[Tue 11 Dec, 09:17]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
two 'turistas' in Cuba - (11 replies)

Hi I am just back from the Island and like to share my experiences with you here. There is a FAQ page of this thorntree but I forgot the link. Maybe someone knows? It is handy - keeps you from asking stupid questions about stamps etc...
We arrived in Habana, just before hurricane Michelle came along. Stayed there only two days.
From Habana to Santiago, 14 hours by train, train is ok but toilets are bad... We used rough guide and lonely planet which proofed to be a good combination - rough guide more background- LP more precise traveldetails - like what bus to take etc. Santiago was a good place to start, a place less crowded and touristic than Havana. So we got 'streetwise' there, learned to recpgnize the jiniteros, learned to ask for el Ultimo to get on the bus or buy ice cream at la Coppelia, learned how safe it was in cuba - really you do NOT have to be afraid that things get stolen, have never felt so safe. Learned how friendly people are. Santiago was full off music and dancing, the guys in the 'casas de musica', well, you'll recognize them after a while and will meet them again again; many are after 'turistas' (we were 2 girls travelling.) Don't be afraid though, you'll meet a lot a lot of really nice men too, but do not dance too close....! cubans take that as an inivtation. And, like one of them said; 'nothing much to do - so sex is important in Cuba' (and very casual) After Santiago de Cuba we went to Baracoa, where we literally and figurally felt in love and stayed for nearly two weeks. Rented our own house (15 dollar a day), (casas were everywhere between 10 and 15 dollar, except Havana, but november is low season people told us, might get more expensive.) We loved Baracoa for the people and the nature. In Baracoa life is simple and people do not hassle but are very very nice. In two weeks you feel like part off town 9it is a small town) After Baracoa we even managed to see Trinidad (tourist trap) and Vinales (beautiful, and like Baracoa, very nice people).In Vinales we spend our last days so we skipped Havana, too crowded and dirty.
Some tips: take things to give away, like pens (give them to a school) and soap, shampoo, lotion. Take some spicy herbs with you like chili and pepper. It is really hard to find HOT stuff in Cuba. Take also gifts that are nice and usefull, because you will inevitably make Cuban friends. I gave a really nice pensset,(every second Cuban is a poet) caps, glittery hairthings for kids and girls, t-shirts with prints, tops for girls (sexy ones offcourse), make-up, watches. Englsih or spanish books, magazines and papers are very much appreciated! Dictionary's english spanish might be a very good idea, my phrasebook was wanted very much! You might be able to get those very small cheap dictionaries - take them! you will regret it if you do not.
Take some photo's with you from your home, family and friends, to show your new friends.
Internet is the cheapest way to keep contact with home, 15 dollars for 5 hours with a card you buy at the casa de telefonica (passport req.) You can use dollars for pesos in a rate of 1:20, but at banks you can get better rates - didn't try it though. Mastercard and Visa are usefull in Cuba, also Thomas Cook traveller cheques(commission is high though, 4 %!). Cuba is expensive- we used 1400 dollars per person in a month and didn't do luxury things. Slept in Casas. Be prepared that you'll have to pay everything for your Cuban friends, they simply do not have the money. Live is very divided there. If Cubans pay or get the drinks it mostly works out a lot cheaper though, beer is half a dollar for them, one for you. So even in dollarplaces you'll get a different treatment... So give the money to the cubans! (it is safe, mostly, but don't give it all!!!)

Finally, I want to recommend two casas that we loved, because the family was nice and the food was great. In both casas we stayed 5 days.
Baracoa: Casa de senoras Nelia & Yaquelin (mother and daughter), Mariana Grajales no.11. Baracoa, tel. 4-2652. Right in the centre, great breakfast, lovely family with kid.
Vinales: Villa Ornelio y Ada, Calle Adela Azcuy no 46, Vinales. On the road to the la Ermite hotel. Nice family with 3 very sweet grown up and married sons that like to show you the surroundings and love to play domino with you.

