Countdown to Cuba

First we considered Spain, then Buenos Aires.  But it’s gonna be Havana.

That’s where we’ll spend our 10th anniversary come April.

What better place than the Cuban Communist police state for champagne, romance and roses?

But it’s not your daddy’s communism anymore.  We’ll be staying in a five-star hotel in Havana’s old quarter, the Parque Central Torre, a Spanish chain.

Though we’ve reserved and paid for the hotel, the airline remains to be chosen.  The flight takes two and a half  hours from Mexico City.  One direct option, and direct is the way we’ll go, no side trips to Panama or Cancún, is via the Cuban airline, Cubana de Aviación.

That would be my preferred provider because I want the full Socialist jackboot experience, but it leaves Mexico City at dawn, playing havoc with my biorhythms, so we’ll likely fly Aeromexico.

I want to see those old Fords, Packards and Chevys before glorious capitalism arrives and sweeps them from the streets.

In the past few years I have read most of Hemingway’s principal works, and I want to see his Cuban home and his beloved fishing craft named Pilar, now a tourist attraction outside Havana.

A new bio, Hemingway’s boat, is highly recommended.  Not about Hemingway — but also highly recommended —  is Mi Moto Fidel, written by an adventurous American journalist with a taste for the ladies.

In the early 1970s, I flew into Key West on a DC-3 and walked through Papa’s home there, the one where the descendants of his cats roamed the back yard.

It was only when I began planning this trip that I realized what a tourist destination Cuba had become for all the world except the United States which, of course, continues the absurd embargo, second only to the failed, 40-year-old “War on Drugs” in national asininity.

But let us not wander off into the fruitful fields of my obsessions.

If you ever want to visit Cuba, here’s a great place to start your planning, the Cuba Travel Network.  A similar website, Cubaism, is to be avoided due to its lousy service.

More to come . . .

36 thoughts on “Countdown to Cuba”

  1. Thanks for the info…we are seriously thinking of going…but I have heard that one of the visa requirements is proof of health insurance…es verdad? Not a problem for me but Fabian has IMSS through the university…saludos amigo…

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    1. Charles: Yes, you have to arrive with proof of health insurance. I doubt IMSS would do it. What they want is that you have a temporary travel policy that lasts the period of your visit. Travel agents can sell it to you with the plane ticket. Plus, it’s available at the airport in Havana, I hear, though I imagine you’ll get stiffed there due to their having you over a barrel, so to speak. Like the price of Junior Mints in the movie theater.

      This is a reasonably new requirement. Seems lots of folks were going there as tourists and then “discovering” an ailment and getting the free commie health care.

      I asked a travel agent in Mexico City recently what the policy costs if you buy it beforehand, and he told me about 400 pesos. It ain’t bad.

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  2. Mi esposo went over the Christmas holidays just before GWB made the departure rules from the US a little tighter. He would love to go back. He went with a tour group licensed and permitted out of Canada. Flew to Cancun from the US and went from there to Havana. They did a road tour for three weeks staying in some back-country bak-a-bush villages, farms and communities. He would love to go back. I didn’t go with him ’cause we’d done the Caribbean to the max, I felt. He brought me some cool folk art paintings, though.

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    1. Carole: I wouldn’t lump Cuba in with any other Caribbean experience. The history and politics are what make it unique, not the palm trees or the balmy weather.

      I don’t see how the U.S. gets into the picture if you depart from Mexico or Canada. The Cubans don’t even stamp the U.S. passport on arrival to avoid problems for Gringo tourists when they head home.

      I’ll be going on my Mexican passport, so they can stamp away. Indeed, I want them to.

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      1. The Cuban immigration officer stamped but on a separate piece of paper – not the passport. It has a $5USD folded inside the photo page 🙂 I prefer lush forests and jungles. Esposo said none in Cuba. A desert island like many in the BVI and USVI.

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  3. Are there two fishing crafts named Pilar since I saw one in the Fla. Keys, I believe in Islamorada? Since we share names I had a picture taken standing in the beautiful wood boat above the name.

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  4. You should have a swell time there. You will be instantly transported back 50 years at least. It will give you a new appreciation for Mexico! The food is great and the people genuine, but lots of smokey dimly lit dives to sip on the libations, for as long as long as you can stand it.

    I sometimes wonder what the real reason is for the embargo, there are lots of U.S. companies over there, in the background I am told, so maybe it’s more profitable fooling the U.S. population into thinking of how bad commie life is. It appeared that the upper class still have most of the benefits and the U.S. politicos just need a whipping boy to back up their philosophy.

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    1. Tancho: There are a number of reasons for the embargo, but I’m convinced the biggest one is the Cuban exile vote in Florida, a state which is a powerhouse in the electoral college. I think all presidents fear that, no matter their political party. They want Florida.

      But things are changing. The original Cuban exiles are dying off. Most already have. The newer generation isn’t as fired up on the cause. And Fidel will soon be dead. Raul is no Fidel, but he’ll be dead before long too. Cuba will go the route of Russia and China, gradually coming to its senses.

      That’s one reason I want to go there now.

