Just came back from Cuba...a brief review

We just returned from Cuba…what an interesting island. We spent a day in Havana (really is not long enough to see, in detail, most of the beautiful architecture) and two days in Veradero (very touristy).

Lots of old American cars and horse carriages in Havana. It’s a very crowded city, small streets, lots and lots of cars, taxis, tour buses, scooters and bicycles.

Varedero is a smaller town; very, very touristy (mostly markets, hotels and restaurants).

Everyone works for the government. There is no independent business with the exception of farms which are not really independent since they get paid by the state too.

We brought back cigars, rum and coffee.

Would have liked to take the tour over the mountains to the other side of the island but couldn’t bring ourselves to spend four hours each way on the bus for a day.

Other than that, it was an interesting trip. Would recommend it for architectural and car buffs; as well as beach lovers.

I’m looking forward to the day when the US Govt drops the stoopit embargo against Cuba and I can sail there. I’ve seen photos of different places on the island and I’d love to drop anchor in some of them.

From what I understand, Americans can go to Cuba, it’s just a lot more paperwork before you go.

I don’t know the details but have heard that from many people.

I was talking to a man at work the other day about this very thing. The law says Americans can’t spend dollars in Cuba, but there are some round-about ways they skirt that law.

However, my job precludes me traveling anyway - security clearance, and all that. So until it’s open and legal, I can’t go. I am hopeful the current administration will see the lunacy of the old policy. Criminy, just let Starbucks and McD’s go over there, and Cuba will become a proper capitalist society in no time. At least, I think so…

I met an American in a bar in Havana who had just ‘dropped anchor’. He didn’t seem too bothered about breaking the US law on spending his dollars buying me a drink!

Couldn’t an American just by some Euros or Yen by legal means, and then use those in Cuba? I assume there are plenty of European and Japanese goods the Cubans would be interested in, and thus want currency to buy.

I believe that the law forbids spending money, not dollars. After all, the US government was (is?) trying to go after foreign companies that do business with Cuba, who are presumably not trading in US dollars.

I’m an American who’s been to Cuba (although it was more than ten years ago, so things may have changed). I went without filling out any paperwork or anything. I went from Montreal, and had a Canadian travel agency make my hotel reservations and book my flight from Montreal to Cuba, and back. Not difficult. I’ve heard that the US government has cracked down on this a bit lately.

The dollar is the de facto currency of Cuba. You would have some difficulty spending anything else. You would no doubt be able to exchange your Euros or Canadian dollars or whatever, but you’d get dollars in return. I remember getting off the plane in Cuba and noticing that the currency exchanges there only gave dollars in return for any other currency.

Cuban pesos are (or were, when I was there) completely worthless. It’s a standard tourist scam for someone to offer to change your dollars for pesos at a very favorable rate. You will then discover that absolutely nobody will accept Cuban pesos in payment for anything.

You can’t use any American credit cards, obviously. You can use credit cards from non-US banks. There are places that take credit cards, and I saw Canadians using their cards all the time.

Canadiangirl, where did you eat when you were there? Did any of your meals really stand out?

We went to one restaurant, in Veradero. Il Rancho (El Rancho?). Food was good - grilled fish…some had with shrimp and cheese on top. Huge plate, came with carrot salad (they marinate slivered carrots in some kind of dressing with thinly, thinly sliced cabbage), rice and the most wonderful fresh bread.

Took a tour into Havana and ate at a restaurant which name I cannot remember but in “new” Havana - in the bottom of a beautiful old building, balconies all around - we sat in a type of courtyard. Again, we had fish, much the same as the dish we had in Veradero. The restaurant is not far from El Floridita (spelling?) which was Ernest Hemingway’s home when he stayed in Havana.

It seems everything there comes with rice and this carrot/cabbage salad.

Lettuce doesn’t seem to be served anywhere. Rather you get slivered carrots, cabbage, beets, radishes, beans. For meat, your choices are fish, pork and chicken Very little beef outside the hotel. All are well done.

Since there is no independent business, there are no things such as taco carts, vendors of any kind other than at the markets, of which there are many all of which sell pretty much the same thing.

The ironwork, such as railing balconies, is astounding and intricate. If I can figure out how to attach some pictures from our digital camera, I will do so.

The downside is, everywhere you go, there are many taxi carts pulled by horses. It is difficult to imagine that these horses pull all day long in the heat. With three days in various towns, I never once saw a water bucket, either on the carts or on the road. We saw quite a few with limps and few of the horses show little interest in what’s going on around them. We saw only two which seemed to be very well cared for. They go along the side of the roads, with buses, taxies and cars running right beside.

Two kinds of beer: Cristal and Buccanero (sp?). First is like a crisp ale, second is more “creamy” tasting, doesn’t leave that clean feeling, if you know what I mean. Major alcohol is rum. The original Bacardi’s rum was made there. They serve a dark rum, straight.

Ice cream is a big deal there…lots of it served everywhere. It’s really good.

To give you an idea of pricing, a lobster special (caribbean style, not east coast meaning just the tail) was on at El Rancho for 11 CUC which, with conversion to Canadian, is about $22.00 which is not bad to those of us not on the coast. That’s a complete dinner with sides mentioned above.

You see few private boats, other than the deep sea fishing boats and tourist catamarans.

The only cars a private citizen can trade are the old American built cars of which there are hundreds, some with a '57 front, a '53 back and decorations from all years. If you are a professional (doctor, dentist) you can buy a Lada with the merit points you earn from the state. The car is yours for life. As well, they assign housing which is handed down from family to family. You cannot sell property. In some cases, you can buy land but building materials are hugely expensive and it is unlikely a regular citizen would ever have enough money to build.

University and medical are free there. Also required is two years in the army. When you graduate the state assigns you to a job.

The difficulty seems to be that everyday things are very expensive there. For example a tube of toothpast can be upwards of 4 CUC which is about $6.00 Canadian.

Although your housing, medical and university are free, living day to day is very costly.

As a caveat, information, depending on you talk to, is not consistent. So the above may or may not be correct, again, depending on you speak to.

We saw no newspapers, although, at the hotel, we could get CNN.