Another tip; find a nice casa in every town you are and get comfortable with the people. If you do not like them - leave and find another one. Mostly the casa makes the difference between liking and not liking a place and between getting to know the town and it surroundings or just seeing the tourist things.

Well, hope you enjoy Cuba as much as we do. If you visit these casas above please say hello to them from Yolanda and Anky de Holanda....


[Tue 11 Dec, 10:12]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
1. Thanks Yolanda

For the excellent first hand travel report. Cuba is expensive and not for the budget tourist. Also I don't recommend giving your money to Cubans. They spend it like there's no tommorow.


[Tue 11 Dec, 11:55]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
2. What do you expect ?

Cubans for the most part are not used to managing sums of money that would equal pocket change in most parts of the world. It's not a knock on them, they just don't have access to the money.

However, if you want to understand frugality, stay in a Cuban household for a while! They will teach you how to stretch a dollar!!

$50 can make dreams come true for many Cubans, so try to share a little while you are there. Not to say just throw the money away, but sharing a little can change people's lives. How else will they come out of the destitute situation they are in? It certainly won't happen from within the country.


[Tue 11 Dec, 12:47]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
3. $50 can make dreams come true for Cubans

Yeah, Baby....I'm the rainmaker.
(O.K,, so it happens to be true....So what?)


[Tue 11 Dec, 14:59]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
4. Detailed Report

Thanks for the detailed travelogue. Seems to be a rarity here. I wish people would post detailed reports more often. What did you use the chili pepper for? It doesn't seem to match the cuisine very much. Actually I think La Epoca in Habana Centro has some spices, pepper, and probably chili pepper. Salt can be hard to find though, especially outside of Havana. Of course sugar is pretty easy to find.

A final note, watch the generalizations. If you had said that all Cubans are thieves, but some of them don't know it yet, I would have agreed. But poets! Perhaps you were joking. Most of them are too busy trying to convince generous turistas like yourself to give them stuff.


[Tue 11 Dec, 16:00]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
5. Gracias por su informe!

Saludos, Yola! I will be doing a similar route Havana to Santiago and either Trinidad or Baracoa. I'm leaving in 2 weeks. Send me a message if you have time, I have a few questions I'd like to ask. Glad to hear these positive reports on the Thorntree.


[Tue 11 Dec, 16:08]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
6. "Sugar is EAsy to Find??"

Do you realize Castro is so desperate he is now IMPORTING sugar into Cuba to feed his malnourished multitudes? If Castro took over Canada, and if snow was worth its weight in gold, Canada would soon run out of snow and have to import it. More hilarity from Castro's Comedy Central!


[Tue 11 Dec, 16:11]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
7. Phrasebooks

Nice one Yola. Yeah it's interesting how much the CUbans were interested in the phrasebooks. Honestly people, take about 10 with you and give them to folks you get talking to, they'll love you for it (which is weird as English is such a crappy sounding language compared to Espanol)


[Wed 12 Dec, 06:57]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
8. Miami Morons

I wish you Miami idiots would stop posting here. You've obviously never been to Cuba. The last time I was in Havana (less than a year ago), sugar was quite easy to find at at least three different stores. It was not expensive. Who cares whether it's imported or not. You writing a book?


[Wed 12 Dec, 13:11]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
9. santiago and baracoa

Hi Yola. I left Habana for Santiago by train 10 hours before Michelle, so we were there at about the same time. I would love to have you e-mail me and share some experience about the trip. Borrachito_de_Baracoa@hotmail.com


[Wed 12 Dec, 13:43]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
10. $1400/month each???

Damn...What you been buying? Other than transportation, what could possibly rack up that kind of bill?


[Thu 3 Jan, 18:06]
PST (Gumly Gumly -17)
11. baracoa

great report will be in cuba in 12 days (but who is counting?) please tell me more about a house in baracoa for $15. email to kingofcanada@canada.com thanks

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