On June 6th me and my travel buddy finally confirmed and booked our trip to Havana Cuba. We had been pondering on it ever since President Obama relaxed the travel restrictions in 2016. It appears (and we were right) that “45”and his current administration was in a vicious attack to discredit and remove any and all policies and advances that President Obama implemented; without any significant reason other than to dishonor and delete his legacy. I am thankful that we did, 10 days later, in Miami with a crowd of Cuban-Americans behind him in support, “45” announced that, “Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administrations completely one-sided deal with Cuba”. The crowd irrupted and I called my friend to see if she too was witnessing this foolishness. I didn’t even call Delta or the Host of the Air B&B we had already secured and confirmed, yet I just started my count down and continued my research of the Country itself.
If I was completely honest, I didn’t have the same experience that many of the Black Travelers I follow on Facebook in the multiple travel groups. Not to say it was bad, it just had some peaks and valleys. The airport experience was the most interesting. Even with First Class tickets, the process to board with your Visa (which we had already paid for online) was unorganized, very shocking for Delta, who I utilized for 99% of my travel. Insomuch that we were delayed pushing back from the gate as there were still confirmed passengers completing “visa confirmation” paperwork. May I suggest some of this be done upon check-in, and may I also recommend that if one purchased their Visa online through Delta no less, that there perhaps be an expedited lane? Of the 12 seats in First Class, 7 were occupied by African Americans, and interesting enough, only about 25% of the total travelers were Black. Just thought I include that tidbit of information.
The direct flight from Atlanta was a hair under two hours, and the process once we arrived to Havana was without incident. We had changed our USD to Euro’s as highly recommended prior to the trip, we then converted to the widely utilized CUC when we landed at the airport (yes they were open on a Sunday). We knew that Internet was limited, restricted and pretty much unavailable so we made contact with family members prior to leaving Atlanta, and we arranged travel to take us to our Air B&B. Needless to say the driver was not there and we had no address, but we were able to get a signal, text the Host, and we took a taxi to the apartment.
The apartment was exactly as pictured on the inside, but the outside was old and dilapidated and I see why the HOST did not provide pictures of the outside. We did Air B&B, 1: Because that is our preferred method, and 2: because the money goes to the people opposed to the government (although I am told some still pay a tax) and it loosely “justifies” one of the OFAC requirements of People to People, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/americans-can-now-plan-their-own-people-to-people-trips-to-cuba-but-what-does-that-mean/2016/03/15/05870872-eae5-11e5-a6f3-21ccdbc5f74e_story.html?utm_term=.715e4baddb26 We were provided with Cleaning Services, a Cook, and a direct phone line to call the Host for travel and itinerary suggestions. The major disappointment was the “HOST” spent an hour with us on day one and that was the last we saw of him. I called daily and although he answered there was always an excuse. To know me is to know I travel solo, and march to the beat of my own drum so one monkey was NOT going to stop this show. Not to mention my friend Lisa travels just as much (if not more) than I do, so we had no problem navigating all up and through Cuba. Word of Caution, you need to know at least basic Spanish, as I promise you we only ran into two people (other than Tourist) that spoke English. We selected an English speaking Host with the AirB&B and many of the Hotels have individuals that speak English, but that was still with some barriers. Remember that internet is restricted and/or very limited so your goggle translator may not be available when you are in heart of Cuba. And I can’t stress this enough….LEAVE YOUR AMERICAN PRIVILEGE BACK IN THE U.S. You are in THEIR County and ENGLISH is NOT THEIR official Langauage. OK I’m back J
We used the Habana Bus Tour (Hop ON Hop OFF) pretty much every day which cost $10 CUC for an all-day pass (BTW the bulk of our money was spent on Transportation). The Tour bus has an announcer but most time the intercom was fuzzy and her English was VERY broken. Stops included The Political Center, The University, The Capital, Marketplaces, Center Square (Old Havana and where most people transfer and a great amount of your time will be spent), Cruise Ship Terminal and many other Historic Landmarks, Hotels and attractions. You can Hop off at Park Center Square and for $5 go to the free beach. Beware it gets crowed as people start going before 9:00 AM. Varadero Beach in Matanzas, Cuba, is about a 90 minute commute and will cost you about $75 CUC per person, plus the cost of transportation.
We spent the bulk of our time interacting with the people, engrossing in their culture, taking our amateur photography status to semi-professional (well you be the judge) and LORD have mercy devouring Cuba Cuisine. I am the absolute pickiest eater you will ever meet (I don’t eat seafood, mayonnaise, Chinese food, most vegetables, etc…lol) but when I tell you I ate like a native E-V-E-R-Y-D-A-Y I am not kidding you. The local favorite and mine is the Ropa Viega which is shredded beef, served with vegetables, rice and bean, onions and peppers..and it was ummm ummm goooood J Lisa had a grilled lobster for @ $11 CUC that made me want to ask, “Can I have some”, and I don’t eat seafood. My dish runs between $3 and $7. You can eat GOOD for $5-7 and still have leftovers.
The people of CUBA love President Barack Obama, they often said his name when they see people of color that are obvious tourist. They curse “45” and in their BEST English. They are not as aware of the new changes were tourism from the U.S. may slow down, but it is said that less than 10% of their overall tourism comes from the U.S. I would argue that number after seeing Norwegian and Royal Caribbean Cruise boats docked and the oversold flight I was on from Atlanta, but I digress. Some of the concerns of the current administration and Cuban Americans is Humans Rights, are the lack thereof. I would be a fool to say we didn’t see obvious signs and that there is a great need of support. The average person makes about $300 a year from the government, and begging and hustling was prevalent everywhere we went. To avoid being taxed, Cubans often ask you to pay them on the side as they fear “cameras” are everywhere and they’ll be taxed. We over tipped and gave extra money and the people were often in tears from our generosity. AirB&B and US tourist, help them out tremendously, this recent reversal will be a blow for them.
The trip back was “suspicious”. Not because we had to pay the driver before we got to the airport on the sly. Not because the driver was 20 minutes late giving a new meaning to CP Time (Cuban People Time), but after we all boarded the plane, Cuban Customs randomly kept pulling Americans off our plane saying they bypassed or didn’t clear customs. The gentleman in the seat behind me even showed them “their” official stamp but they still made him get off along with a family of 4 with a baby. To know me, you know I lack patience, and was ready to “POP OFF”, I was hungry and wanted Dansani Water and a real Coca Cola. But what you NEVER want is to be detained or locked up in a foreign Country, so I kept my mouth shut. 90 minutes later we were heading back to the A-T-L. With our Global Entry Membership’s, we had the luxury to bypass the lines, and we were heading back to our cars in the fraction of the time.
I am thankful we took the trip. I am grateful to be blessed to have the opportunity to experience other cultures and see the World one trip at a time. And I am appreciative of the things we take for granted. The Cuban people are resilient, resourceful, and were rich in ways MOST of US would never comprehend. I am not sure what the future will hold for the people of Cuba, Tourism for US Citizens, or the Castro regime (Raul plans to resign in 2018), but my prayer is for Peace and a favorable outcome on all fronts.