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By Mike Ashcroft
Cuba is on everyone’s minds at the moment. The country is more Latin American than Caribbean in style, in food, and in temperament. In terms of landmass size, Cuba is bigger than Florida. In UK terms Cuba is the size of England and Scotland combined.
Cuba uses two currencies – one for the Cubanistas, and the other for the tourists. To put this into perspective, if you work as a non-academic you will earn about 300 Pesos a month. That doesn’t mean a lot until you understand the value of the currency. The exchange rate from local to the “Cuban Convertible Peso” (CUCS) is 25 to one. So if you tip someone 1 CUC (about $1) it equates to two-weeks salary!
The infrastructure is annihilated, and the economy is in ruins. So why would you bother? It is intoxicating! The people are alive, and if you play any music, very kicking. Old people on the street dance (salsa and boogie) at the drop of a hat.
The pollution from the ancient vehicles (mostly vintage US vehicles) is epic. So if you have asthma you might want to stay away. The driving is very third world, with roads that are OK in daylight, but suicidal at night – there are unlit horses, carts and pedestrians everywhere. Also, if you decide to drive anywhere don’t expect signposts as there will be none. Forget GPS, in fact, forget a mobile phone signal.
Havana, when we visited to stay in someone’s home (try a homestay if you can) was a revelation. Crumbling in an elegant way, one of the great cities of the world was disintegrating before our eyes. To stay in a local’s house is called staying in a Casa Peculiar (try booking through AirBnB for this cheaper option of lodging).
We arrived in a 12 hour City-wide Power Cut – which is normal in everyday Cuban life. But everyone gets a free education and free medical care paid for by the government. At the end of university you are assigned a job suitable to your qualifications which you must do for 3 years. After this you can leave or choose another job. Most highly qualified people end up in the tourist industry as the only way to survive. So tip well as the locals survive on those tips. Your maid or bartender may very well be professionals – a lawyer, doctor or professor.
So should you go to Cuba? Oh YES! The Cubans are vibrant, sexy people who really want to make you their friend.
Fidel Castro (their “God”) died recently. The people will be in mourning for a long time, but they will rise like a Caribbean Phoenix.
We stayed at Ocean Vista Azul in Varadero and highly recommend this 5-star resort. The only thing with everywhere we went in Cuba is they have a problem with hot food – we spoke to lots of people in different hotels and experienced the same thing. The solution is one I wouldn’t normally choose – The Buffet – which have fresh cook stations. Take your vegetables to be warmed on the griddle too. This resort has beautiful rooms, lovely pool areas, and all branded drinks on their all-inclusive plan.
So, be a real traveller and see Cuba before it’s all high rises.
Enjoy more photos of my trip to Cuba: