Star Date:  May 2012
Caribbean - Cuba


Hello Dear Family & Friends!

Hola!  Como Estas?

(Hi! -How are you?  Spanish)



"You will only be killing the man"

(Final words of Ernesto "Che" Guevara)



I would if I could but I can't so I won't.
Disclaimer:  Since Americans are Not allowed by the U.S. government to visit Cuba (the only country not permitting a visit - why? ) the information contained herein is derived from research, the notes from someone very close to me, and European friends who were able to freely spend 2 months in Cuba. 


Vibrant colors, enticing smells and pulsating rhythms combine into a kaleidoscope of intriguing islands, each boasting a different culture and history. The Caribbean is a riot to the senses.  Turquoise water, white sand, thatched umbrellas with your name on them; just waiting for a cold drink while you do absolutely nothing.  Exotic birds sing, vivid tropical flowers quiver in the gentle breeze, waves keep time as multicolored fish swim through the crystal clear water. Clouds float by, verdant green forest add the backdrop.  A living painting.  The constant music eventually will draw you out of your trance, your legs move (like "Weekend at Bernie's") and push you in search of the source.  Colorful clothing, friendly banter of the market, cluttered displays, hustle and bustle, and flashy often simple artwork vies to catch any passing tourist's fancy.  Gone are the boring drab shades of grey from our business or city chic, packed away in the recesses of our suitcases.  Let the colors of the lively Caribbean explode!  The intense sun mellows as it flares orange and sizzles into the Caribbean Sea.  Crickets chirp, koki frogs sing, chak lizards beckon for a drink of rain water, night blooming jasmine wafts on the breeze.  Fireflies dance as the stars twinkle and the large yellow moon salutes the night.  After the mellow early evening, music once again erupts near midnight with dancing into the wee hours of the morning the norm. 

Having sampled the islands years ago on several cruises, it was a treat to spend months soaking up the cultures and ambience.  This area is expensive to visit with only pricey flights between islands ($200-$300 for a 30 minute island hop); but its proximity to Florida and Canada, with their package specials makes it a tourist haven against northern blizzards.  We were challenged to maintain our budget and soon discovered that choosing a couple of islands and staying for longer durations, taking in the culture of that locale, was the answer. 

The Caribbean Islands are a string of over 7000 islands stretching from the Florida keys to the northern coast of Venezuela.  Cuba is the largest island with neighboring Hispaniola shared by Haiti and Dominican Republic.  Although now all islands are independent the British (British Virgin Islands, Caymans, etc.) the French (Martinique, St Martin, etc.) Netherlands (Aruba, Curacao, etc.) and the USA (Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands) have controlled Caribbean islands throughout history and still have their fingers in the paradise pie.  Some islands are extremely poor and gold laden tourists are just a target.  Travel smartly.  Poor economy has promoted drug production and although in some places people still don't lock their doors, in other places bars on the windows is the norm.

In January 2010 a 7.0 earthquake, which lasted only 35 seconds, shook the densely populated Port-Au-Prince, Haiti to the core.  An estimated 230,000 people were killed and over 500,000 poor souls are still displaced in tents in this land where voodoo is still practiced.  A Haitian proverb: 'Deye mon gen mon', 'Beyond the mountains there are more mountains', describes the slow rebuilding effort.  Haiti's devastating earthquake has resulted in cholera and malaria outbreaks.  Jim Humble and his dedicated volunteers have spent months on site helping the survivors with the MMS. (see Thoughts on Health -MMS for info about this effective yet inexpensive cure for most diseases - only $20 a year per person).  Unfortunately HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean is carried by 2% of all adults making it the second worst affected region in the world, just behind our recently visited sub-Saharan Africa.  With older men pairing up with younger women and older women hiring young studs especially in Jamaica, it is important to weigh the risks.

Cayman Islands, the island that grew too  fast, is a modern, bustling tourist destination drawing an upscale international crowd lazing in all inclusive posh resorts, shopping and dropping what's left in an off shore bank account.  Wanting to see the bright blue iguanas, hoards of sea turtles or pet one of hundreds of tame stingrays lurking in the shallow reefs, we checked into stopping here.  This island was virtually uninhabited until the early 1800's when Jamaicans trickled across the sea.  Half of the 1000 residents were slaves, who remained when emancipation was finally enacted worldwide.  Great seafarers, ship builders and fishermen; only visiting divers frequented this unknown speck until the 1950's.  Early in the 1970's the Caymanians set up a tax structure for banking and provided modern infrastructure that has attracted jet setters ever since.  The Lonely Planet did a poor job of representing any budget travel in the Caribbean (which requires sousing out the hidden options), leaning heavily towards mid range and up accommodations, so we only flew through the Caymans as we continued our look at the Caribbean. 

The mirage of Cuba. An island frozen in time.  Cubanos are what Cuba is all about.  Generous, fun-loving, vivacious, helpful, happy top the list.  Survivors.  Making do and thinking outside the box, while working within the system, helps the people deal with Big Brother.  We know how that feels.

Arriving tired from long lines with immigration, the warmth of the people of Havana took the edge off.  This tale speaks of the people of Old Havana.  Needing a tailor to repair a major rip in a shirt the first morning we saw a tiny old lady whirring up a storm on her treadle sewing machine.  We asked if she could fix the tear.  "Of course, but only with white thread."  We sat down and waited patiently as person after person greeted her and looked curiously at us.  It was a fun 30 minutes and when we asked how much for the repair she told me, "This isn't a store, this is my living room."  We had a good laugh and amid kisses, hugs and "Muchas Gracious" (many thanks) we headed to the market with a smile on our faces.  In the sparse vegetable market we were given extra fruit as a gift - 'just because'.  Welcome to Havana!  Hanging with the locals is the way to experience the vibrant culture first hand, rather than the watered down tourist version. 

Only really keeping track of times or dates when necessary, we somehow missed an hour time change during our flight.  For the first 3 days in Havana this mix-up on my watch went unheeded.  Dropping by the magnificent Havana Theatre for a look, a shady looking fellow sauntered up and asked if I wanted to buy a reduced ticket to the famous Ballet Nacional.  Normally $25 we bargained a price after which an even shadier looking woman led me around back - keeping a lengthy distance.  A code got me inside the service entrance where a young man brought me back stage with the ballet dancers.  This all happened within a whirlwind of a couple of minutes.  I just stood there smiling, wondering what the heck I was doing hanging with the ballerinas of the National Ballet of Cuba?  Just another instance of life unfolding.  After 5 interesting minutes while 'we' warmed up, the young man returned and asked for payment in a dark corner with a flashlight.  A young female usher then led me to a prime seat 3 rows from the front.  The spectacular theatre, built in 1838, came to life as 90 year old Alicia Alonso, current director, former choreographer and ballerina, entered her box seat amid a standing ovation.  Every little girl in Cuba dreams of becoming a ballerina in this world renowned Ballet Nacional.  Thinking the performance didn't start for another hour I was surprised as the lights dimmed immediately and we were transported to a timeless reality; the world of Havana's highly acclaimed traditional and contemporary ballet.  Floating down the grand staircases and out the front doors amid finely dressed patrons I stopped by to have a lemonade natural 'con hielo frappe', serenaded by a 12 piece traditional band at a sidewalk cafe.  Heading home I was surprised that the store I wanted to stop in was closed.  "But it is only 5pm", I lamented.  "Sorry Senora, but it is 6pm in Havana."  It only took me 3 days to figure that out - in the time warp of Havana.  Having simply gone out for a walk to the store to pick up a few staples imagine the surprise of my friend when I recounted the afternoon's events: starting with a ride in a 1950 Chevy to the seaside and a new friend missing our rendezvous in the park; the reason now apparent.  Followed by wandering over to the impromptu rumba music and drumming outside the Afro Cubano Culture Center in a remote back street near Maceo Park, then sharing a bicycle taxi through the back streets with an Australian woman towards the Capitol building.  Wandering past then immediately being transported into the Sunday Matinee of the National Ballet.  And what did you do Sunday afternoon?   Remain open.  You just never know where you will end up.

Retreating inward from the busy, often mildew stained unattractive buildings of the modern sections of Cuba's cities, into the old central parts is a step back in time.  Sitting in an old Plaza or walking down a cobblestone street we wouldn't have been surprised to run into a Spanish conquistador riding his horse, clanging in heavy armor and helmet.  Hidden plant filled courtyards or open wrought iron balconies catch the breeze.  Arches, columns, stained glassed windows, cathedrals, bell towers, tile roofs and brightly painted buildings add contrast to the bright blue sky.  Horse carts, goats, chickens dart by.  Squares and courtyards are always featuring theatre, mimes, music, dance, plays, puppet shows.  Over 80 performing arts troupes operate island wide offering a wide variety of styles from folkloric to contemporary.  Old men and women smoking cigars relax in the shade.

