa particular in Trinidad Cuba

Brenda of “Casa Brenda”

Breakfast at casa particular in Trinidad Cuba

Breakfast delivered to our casa in Trinidad

I must say it was interesting staying almost a mile outside of town. The first night we gave the neighbor guy 2 CUC’s to take us into town on his bicycle cart and another guy 3 CUC’s to bring us back after dinner and music. But the ride was so bumpy over the lumpy cobblestone streets that I had to sit on the edge of the cart’s seat to spare my back. And the 5 CUC’s added to the cost of our 25 CUC accommodations – all things being relative – so it seemed like an unnecessary expense. Besides, I was wearing my Fitbit and the walk to and from town added to my 10,000 steps and helped keep the pounds off from the mojitos and black beans.

feeling safe

I am happy to report that I always felt safe wherever I was in Cuba, even when we stayed in areas we normally wouldn’t have. We walked down streets at night in more than one Cuban town that, from the looks of them, we wouldn’t have dared venture onto in other countries. I’m thinking it’s the scarcity of street drugs and guns that makes it safer, along with the genuinely nice people who live there. Happily, we heard no tales of crime toward visitors.

The Colonial City

Trinidad was founded in 1514 by the Spanish conquistador Diego Velazquez and became prosperous mainly due to its slave trade and sugar mills. Many of its colorful colonial mansions and cobblestone streets still stand in this city that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cathedral in Trinidad Cuba

Colonial building in TrinidadBuilding in Trinidad Cuba with shadows

Music and dance were highlights in Trinidad – from salsa al fresco on the square’s steps, reminiscent of Rome’s Spanish Steps, to the guitar and violin played at our paladar, culminating with the amazing Afro-Cuban dance we saw for 1 CUC at Palenque de los Congos Reales. This show featured in dance the Afro-Cuban slave-era history and the Santeria religion (related to voodoo) that is practiced by some Afro-Cubans. We later visited the Santeria Temple in town to get more understanding of it.

DSC02742

Palengue de los Congos Reales dance

Afro-Cuban dance

Afro-Cuban bongo drums

CSI, Anyone?

Travel agent "Lily" at Cubatur in Trinidad

The lovely Lidice, our contact at the state-run Cubatur travel agency, booked our private taxi for the 2 hour ride to Cienfuegos for us. She was so named by her father after a Czechoslovakian town that had been overrun by the Nazi’s, she told us. “Lily’s” father was quite well-read, as are many Cubans. Cuba has an extraordinarily high literacy rate. Education, as well as health care, is provided at no expense. The TV show CSI came up in our conversation with Lily, a show which our oldest granddaughter had once liked. Lily proclaimed herself a “CSI addict” and she especially likes George Eads, for any fans out there. Apparently, Cubans see some American TV shows but I didn’t get to explore that aspect of life in Cuba. The young kids at my next casa particular were having a school holiday when I was there and they were playing the video game Minecraft, our 8-year-old granddaughter’s current favorite.

A classroom in Cuba

Education, and healthcare, are free to all Cubans

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos was only 2 hours from Trinidad by taxi. Lily had booked us a very nice casa particular owned by a doctor and his wife and operated by their youngest son Andros. The older son is in Miami working in IT and Andros, like other Cubans we met, is currently doing the long paperwork process to try to join him in the USA.

A casa particular in Cienfuegos Cuba

Our colonial casa in Cienfuegos

A daiquiri on a table in casa particular in Cienfuegos

A daiquiri awaits us in the living room

Cienfuegos could be Cuba’s Paris if you gave the French city a spectacular natural bay. This Cuban city was founded by French, rather than Spanish colonizers, and it is evident in the neoclassical architecture. It’s a newer city, founded in 1819, by a French emigre from Louisiana who wanted to increase the population of white people on the island. It’s another of Cuba’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is the home of one of Cuba’s most famous singers, Benny More.