      As for smokey dives, most don’t get going till after my bedtime. And that ain’t gonna change in Havana.

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      1. Don’t forget too that Florida is a winner-take-all state in the primaries, and probably in the general election too. So if you lose there, you lose big.

        Kim G
        Boston, MA
        Where we think the same kind of electoral idiocy is driving the whole corn-based ethanol nonsense too. Let’s say “no” to corn farmers, and “yes” to tropical communists.

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    2. Tancho, if you had family there, you would know “how bad the commie life is.” Tourists don’t exactly get to see what the living conditions are for most people. You see what the gov’t allows you to see.

      I hope to get the opportunity to go back to my country someday. Would love to show my husband and sons the beautiful beaches and old Havana. Show them my roots.

      I’ve heard from quite a few people that, as Steve said, the food is pretty bad. That is due, I am sure, to lack of the proper ingredients as Cuban cuisine is quite tasty.

      Also heard from a doctor, who spent some time doing volunteer work there, that they have very little medicine and not the greatest hospitals or other facilities for the sick. Some of you may have seen a documentary about their great medical system. Well, it just isn’t so!

      Felipe, I hope you and the señora have a wonderful time and a very happy 10th anniversary there! Have a cuba libre for me — now that’s an oxymoron. Well, i guess I could wait till April to make these wishes but better early than never 😉 Hope you will share some pictures with us.

      Teresa in Nagoya

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      1. Teresa: As you likely know, I am totally, completely and 100 percent on your side on this matter. I have no romantic notions about the Cuban regime as so many Americans (and Canadians, including one I know personally) seem to have these days.

        Just the barebones fact that most Cubans are not allowed to leave the country says everything you need to know about the government. The nation is a prison.

        The book I mentioned in the post (Mi Moto Fidel) was written about ten years ago by an American journalist who, by hook and clever crook, managed to get a big BMW trail bike to the island on a small boat from Florida and pretty much eluded the government’s attempts to keep an eye on him even though he had permission to visit. He toured alone over a period of weeks through many parts of Cuba that are off the proverbial beaten tourist track.

        In the book he says he arrived with a fairly positive attitude about Cuba, but that changed when he saw the realities, and he left the island a changed man. The book is very much worth a read to anyone interested in Cuba. I think it’s available on the Kindle.

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        1. yes, i know you share my views on this. i just had to make those comments for those who don’t know any better about what life is like there. as you said, the country is a prison. we could have been stationed in gitmo when steve was in the navy but it would have been too difficult to handle having family on the other side of the fence and not being able to visit with them. those stationed there are not allowed off base.

          i’ll have to make you some cuban food when we come visit someday 😉 not sure when that will be as we hope to be in japan for 4 years, but we will make it back down there eventually.

          mi moto fidel sounds like a very interesting read, unfortunately, it is not available on kindle. i’ll look for it when we go to the states this summer.

          take care,

          teresa

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    3. Tancho: I passed over your remark that the food is great in Cuba. That surely is not what I have read in many places. Quite the contrary, as Steve Cotton mentioned in his comment here. And he was there as a tourist. For the Cuban people, food is a very problematic thing.

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    1. Thanks, Brenda. I anticipate finding it quite interesting. I wonder how much Havana will remind me of San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I lived in the early 1970s.

      But, of course, in San Juan, you could speak freely.

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      1. San Juan. One of my favorite cities to visit. The wife and I loved it, actually. While walking Old Town we, by accident, wandered into a small cafe for a midday drink. Lo and behold, it was the cafe famous for the visits by famous types. There are pics on the wall behind the bar. The most famous that I recall was Reagan. I can’t recall the name, but I saw it on some kind of travel program a few years ago. We’ll try Habana after the Castros are no more.

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        1. Smokesilver: Yep, it’s a great place to visit, and I lived there on two separate occasions totaling about 17 months in the early 1970s. Most of that time was spent in a tiny penthouse apartment, a five-floor walkup, overlooking the ocean and the ancient Spanish fortresses (two) from the front and San Juan Bay and the cruise ship docks from the rear. It was quite spectacular.

          I don’t recall that famous café. Might not have been there in my time. I was there before the Reagan years.

          I’ve only been back once, in the early 1990s on vacation with my second wife.

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  5. I fully enjoyed my trip to Havana in 2001. While I was there, I kept thinking this is how Berlin must have felt in 1936. But the music in Cuba was better. The food was worse.

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  6. Our son takes a large bottle of salsa when he goes to Cuba as the food is quite bland. Whether this is because of Cuban tastes or shortages, I did not figure out.

    Nice digs BTW! Much nicer than our all inclusive in Veradero. Watch the voltage though as it looks like all they provide is 220 volts. Take an adapter, you do not want to be able to fry eggs on your laptop.

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    1. Croft: Cuban cuisine is not normally fiery as so much Mexican grub is. But, aside from that, extensive shortages would have to be a part of it too.