Art galleries line the streets with bright, colorful paintings, radiating light from within and capturing the aliveness of the Cubanos.  Sculptors, engravers, craftspeople, photographers, artisans portray 'la vida'(life) as it comes alive.  Museums house the many artifacts weaving a story of the rich heritage that led to life in Cuba today, and what a rich mixture it is.

But above all it is the music.  Cuba is music.  Music is life.  "Musica es la vida."  Music is heard from every corner, from every cafe or bar, from behind shuttered wooden arches, drifting down from high open air balconies.  Melodies from guitars, trumpets, and conga drums drift through the labyrinth of streets.  Fiestas roar on weekend nights or anytime out in front of small casas.  Music pulsates through the very veins of these spicy hot people.  A fusion of salsa, habanera, rumba, son, guaracha, bolero, mambo, cha cha, trova, conga echoes round the clock.  Rumba is an Afro-Cuban dance that originated among plantation slaves during the 19th century.  Today in Cuba it means 'to party'.

A eclectic band of 'old soldiers', reminiscent of the "Buena Vista Social Club' plays tunes on 7 authentic 'unplugged' instruments nightly at the Europa Restaurant on Obispo Street.  It was a gift to be able to catch a glimpse of the past as the band came to life.  One old 'muppet looking' guy complete with hat would go sit down, fall asleep between their short sets and have to be awakened when it was time to sing.  Once he even nodded off standing up and with a jab of an elbow bellowed out his lyrics without missing a beat. 

One of my favorite occurrences was to have a band playing in a street side cafe.  Local people walking by would just stop and start dancing salsa or rumba, by themselves, then carry on as if nothing had happened when the song ended.  Older people who slowly shuffled by would break into dance on the narrow sidewalk like twenty year olds, smiling and remembering their glory days.  A toothless woman and her autistic adult son with jerking movements danced on the Prado, feeling beautiful and forgetting their cares during the song.   Once a young couple, on their way to dinner and dressed to the hilt, stopped right on the busy public sidewalk, danced salsa like professionals in a competition on TV, and carried on their way.  If the mood grabs you, go with it!

Walking down the 5km Malecon oceanfront promenade at sunset is a great way to get a feel of local life in Habana.  Lovers kiss, kids swim, hawkers sell snacks in front of old forts. Ending at the renovated Hotel Nacional take in the nightclub review full of kitschy, skimpily clad girls and full music reviews that hasn't changed since the 1930's here or at the famous but pricey Tropicana Nightclub.  Carmen Miranda, Nat King Cole and endless others have graced the stage with their presence.  Sit back, relax and try to get into the Cuban psyche.      

Havana, mysterious, haunting,  decrepitating, with centuries of stories to tell.  Full of cathedrals, plazas, forts, the famous 'Malecon' promenade along the ocean, street vendors, serenading bands, museums, artwork, bars where Hemingway drank mojitos or Victor Hugo lent support to the independence from Spain movement.  Hemingway moved to Havana in 1938 when he returned from the Spanish Civil War.  Ernesto wrote "The Old Man and the Sea" here between marlin fishing trips and entertaining writers and movie stars.  Macho, often ill-tempered Hemingway and wife Martha bought a home with sweeping ocean views, where he spent the rest of his days in his gregarious inebriated haze.  When treatment for a serious illness in the US failed in 1961, he shot himself with the gun set aside for that eventuality.  Strolling the streets of Habana Viejo (Old Havana) is safe.  What a gift to be able to walk around at night, not a luxury afforded in many places nowadays.  In fact most of Cuba is safe, with a low crime rate and lack of violence.  When compared to the rest of the world the lack of violence proves that something is being done right.  Our hats off to Cuba.  Dissatisfaction at the current state of affairs surges through the country but in general the people are too busy dancing, making music and having fun to get in much trouble; not to mention the severe penalties for indiscretion.  Try 10 years in a Cuban prison for smoking a joint.  Makes one think twice.  Cuba wasn't always this way.

During prohibition and following WWII Havana became a carnal Disneyland.  Sun, sex and gambling attracted northern neighbors.  Prostitution grew rampant and the age of decadence prevailed in the uptown or seedy sides of Havana.  The Mob moved in and singers like Frank Sinatra, Ginger Rogers, etc. sang at the still renowned Tropicana, with band leader Ricky Ricardo. 