Building in Cienfuegos Cuba

Cuba’s “Paris”

Cienfuegos looks like Paris

Cienfuegos’ Arc de Triomphe

The city is split into two interesting sections. The first is the colonnaded central zone with its park named for Jose Marti, the famous poet, philosopher and hero of Cuba’s Second Independence War in 1895. Marti was quoted by President Obama on his recent visit to Cuba which pleased the Cuban people.This section also features the Paseo del Prado, the longest street of its kind in Cuba. It stretches all the way from town, down the long seaside malecon into the 2nd section of the town known as Punta Gorda.

Jose Marti statue in Cienfuegos

Jose Marti, Cuban national hero

Punta Gorda, on a thin knife of land where the male con ends, is where the ultra-rich sugar merchants built their mansions. Rich Americans also built their Miami-type houses here and stayed until Bautista was ousted and the Revolution took away their playground. The mansions and throwback houses still stand. By contrast, the town square was rather empty on our Sunday visit. It was here that we found all the Cuban people, seaside on the very tip of Punta Gorda. This area was especially populated with teenagers, strutting their stuff and mock-fighting from atop the big guys’ shoulders as they horsed around in the calm waters of the bay.

Residents were all at the shore on this Sunday

Locals were all at the shore on this Sunday

Cuba Tidbits of Interest

The amended US regulations under which we traveled to Cuba had specific and, I think, quirky requirements. For example, we were not allowed to travel for tourism. Instead we were supposed to “engage in a full-time schedule of educational exchange activity”. This activity was supposed to “enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities” (italics mine). It was further required that our activities “not be with certain Government of Cuba or Cuban Communist Party officials.” To the best of my knowledge, I did not cavort with Communist Party officials, but I’m not sure if I promoted Cuban peoples’ independence from Cuban authorities….Could that have been risky?

We were permitted to bring back into the USA $400 worth of goods each. Only $100 of that could be cigars and rum combined. Phil wanted to “borrow” my $100 for cigars, but I wanted some Cuban rum so we had to watch our purchases carefully. When we arrived back in the States, lo and behold, no one checked!

Cuban cigars

Phil’s cigars of choice

Cuban cigar with ashtray and Bucanero beer

How Phil spent his leisure time in Cuba

Vitamin R is code name for rum or ron as it is called in Cuba. Rum was so plentiful that when we ordered a pina colada, they put the whole bottle on the table so we could help ourselves!

When served a cocktail you get the whole bottle of rum

Need more rum in your drink?

Whenever I could, I would query Cubans about life in their country. One man I met showed me a Facebook post he did with a picture of birds in a cage. He said that he hoped people got the message. A woman who ran a casa and recently married an American in Cuba said she was called into a government office to answer questions about why he was coming to Cuba and staying in her casa so often. She said she replied with the equivalent of “Duh!”

Another man with a degree as a mechanical engineer said he could hope to earn 30-40 CUC per month. Normal salaries are about 20 CUC. A top cardiologist we learned about earns 60 CUC per month plus an allowance of 30 liters of gasoline a month. The gasoline prices we saw posted equated to around $6 a gallon. Imagine buying gas on a Cuban salary. Imagine buying a car – one family said their 15 year old Russian Lada cost 20,000 CUC, around $20,000.

Lado in Cuba

I asked a woman who cooked for us about the food rations Cubans get and here is what she told me. Each person gets per month: 7 pounds of rice, 1 pound of beans, 1/2 liter of oil, 4 pounds of sugar, 5 eggs, 4 oz of coffee, 6 oz of salt for 6 months, 3-4 pounds of pork, some butter, jam and a small chicken two times a month. And one bun per day. Children get milk when they are very young but it is cut off after they are 7 years old and they get some yoghurt between the ages of 2 and 9. By the way, a favorite for baby’s first food is very soft taro, like poi in Hawaii. Also like Hawaii, Cuba grows breadfruit, mangos, papayas, coconut and other tropical fruits.

Rice rationing in Cuba

Man obtaining his rice ration in Cuba

One casa particular owner said they pay 200-250 CUC’s as tax to the government each month, whether or not the rooms are rented. This house had 2 rooms to rent at 25 CUC per night, and renting is seasonal (it was almost too hot for my comfort in early April) so when I do the math it looks like a pretty high tax rate. They also pay around 60 CUC per month for electricity. Water cost is minimal, although there may be none some of the time. We had that experience in Havana and went a day without showering. I heard one story of the water being off for 6 days.

Man holding sign for casa

Phil could start his own casa particular in Cuba

The military comes to the houses to spray for mosquitos regularly. We were notified of this at one of our casas and left early for the day, but at another one I tasted the stuff for several hours that morning.

Paris, New York and Las Vegas showgirls have nothing over the beauties at Cuba’s Tropicana! The sequin-and-feather cabaret has been running continuously since 1939. It was a spectacular show with some good dancing and athletic abilities – not to forget good-looking men and women. Guests were allowed to smoke cigars during the show – like the good ole mobster-days, I imagine.

Dancers at Tropicana nightclub

Apparently, there is a good deal of black market trade going on in Cuba. We came upon what may have been a transaction on our private walking tour in Havana. We stepped into the vestibule of a large house as our guide explained how, after the Revolution, these homes were divided up between 6 or so families. Some activity was going on in one of the doorways that got confused by our presence. The guide said it might have been something as simple as selling food ration coupons. Another Cuban gave an example of when a painter is given several gallons of paint to cover a wall, he may save out a couple of them to sell on his own. One Cuban commented, when we told him our casa had no water, that they needed to pay the water tank drivers “under the table”. Our guide explained all this away when he said, “People have to make ends meet in Cuba.”

Men in Cuba selling garlic

Cubans “make ends meet” however they can

Cubans were not allowed to make and sell t-shirts for the Rolling Stones concert. I don’t know the reason why, but we only saw a few of them during our visit. An American we met had a few made in the US and brought them over for his friends. He said that as he walks down the street in Havana in his Stones t-shirt, Cubans look at it wistfully and say, “I’ll give you anything for it.”

Rolling Stones t-shirt in Cuba

One of the few Rolling Stones t-shirts in Cuba

VIVA CUBA!  We are looking forward to a return trip in the future and hope the new relationship between our two countries continues to grow in a positive direction.

If you received this post in your inbox, that’s because you are a friend or family member and we care about you and want to share our experience with you. Please leave me your comments and let me know what you think about this episode of carolsuestories. If you are viewing it some other way, welcome and thank you for reading. I’d love to hear what you think also, so please leave me your comments. I’d like to hear from all of you, would you like to go to Cuba?

32 responses to “We Went to Cuba!”

  1. Lili Nielsen says:

    Hello Phil & Carol
    How nice to read your story about Cuba. It was like beeing there again – I love Cuba.
    I have shared your story on my facebook side, so that my friends, who thinks of going to Cuba, will be inspired.
    After Trinidad we vent to Cienfuegos. First two days in the city, and after that three days in a casa called Villa Salmar, in Rancha Luna. It was placed just 10 steps from the ocean and to minuts from the beach with a wonderfull wiev.
    Just now I am writing af dairy book, with all our lovely, funny and crasy experiences.
    Love from
    Michae & Lili, Denmark 😉

    • CarolSue says:

      Lili, so nice to hear about your experiences in Cuba after we last saw you and Michael. I am happy you shared my post on Facebook. I would love to read your diary book telling of your experiences, if I could. Let’s go to Cuba again! Take care.

  2. Steve Thatcher says:

    Aloha Carol and Phil. Enjoyed the article very much. Safe travels. Check in when you’re back on Kauai.

    • CarolSue says:

      Hi Steve,
      Thanks for reading and for commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. We will be back on Kauai between T’giving and Christmas. We’ll look you up and say howdy! Take care and enjoy paradise.
      CarolSue

  3. Erich says:

    Hi Sue, loved the story. Would you mind me asking, were there any extra fees for using your card in Cuba (either from your bank or the Cuban payment processor)? I am weighting wether it could be a good option to open an account at Stonegate vs carrying a wad of cash to Cuba 🙂

    Thanks,
    Erich

    • CarolSue says:

