Monday, 29 May 2017

15 Things to know about Cuba before you go

How do I look?
  Here are a few things I learned while I was in Cuba. I hope they will be helpful if you are planning a trip to there. They are in no particular order.

* Cuba is an extremely poor country so make sure you tip people if you take their photo or for any service.  This is how many people make their living and even a small tip can make a huge difference when your monthly pay is just $25US

* Take small gifts to give away, especially soaps and shampoos.  This is what we were asked for most of all. Also take clean, tidy used clothes to give away.  They will be treasured and shared out among family or village members.

* Don't eat beef, it is rare and expensive and often really unpleasant.  I made the mistake of ordering beef on one occasion and it was as tough as the sole of a shoe.  On the other hand, chicken, pork and crayfish or lobster are freely available. Note: Cattle are precious in Cuba because they are needed to work.  Cubans receive a longer jail term for killing a cow than for killing a person. 

*  Don't expect milk or cheese in Cuba.  Milk supply is extremely limited and, by law, only available to children, the ill and the elderly.  You will annoy and/or embarrass if you ask for it.
Cattle are precious  farm workers
* Take all your required medicine with you.  Because of the cost of mainstream drugs Cubans rely mostly on alternative medicines.  You will find it extremely difficult to buy western medicines and if you can find them they are very expensive.  Despite this, or, who knows, because of this, Cubans have an average lifespan of 82...not bad.

Cuban tourist bus
* Tourist bus services are good in Cuba.  The government owned companies travel to most tourist destinations in comfortable air conditioned coaches although it is a good idea to book ahead.  Hire cars are expensive and dearer than taxis in most instances.  Trains are slow and old and have extremely poor toilet facilities. Once out of the big cities and towns most locals use a horse and cart.

* Cubans are reluctant to discuss politics.  They may not agree with their government but do not want to be critical for obvious reasons. It is better to stay off the subject.

*  Casa Particulares, what we in New Zealand call a Home Stay, are the best bet for accommodation.  They are spotlessly clean, offer fantastic hospitality and immerse you in a true Cuban experience.
Casa Particulares in Vinales
* Canadian dollars or Euros are the easiest currencies to convert. US dollars are harder to change. Credit cards are not widely accepted. Make sure you carry small notes as many businesses and services do not carry enough cash to give change for larger notes.  Cuba has two currencies, the CUC$ which is the currency all tourists use, and the peso.  The peso is mainly used by small traders such as fruit stall holders etc although they will also accept CUC.    I had no need of peso while I was in Cuba.  

* Internet services are poor and unreliable in Cuba but you can buy an internet card which will give you a limited amount of computing time.  Large hotels and some city squares are the best places to connect.  Cubans are very rarely seen on either the internet or cell phones.  Apart from the fact that the service is poor, our guide told us he much preferred to communicate with people face to face, it is the Cuban way.

Let's dance - any place, any time
* The Cubans love music and dance and are very tactile and sexy.   They have an enormous joie de vivre and are happy to dance with anyone just to dance.  It doesn't always mean what you may think it means so enjoy the experience while maintaining a street wise awareness. I assure you, you will have a wonderful time.

 * Only drink bottled water and be wary of ice in your drinks. Oh, and rum is very, very cheap.

 * Always carry toilet paper and anti septic hand wash. Be aware that toilet paper is not flushed in Cuba but placed in a bin alongside the toilet.  Do not flush it or you will clog the primitive sewerage system and make life difficult for the locals.  Toilet paper is not usually provided.

 * Cuba's infrastructure is crumbling in many instances so don't expect things to always be in working order, be patient, be accepting and realise you are there for just a short time but this is what the locals live with daily.

* The Cubans are fantastic people, get to know them, to enjoy them and throw yourself into the whole experience of Cuba, you won't regret it. 

  I loved this wonderful country, there was something about Cuba that really got into my soul.    If I got the chance I would love to go back and see the parts I missed and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  Any additional ideas or thoughts you may have are very welcome in the comments section at the bottom.