Back in power in 1952, President Batista was in bed with the Mafia, as his Swiss bank account was padded.  With all the decadence and high rollers no one seemed to notice the disparity between this high life and the reality of the corruption that was taking the country down the drain.  Disgusted by what was happening the winds of change were blowing.

Revolution.  The majority of the rural population were without jobs, running water, electricity, health care or education.  A brazen young lawyer, Fidel Castro, launched a failed attack on a Army barracks in Santiago July 26th, 1953 (still the prominent day of celebration in Cuba).  Captured and jailed he delivered a 5 hour speech at his trial which struck deep into the hearts of the common Cubans.  Serving only 2 years of his 15 year sentence, during which he read the works of Karl Marx, Castro plotted his revolution.  Once released he and 80 comrades were exiled to Mexico where he met Ernesto,"Che" Guevara.  Castro then traveled to New York and Miami raising funds and gathering munitions.  In Nov. 1956 Fidel, Che and about 90 revolutionaries sailed from Mexico in the feeble yacht, 'Granma' (which now has a province named after it), tossed by rough seas for 2 days, landing 160 miles from Santiago.  A corresponding planned uprising in Santiago was squelched within a few hours by Batista's troops and when the seasick troops disembarked they were all captured, all but a dozen or so survivors including Fidel, his brother Raul and Che.  They slipped up into the Sierra Maestras Mountains, set up their rebel army camp and began their guerilla campaign.  For the next couple of years these "warriors of the common people" gathered supporters in local schools, villages and hospitals.  Needing publicity for their cause they cleverly smuggled Herbert Matthews of the New York Times into their mountain camp.  Inspired by their boisterous enthusiasm Matthews wrote about their heroic cause and they gained international support.  Batista declared Castro was dead and the newspaper retaliated with photos of Matthews and Castro smoking cigars in the Sierra Maestras.  Students rallied, a nationwide strike was declared in their support, military troops switched camps and after a 10 day siege Batista's troops surrendered to the then 50,000 strong Rebel Army.  The tide had turned.  The end of 1959 a terrified Batista fled to the Dominican Republic with a suitcase full of $300 million.  Castro drove the 650 miles from Santiago to Havana with tens of thousands cheering.  Champagne corks popped, people danced in the streets and the casinos were flooded with peasants, finally able to take a look in the lavish, formerly off limits establishments.

Che.  Who was this man idolized by revolutionaries worldwide since the 1960's?  Possibly he represents the changes we all know are necessary in this world.  Ernesto "Che" Guevara's face and striking image in his black beret and 5 point star, peers at you around the world from the covers of books, in photos, on posters and  t-shirts in tourist centers.  Born in 1928 to a left-leaning middle class family, his attacks of severe asthma inspired him to become a doctor.  After graduating from medical school in 1953 he left Buenos Aires to travel through Latin America on motorcycle, seeking the adventure his restless soul was yearning for.  After a failed attempt to organize socialist reforms in Guatemala he met Fidel Castro in Mexico in 1959.  He joined Castro's 26th of July movement commanding the guerilla attacks that led to Batista's removal.  He said many times that he knew he was on earth for a purpose, giving him absolutely no fear of death.  He was Castro's ideological advisor and closest friend.  Che was the perfect balance for Fidel's pragmatism and conservatism.  He advocated the "removal of imperialism through guerilla tactics, moral rather than material incentives and solidarity amongst the working class".  During the 1960's French philosopher Paul Satre called Che the "most complete human being of our age" and in Spain he was awarded, "Man of the Century".  He was idolized worldwide by radical youths who used his dramatic image in Washington, Paris, Asia and Middle Eastern protests.

Guevara was a brilliant intellectual who spoke French and wrote poetry.  Che traveled worldwide representing the new Cuban government.  There he met Socialist leaders and decided that it was the duty of these leading countries to help with developing or new countries wanting reform.  He spent time trying to organize a movement in the Congo but became frustrated at the lack of organization.  He became disillusioned with the Soviet's empty promises.  He returned to Cuba.  Bored with government life in the new Cuban regime, his impetuous nature and love for reckless danger led him to Bolivia after resigning his duties in Cuba (some say after a falling out with Castro).  Hiding in the malaria infested jungles with fellow insurgents his campaign to overthrow the government was doomed from the onset.  Live by the sword and die by the sword.  Once again fleeing to the mountains the now emaciated Che was captured by the CIA backed Bolivian army in 1967.  Deciding that he was too dangerous to allow to continue his quest, he was sentenced to death.  A young soldier volunteered.  Bound at hands and feet Che lay on the floor.  "You are here to kill me, I know.  You will only be killing the man."  Dead at 39.  Photos were taken as proof to the world and a bereaved Castro.  Years later his remains were moved from a mass grave and interned in Santa Clara where the eternal flame burns, proving Che and his ideals for change remain in the hearts of Cubans and the world.

An affectionate Argentinean term for friend or mate, 'Che' has become a hero through the efforts of his close friend Castro. His image was idolized in an effort to rekindle the revolutionary passion in Cuba.  His face and quotes are Everywhere!  He looks down from a 4 story high image on crowds in Revolution Square, every morning school children recite the patriotic slogan,  "Pioneers of Communism, we shall be like Che."  Women swoon at his handsome image, his face graces the walls of thousands of homes and every government building where party officials daily fall short of his ideals.  And so Che lives on in the hearts of many worldwide, in a world crying out for change.

The easiest part of any situation is to point out the faults or shortcomings.  Making changes oneself is a hurdle most don't cross.  Once the change has begun, actually improving on these problems of the past is the real challenge.  Walk the talk, something we haven't seen in the U.S. for decades. 

A progressive Castro declared tourism "gold" rather than keeping his former stance that it was "defiling the nation".  It helps with the poverty rampant on the island.  Unfortunately many women still sell themselves for a night on the town or a new pair of jeans - something that would cost a year's government wages.  Good business for Cuba tourism is only second to sugar export.  Many Cubans feel that they are living in a psychological jail, with no hope, no incentives, no freedom.  It is the government's way or no way.  Most make best of a less than good situation.  Fifty three years later Cuba hasn't lived up to the ideals of the revolution it was founded on but there have also been positive, encouraging side effects such as strong family values, well behaved children, racial tolerance, good free health care, and relaxed lifestyles rather than overworking to buy useless 'stuff'.  Vibrant music, people ready to party at a moment's notice, a lack of violence or crime and chemical-free food, there are many irrefutable aspects of Cuban life that have been lost in the West forever.  And so the challenge continues in Cuba.

And so it goes.........................................Next month more on this mysterious island lost in time.  Until then remember to live your ideals, wherever they may lead.  Just reserve the right to remain open, to change paths as life leads you.  Lack of anything that resembles internet has meant delays in sending out our new pages.  So close and yet so far.  Thanks for your patience.  As we send out our 100th monthly page we are amazed that we are still on the road.  What a journey it has been!  We are thankful for your interest in the wonderful planet we all share.  Replace fear and ignorance with knowledge and love.  We are glad you stopped by.   Thanks for keeping in touch and sharing our page! Take care!


Love, Light & Laughter, 

xoxoox  Nancy & Joseph




Travel notes:

$1.00US = 1 c.u.c or 25 peso nacional


Remember U.S. citizens need to have a valid U.S. passport to re-enter the U.S. from the Caribbean.

Immigration and customs can take a long time as lines of foreigners arrive late afternoon.  Try to avoid busy times and have all your cards filled out before stepping up to the desk.  Flights fill up fast and even pre-booking doesn't guarantee a seat.  Check-in early to avoid a delay of often 1-2 days; until the next flight flies inter-island in the Caribbean, depending on the route.

Cruises: Check on-line for end of season or last minute specials. A good way to get to see a sampling of the Caribbean (a Hawaiian term: 'pupu platter').

Weather:  High season Christmas through Easter.  Prices drop as the hurricane season (June-Dec) blows in, although family groups push the prices back up in July & August (the hottest time of year but a.c. is included).  These islands have survived many storms through the centuries and chances are you won't run into one. 

Carnival ushers in exciting times with music, dancing and parades.  Carnival celebration signal falling prices and rising temperatures.  Each town/island has a different Carnival celebration.  Havana before Easter, Trinidad in March, Camaguey the end of June and supposedly the liveliest celebration, Santiago, in July.  Check schedules ahead as it is worth experiencing for a crazy, fun couple of days.   

If you want to hang out with the locals, avoiding the tourist traps and inflated prices, convert your Euros, British Pounds or foreign currency into cucs then exchange at least $20 worth in pesos nacional for street food, fruit and vegetables in the market, arts and crafts in smaller towns.  For instance a stamp for a postcard on Obispo St in Havana sells for 85 cents.  At a post office it costs under 8 cents. (Just write, buy from the usual stamp teller, lick and stick, and drop it in the box).  The tasty street pizzas cost 40 cents or a tourist will be quoted 1 cuc or one dollar.  In fact most quotes to tourists will be a minimum of 1cuc or one dollar.  Better to bargain then give a small tip for good service but don't fall for the cuc trap. You must exchange all money before flying out - Cuban money isn't usable outside of Cuba.  The exchange rates are all similar (government set).  You must exchange all your pesos nacional before the airport (only cuc are exchanged there).

There are ATMs in the bigger centers for the above mentioned currencies.  Also it is possible to use credit cards from any country excluding the US.  US currencies has a whopping 20% surcharge so plan ahead with different currency.  Anything originating in the US is NOT accepted - such as bank cards or credit cards.

Phones in Cuba: After waiting 2 hours in a line I was told it would cost 3cuc per day for a sim card to activate my phone.  Only $180 for 2 months!  Buy international cards
and use in phone booths in Etesca offices.  Expensive ($1.50/$3.00 min) but the best option.
For calling:
first press #166,
then the card number,
then press 119-1 (area code) and your number)  Be patient then talk really fast!!  No Skype available in Cuba - which is a big setback for communication back home.  Overseas can call a landline in your Casa but they also pay $1.00/min on Skype.

Internet is available in big hotels on their machines for $6 an hour.  Wifi only at Central Park Hotel in Havana for $8-10 an hour.  No Skype and many blocked links.  Basically out of reach of most Cubans who remain in the dark and must use a weeks wages for checking their emails - don't think so.  A black market internet system is in place for $1.00/hr but still slow and for short periods of time.

Approximately 20-30 people a day will ask for pens, soap, money.  As we have said over and over giving money encourages further begging so share food, soap, little shampoos from home (none given in the Casa Particulars), etc.  Genuine friends or 'amigos' you make along the way would love a little treat.  It was told to us that the only way a person can afford the outrageous prices with low wages is to get help from abroad.  With over a million Cubans living overseas, mainly in Miami, this help keeps the economy moving. 

Transportation is easy in Cuba.  Buses go regularly for mid range prices (Havana to Trinidad 5 hours 25cuc, Havana to Santiago - 12 hours - 51cuc), including on time departures, air con, and bathrooms on the Viazul or Cubatour buses.  They always take a little longer than planned but are pretty efficient.  Cubatours leave from downtown hotels while you must take a taxi out to Viazul's outlying bus terminals.  Out of the way destinations require hiring a taxi - which when combining with other travelers ends up being cheaper at times.  Always ask if there is a cheaper car/van going to combine with locals.  Often a returning taxi will match the bus price for less.  Bargain hard and agree upfront.
Cubacan or Cuba tour buses will pick up at 4-5 locations in Old Habana, saving the $5 taxi to Viazul bus station.  Remember they are a tour and take longer but possibly more interesting. 

There are horse wagons, Astral buses and trucks hauling people around the country.  We heard that it was possible to travel on Astral buses but when trying, we weren't even allowed in the 'local' part of the station.  I guess fines can be issued if we are found on board.  By the side of the road one Astral driver said yes, the other said NO!  We hired a car to make the trip.  Our thoughts that an extra few c.u.c.s would insure an easy trip went up in steam as the radiator blew in the new car.  They just don't build them like they used to!  We had to stop 4 times, then limped into our destination the same time as the bus which left 4 hours later.  Oh well!  Locals travel on Viazul but not vice versa - worth a try though as the prices are lower.  Cubatours offer stop at tobacco farms, etc for the same price - but of course it takes much longer. 

Current info on the internet:  
US citizens to Cuba.  Possible fines for US citizens caught going to Cuba.  (Bans are easing a bit though.)
Cuba welcomes Americans with open arms.  Cubans like Americans very much - they all have a cousin in Miami!  Flying from a country other than the US, a US citizen is given a 'tourist card' by the airline.  It must be paid for in the currency of the country in which you buy it. ($25 pp.) Travel agencies will also get the card for you in advance - but no need as the airline supplies it.  All immigration transactions are carried out on the card - without marking your passport.  A free one month visa on entry.  One month extension (25 cuc p.p.) at any immigration office.  Your time in Cuba depends on your flight date out.
Required for extension:
Valid visa
Onward ticket showing when you fly out
Copy of a valid medical card (Just order a month's worth
of insurance on the internet/get an email sent to you/adjust dates if necessary/print and take with you).  Many officers don't even read English.
Go one morning to the office - go to the bank they instruct you to pay for the fee - return for the visa that afternoon.