      Hi Erich,
      Thanks for reading my Cuba post and inquiring about the credit card from Stonegate Bank that I used in Cuba. Yes, there are some costs to having this card. There is also an interesting history of how it came about as described in the Miami Herald article which you can google.
      First, I had to open an account with a minimum deposit of $2500, though I have not had to maintain that balance. The card is actually a debit card, but can only be used in Cuba as a credit card – up to my deposit. There is a $15 monthly service charge. From my account statement I see no additional charges. We were charged exactly what my exchange rate calculation was at the time for my husband’s box of cigars.
      But there is one caveat – not a whole lot of places were set up to take credit cards, and almost none outside of Havana. So I think you will still have to take “wads of cash,” as you said. The good news is that we felt very safe with our cash. We simply wore it in a money belt on our bodies, not because we were afraid of thievery, but so we wouldn’t lose it by setting down our bag somewhere.
      Honestly, I mostly got and used the card because I could (the bank is near me) and so I would have bragging rights! But you may want to call up Lance or Linda at the Hollywood FL branch and talk to them about it. I feel like I’ve made friends with them – they were so excited for me and their bank, I guess, for being the first.
      Hope you have a fabulous trip!
      CarolSue

  4. Professor Ebeth Schaifer RN MSN says:

    Greetings Carol Sue,
    just found your website while browsing for info on Cuba.
    I just returned from there on a cruise from Montego Bay for 8 days.
    We, 72 African Americans (largest AA group so far to go through P2P) traveled to Santiago de Cuba, Havana, Cienfuego, & Maria La Gorda.
    I loved it so much, now planning a land trip next year. Actually got some tips here from you as an optional place to stay.
    I have also traveled the world, many of the same places you noted here.
    You are welcome to see some of our Cuban pictures posted on my blog
    GlobaSista.com ( search Google) it is usually the first link reads “Thoughts Expressed”, etc.
    I’d love to hear from you as well

    • CarolSue says:

      Hello and thank you so much for reading my Cuba post and leaving your comment. I viewed your site and loved it. You are indeed a traveling woman. I am happy that you will be returning to Cuba for a land trip. I want to go again, stay much longer, and travel to more places. My husband and I agree that we could hang out in Old Havana alone for a good period of time. And maybe we will!
      Funny that you advised on your web site for people to go before Kentucky Fried Chicken – BKFC as I said in my post. When I told a group of people that in Cuba, a Canadian piped up and said, “We wanted to get here BA – Before Americans!” Unfortunately, she didn’t make it.
      Happy Travels to you and I hope we stay in touch.
      CarolSue

  5. Mireille says:

    Hi Carol & Philip!

    Wow, I really enjoyed reading your blog, you have a lovely writing style. It definitely took me right back to Cuba! I know Miranda and I decided in the taxi collectivo that our next travel destination would be Hawaii but… We are planning another trip to (the east side of) Cuba as we speak! Like you, we fell in love with the country and its people. Hawaii will have to wait 🙂

    Hope all is well with you and if you ever visite the Netherlands we should meet! Let’s keep in touch.

    Saludos y buen viaje!

    Miranda y Mireille

  6. Ada Koene says:

    What a wonderful story. I felt like I was there with you. Ada Koene

    • CarolSue says:

      Ada, thank you so much for your comment. I know you and Ari are former world travelers yourselves, so your comments mean a lot to me.
      Take care,
      CarolSue

  7. Pat Abruzzo says:

    It was wonderful to hear about your Cuba visit and to see the great pictures. Will definitely share with a local Cuban who was a part of the Peter Pan Project as a young girl. Thanks for sharing…. Happy & safe travels ?

    • CarolSue says:

      Thank you, Pat. So glad you enjoyed the post. Please do share it with others. I know some Cubans have mixed feelings about the new US-Cuba relations. I can only hope it will be better for Cubans. I feel better about our part as I think the Cuban people suffered more than we anticipated by the embargo. But then, that’s politics which I don’t pretend to understand….Hope life is good. We’ll be on Kauai after T’giving. Will you be there?
      Take care,
      CarolSue

  8. Lynn Brown says:

    I loved it!! When Joe gets home from Florida, I will make sure he sees it.

    • CarolSue says:

      Thank you, Lynn. So glad you enjoyed it. Loved sharing a lovely time on a catamaran in the Virgin Islands recently. Thanks for the photos. Let’s stay in touch.
      Take care,
      CarolSue

  9. bill robinson says:

    What a great narrative of your trip. Well done, Cuz

  10. Pete Hueseman says:

    I think going to Cuba would be quite an adventure, glad you liked it and got home safely and no diseases. Maybe someday they will be a free country too?? Glad you were doing better for the trip too.
    Pete H.