      Yeah, the hotel is pretty snazzy. I’ve never paid that much for a hotel in my life, not even close. Fact is that I don’t know if that is my hotel or if it’s the adjoining Hotel Parque Central (no Torre). Here’s the link to that one.

      http://www.hotelparquecentral.com/

      I’ve emailed Cuba Travel Network to straighten it out. Either is fine by me. It’s basically the same Spanish hotel with a tunnel connecting the two.

      Here’s a three-minute YouTube video of the hotel.

      As for the 220 volts, it doesn’t matter. There’s a hair dryer in the room for my wife, and that’s the only thing we need to plug in. I won’t be taking a laptop because (ta-da!) I ain’t got one.

      And no, it’s not an all-included deal, and we’re not going with a tour group either. Just a couple of loony Meskins out for a good solo time.

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    2. Croft: I just read something interesting that I did not know, and I bet you don’t either. Most modern hi-tech stuff, like laptops and iPads, etc., can be charged from a 110 or 220 outlet. I just looked at the recharge plug for my Kindle, for instance, and it says exactly that. You would need an adapter, however, to make it fit in the outlet.

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    1. Ray: Make a date with Laurie, who also wants to come, and you both can join us. The redhead may take issue with this plan, but it’s an imperfect world. She’ll get over it.

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  7. What a great decision. It’s all part the changing world. My friend the devout right winger is going to vacation in one of the few Communist countries left in the world. Great contrast. I’m already looking forward to reading your posts from there.

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    1. Mister Toth: Devout right-winger, my backside. Go read The Moon Man page to which there is a link at the top, left, in the header. I don’t agree with a number of Republican stances, and I am in lockstep with a number of Democratic stances. I am a middle-of-the-roader, which is to say not an extremist in either direction. If everyone followed my lead, it would be a more peaceful world we live in.

      I would indeed love to see Gingrich in the White House next year because his rightward and pro-U.S. tilt would do a lot to offset the far-left, anti-American tilt of the current administration. It’s all about balance, amigo. I am anti-union these days due to the times. Were we living in the 1930s, I would be pro-union. All about balance.

      But, Newt ain’t gonna be the nominee. If he were, he would win.

      There will likely be only one post about the trip after I get back from Cuba. I won’t be sending anything from there because I will be busy peeking through Hemingway’s window, etc., plus I don’t own a laptop.

      But I’ll say this: I’m not fan of Cuba in any way, shape or form. I feel very sorry for the Cuban people. And I don’t care if they have a pretty good health-care system which, by the way, is not nearly as good as its reputation, especially when you get out of the major cities.

      Without the overly praised health-care system, Cuba lovers, and there are an absurdly large quantity of them, would be hard-pressed to come up with something positive that’s come from the Cuban Revolution.

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  8. I just read that you’re headed to Cuba in April! I’m so envious. It is at the TOP of my list. I have so many books and articles from the last 20 years. Natl. Geographic several years ago had a fabulous article on the national parks and preserves of Cuba. Quite enlightening.

    One of my former tenants, who still lives in San Miguel, was a Professor of Composition and wrote an opera about Cuba which was performed at the Kennedy Center. He travels to Cuba frequently and has free rein to travel all over the island, according to him. IF you get here before you leave and want to talk to him, I’ll try to set it up.

    Have a wonderful, romantic, joyful time my friend.

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    1. Oh, Babs, while I appreciate your kind thoughts and good wishes (I really do), I have to tell you that I view the trip as more of a anthropological observation. I want to see the results of a nation that has put a loaded pistol to its head and pulled the trigger.

      I will not be joyful there. But I do think it will be very, very interesting. I will be saddened on seeing a population held captive for half a century by a dictatorship.

      You clearly are among the many romantics who view the Cuban Revolution kindly. You do know, I presume, that Cubans are held captive in their country. With some exceptions, they cannot travel abroad at all. Communist China and the former Soviet Union did the same thing (holding their people captive when they were not murdering them), but those two nations have begun to see the bright, optimistic light of freedom.

      The Cuban situation remains an ugly one, sadly.

      An opera? One of tragedy, I hope.

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      1. I certainly don’t glorify the Cuban Revolution or the way the people have lived. When the Cervantino Festival goes on in Guanjuato every year, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and dining with many of the musicians and artists. Not all want to leave Cuba, but some do and some ask for political asylum each and every year.
        Nothing in life is black and white – not even Cuba. I’m definitely not a romantic about Cuba. I want to go to see the architecture, the national parks, and meet more artists.
        Every year we have a Cuban Festival and market in San Miguel. Come next year.

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  9. Felipe, for one who has yet to sample the soup for yourself, you certainly have decided how it will taste and whether it will bring you joy or sadness. Do you believe all reviews?

    You said, “I will not be joyful there”.

    I wager you will have your moments of joy, and perhaps stemming from the unexpected.

    Go on the trip, and then write the review.

    All best, Arizona Deb

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    1. Deb: Cuba is a dictatorship that holds its citizens captive. They are not free to leave their island prison. But that is just one of Cuba’s many problems. In the next day or so, there will be more said about that here.

      But I do intend to go on the trip. It will be very interesting. But, unlike many tourists, I will not land at José Martí International Airport with rose-colored glasses on my nose.

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