We fell in love with Old Town.

Before or after spending an enjoyable couple of hours at the magnificent Nacional Theatre drift down the street towards Central Parque and catch on of the many talented traditional bands, complete with brass, that play at the Patio? de la Louvre.  Always a lively fun time.  Stop in the park to watch life from a shaded bench, continue through or past the Museo of Belle Arts for a walk past the "Floridita" and down Obispo.  Never know what is happening in the many, many Cafes.  When you hear music you like stop right away as their 'sets' are only 4-5 songs long and often they move on.  A place to be in the NOW!  

At the right side of the Nacional Theatre, underneath, there are shows at 4pm and 9pm in the smoky bar downstairs for $5 or cuc.  May be worth a look before paying.  Just ask to see if the band is lively enough to block out the surroundings (such as an Afro Cubana Rumba show).

Walking straight down into Old Town from the Capitol building you come to a little park on your left.  On the opposite corner is the "Auborgine? (or something) Restaurant.  Good food, friendly staff.  Always cool breezes on a hot day. 

There is a good market - without queues - if you continue down the Paseo de Prado past the Capitol - it is on your right side.  You can spot it with the flower stands out front of the blue & white building with pillars.

La Medina - middle eastern restaurant in an historic building near the Plaza de las Armas (1700's).  Don't expect belly dancing or fancy settings but a large vegetarian platter with falafels, hummus, pita, etc for $8.

Rooms in Casa Particulars:
All prices are per room, low season, with standard 2 double beds, air conditioning, fan, hot water.  Copious food served for an extra fee.  If you call ahead the owners will meet you at the bus.  Often they only have 1 or 2 rooms so check around.  It is possible to just look at the photos/prices of the hoards of owners who always meet the bus and make your decision, then follow them home.  Or have your travel partner look at one then look around to choose the best option if you are staying longer.  Or stay a night then move.  Every 'Casa Particular' owner has a 'friend' in the upcoming cities on your itinerary.  You may pay a little more for the reference and of course limit your options if you book ahead.  There are so many options, all with a symbol at their door, all at the same price so be creative. (Red symbol means locals only).  All our prices are low/shoulder season so add a bit for high season (July & August, Easter, Christmas)

Hotels are double the price with half the service.  Maintenance with no supplies rarely happens.


Old Habana:  Habana Vieja
Camere Affitco, Alquiler de Habitacion, Aguiar #110, Modern room with high ceilings plus 2 windows for air (not common in colonial houses). Quiet, clean, balcony off living room.  Roberto, Lina & family give you privacy but are very helpful if you need something.  After looking at over 20 casas in Havana this one shines for a low/medium price (20 cuc low season)  We looked only in Old Havana because we loved the old city.  Central location - 2 blocks to Malecon oceanfront, 4 blocks to Cathedral Sq., 3-4 blocks to Obispo St., Phone: #861 9908, cell: 052775129, 052456632

Apartmento Privado Yusef Cabrera
Aguiar No. 111, Right Across the Street,  5th floor Apartment 2
An updated apartment with everything you need.  Have your own place with a modern kitchen.  Walk home after a fun evening on Obispo St.  On a quiet back street and central to all the best historical sites, 2 blocks from the ocean. (30cuc for 3-4 nights).  For stays of a week or longer negotiate for a reduced rate.  Yusef, the young owner, is helpful and professional, leaving you on your own yet in contact via phone.
Phone # 05-2456386  email:

Renta de Habitaciones:  Yenny
Villegas #102, right down from Obispo and the Central Park.  After spending an enjoyable night with Yenny we can recommend their authentic colonial bedroom, 2nd floor, done in new bright colors, corner windows on 2 side streets, balcony.  All casas with windows on streets are Noisy.  Your choice.  Phone # 05 358-2539  email:

Promise yourself to hang out in Cathedral Square, soaking up the ambiance.  Old fortune telling ladies smoking cigars, music, troubadours on stilts, the grand old Cathedral.  Linger at one of the table at an outdoor cafe on the square, enjoying the music and a treat.  (the right side restaurant is exceptional if pricey.  Great service)  A must!  If vegetarian order the side dishes and build a meal for a portion of the entree.  Very nicely displayed and cooked (soup, salad, potatoes).

Around to the right side of the main restaurant building - down the alley - is a government run version of the expensive restaurant, for much less.  (Also good food) As vegans we enjoyed the roasted root vegetables and a salad in both places.  Yum!