    • CarolSue says:

      Thanks, Pete. Glad you read about our trip. I felt very safe in Cuba and very upbeat. They are lovely people. I, too, hope they get more liberties. I enjoyed speculating with Cubans about “after the Castro’s” – Raul says he’s quitting in 2018. I wonder what will happen then.
      Take care. I do appreciate you traveling with us.
      CarolSue

  11. Steve Hoch says:

    Even among your terrific travel posts, this one was exceptional. Envy!

    Keep ’em coming Carol!

    Steve

    • CarolSue says:

      Thank you, Steve, for you very nice comment. I’m glad you liked this post on Cuba. It’s so good to know you are reading about our travels.
      Best always,
      CarolSue

  12. Debra says:

    Sue abs enjoyed your lovely story…made me want to head to Cuba asap. Lovely to see you both are still enjoying your travels…
    Waiting for you both to head down under (Australia)..
    Where is your next journey?

    • CarolSue says:

      Dear Debra,
      Thank you so much for your comment. Good to hear from a fellow traveler. I hope you do go to Cuba soon. It was great to see it before it becomes too similar to America and loses some of its current charm. Not sure when we will get “down under” though it is appealing (as is most of the world). We are currently enjoying the Caribbean and will soon start our RV road trip up the Eastern Seaboard of the USA. Haven’t yet seen that area of our own country! Please stay in touch.
      Best always.

  13. Pat Crouse says:

    What a wonderful adventure you just took me on! Although I have never really had a desire to visit Cuba, your words brought my imagination to life and I could almost smell the cigars and taste the rum! Thanks for the wonderful stories. I always look forward to reading about your travels.

    My best and warmest regards to you both.

    • CarolSue says:

      Thank you, Pat, for your comment. I’m glad you “tasted the rum” – cigars, nah, although Phil would disagree. I’m glad you come along on our travels. It’s more fun with friends. Please say hello for me to Cookie if you talk to her soon.
      Best to you always.

  14. Alf & Sally Zellmer says:

    Loved reading about your adventures in Cuba and seeing that you made history!!
    I think the only way I would want to go to Cuba would be with you!!
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience! Hugs to you both! Alf & Sally

    • CarolSue says:

      Thank you, Sally, for your comment. Let’s go to Cuba together – I’d go again for sure. And I’m so glad our government has now made it possible for us. Take care and keep enjoying the full-time RV life that you guys lead.
      CarolSue

  15. Diane Wry says:

    Aloha!
    Wonderful insights on a previously ‘hidden’ culture. What a fantastic opportunity for close interaction with our Cuban neighbors!
    Thanks for sharing… loved the reference to John Lennon!
    And the cars!
    Perhaps you could make & sell some Stones’ T-s. Ha!
    OX, Di

    • CarolSue says:

      Diane,
      Thank you so much for your comment. I know you have talked to Cuban-Americans who have hard tales of this country and I am sure it was bad – and maybe still is in some ways. But I have hope – and the Cubans seem to have hope as well. It was very interesting to speculate with them on “after (Raul) Castro” who says he’s quitting in 2018. Will they become democratic or at least more free as we know it? What about the exiles? These queries are some of the reasons I love to travel. I say, “You don’t know ’til you go” and then you still don’t know! But the question becomes more alive, that’s for sure.
      CarolSue

  16. Jodi says:

    what a lovely story this time. well, they are all great tales, actually. i think it was very brave of you both to go to Cuba and was delighted to see you made Cuban banking history. of COURSE you did! every place you folks go you break records, set records or, hey, listen to records….how was live radio over there? do they have “community” radio in Cuba? is there a lot of 50’s music to match the cars?

    • CarolSue says:

      Jodi, thank you for your comment, my friend. Mostly the music I heard was salsa! They love salsa and do it everywhere – even in the streets. Salsa works well with the old American cars, too. See you after Thanksgiving this year on Kauai!

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