Continue on to the other Plazas in the historic old city.  History just oozes from every pore at every turn.

Cabaret Parisien, National Hotel de Cuba
"Cubano, Cubano"  9pm nightly  A Cuban grand show mixing the cultures of Indo-American, Hispanic and Africans.  Phone # 836.35.64 ext 119.  Take a leisurely stroll along the Malecon oceanfront at sunset.  End of Prado St turn left until 23rd St. (about 3-4 km).  Left and first right up to Havana's classic Hotel on the hill overlooking the ocean.  Enjoy the gardens until the show starts.  With over 100 dancers and musicians it is a fun, Cuban kitschy  extravaganza portraying the rich mixture of cultures that has made up Cuba today.  Reserve the tickets at Infotour on Obispo or Cubacan offices at the Central Park Hotel. ($30 in advance pp or $35 at the door)

The famous Tropicana nightclub outside of Havana offers a show with over 200 dancers (and busloads of tourists) for $75-95 pp.

Playas del Este/East Beach: near Havana.  A bus will take you there for only $3 each way (from in front of the Capitol).  Watch out for pickpockets, and bag snatchers as you swim.  The same everywhere as you travel.  

Expensive seaside beach area for foreigners.  Many tourists start or end their stay here in an expensive all inclusive hotel (starting at $60).  Passing through and looking for a Casa for less we had Marta's recommended.  Only 100 meters to the beach on 53rd St.  Look around - the unofficial casas can be less than acceptable.  Official casas are inspected and approved and are good quality.


Transportation in Cuba:


















Music is Life in Cuba!


Remember Lucy and Ricky in Cuba?


A Sunday afternoon gathering of locals at the
Afro Cubano Cultural Center.


The trickster of the Rumba dances.


One of o
ur favorite bands in Old Havana.  Like the Buena Vista Social
Club these guys use instruments from the 1920's.  The man on the
left would fall asleep but with a jab from his friend's elbow wake
 up and bellow out his lines, without missing a beat!


The capitol building at the end of a typical street in
Habana Vieja.


Every restaurant has wandering musicians.  Make sure to listen
to a large band with brass instruments also.


Cathedral Square.


This woman fixed our shirt and when we asked "How much?" she
told us "This isn't a store - this is my living room!"  We all had a
 good laugh over that!  This describes the big hearts of Cubans.


Watching life from their balcony.


Fun with the kids in our neighborhood.


Life in a Cuban barbershop.


A long, lean beauty.


Central Plaza on the Paseo de Prado.


Cars of the 40's and 50's are the most readily used in Cuba.
Everything is recycled on this island, many held together
with a song and a prayer.  This was the parking lot at the
airport as locals were picking up relatives.


A historic street leading to Plaza de las Armas.


A life size bronze statue of Hemingway at his favorite place in the
Floridita Bar - home of the original mojito and daiquiri drinks.


Safe, lively streets of Old Havana at night.  Music echoes from
every corner.


Street performers, some on stilts.  Always have coins set aside
to put in the passing hat.  Performers work on tips only.


Spontaneous dancers on the street.  If the music catches you - Dance!


Inside one of the many cathedrals built in the 1700's.


A Santeria fortune teller enjoying a smoke in Cathedral Square.


Vivid colors everywhere highlight the decrepitating historic buildings.


A 1930's classic car, being used for everyday as the family's car,
 next to a boring little Russian Lada.


One of the best markets we saw in all of Cuba.  Many places had
only a small table with 3-4 vegetables.  It was common to wait
in line for 2 hours to get potatoes only available every month.


Murals covering the peeling paint.


Our local fruit vendor.


A little sweetie in the park.


Green courtyards beckon you inside.


Government approved bookstall and stores are full of
literature about Castro, Che and the Revolution.


Just another friendly family along our walk.


Beloved Che.  Posters and paintings are everywhere,
promoted by the local Party members.


Fidel himself.  We enjoyed talking to this Castro look alike on
the back streets of Havana.


Fidel is in his 80's and in poor health.  His brother Raul will probably
follow him to rule.  Will this bring an end to the silly battle between the fighting cocks from the U.S. and Cuba?


The Malecon at sunset.  A great place to observe life in Cuba.


A Spanish explorer in front of the fort guarding Havana harbor.


Freshly painted neighborhood.  Everyone would refresh their family
homes and stores if the materials and money were available, so
most go unpainted or refurbished.


A serious insect problem here!


Beautiful classic cars everywhere.






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