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Havana, Cuba
Old 02-18-2009, 08:58 PM   #1
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Havana, Cuba

I've had a few vacations in the caribbean and loved everyone of them. Over the years I have been to the Dominican Republic, Barbados and the Bahamas and enjoyed the beach and sun. I've never been to Cuba and this year I am looking into it. Havana seems intriguing. Anyone been there?
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Old 02-18-2009, 09:03 PM   #2
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yeah, but it's probably a bit different than in 1959.
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Old 02-18-2009, 09:33 PM   #3
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yeah, but it's probably a bit different than in 1959.
Not from what I"ve heard about it.
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Old 02-18-2009, 09:34 PM   #4
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Not from what I"ve heard about it.
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Old 02-18-2009, 09:43 PM   #5
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Since you are Canadian, you aren't still at Cold War with them so you don't have to worry about import restrictions and currency controls.
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Old 02-19-2009, 01:10 AM   #6
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I have an American friend from Seattle who drove to Vancouver and flew to Cuba for vacation with his wife. The Cubans won't stamp a US passport so there's no proof you were there. They had a great time and really recommended it. I'd definitely go as soon as you can because once it eventually opens up to the U.S., it'll lose it's flavor fast.
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Old 02-19-2009, 08:08 AM   #7
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Cuba is a wonderful place. It's rightly viewed as the safest country in Latin America. (It's also sometimes referred to as in the Caribbean...maybe both? I'm not sure about this distinction.) I may or may not have flown to La Habana on Cubana Airlines via Toronto in 2001. If I had, it would have been unlicensed and therefore illegal. In my fevered Cuban dream, the flight down was on a newer Airbus, and the exciting return was in a rickety old Soviet Aeroflot! As a child of the cold war, I was delighted.

Cuba is a mix of beautiful Spanish architecture and Soviet concrete. Havana needs a paint job. The vibe of the place is unmatched. My memories, or dreams, are of friendly, handsome people hanging around with nothing much to do. Imagine if you can a country with almost no economy. Very cool Socialist billboards. Lovely crumbling baseball stadiums. Shortages everywhere. Restaurants with nearly nothing on the menu board that day, because almost nothing was available for them to prepare that day. And a resilient people that carry on in spite of it all.

On the issue of personal safety, I recall a blackout that put out the lights across a huge swath of Havana. My friend and I walked the darkened streets well past midnight, no problems or concerns. Petty theft is really the only problem, and that's encountered anywhere in the world. The police have a hands-off policy towards travelers. I approached three officers in Havana's el Centro to ask directions, and they seemed nervous about even being seen talking to foreigners.

Pinar del Rio province, west of Havana, is really gorgeous. We rented a car and hit the countryside for about six days. Also, driving in Havana was really easy. Wide boulevards, and probably about 10% or less of the number of cars that you would find in a corresponding American city of two million, because the country is so poor. And yes, the old cars are cool, but I especially enjoyed the Soviet Ladas. I saw them in East Germany in 1989 as well. They're very cute, parked on the side of the road with the hood raised.

I continue to follow events in Cuba closely, because the place is pretty dear to my heart. (That seems to be a theme for me after traveling to a country. I even have a bit of nostalgia for nasty ol' East Germany!) Everything in Cuba is constantly shifting around in a slow-dance sort of way. They were doing well under the wing of Hugo Chavez, but today's oil prices seem to be pulling out that rug from beneath them. Fidel's death is probably near. Brother Raul will likely continue similar policies, for awhile anyway. On a final note, I found a lot of support for the regime and the revolution amongst ordinary Cubanos. Seems a huge percentage of the malcontents had already left for Miami.

Wait, what am I saying? I've never even been there! Any idiot knows that American travel to Cuba is against the law. Must have dreamt it...

Tom
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Old 02-19-2009, 09:17 AM   #8
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Thanks for all the responses especially Tom for sharing his "dream"! I'm booked and I go in two weeks. I'll write a review on this thread when I get back!
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Old 02-19-2009, 10:07 AM   #9
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Not to put a damper on your trip, I hope you have a great one, but as far as the safety of Cuba: No doubt it's safe.

Any country of a little over 10 million population who would kill off over 100,000 political opponents, emprison another 100,000, make hundreds of thousands flee, and keep their population living in the 1950s under fear of external invasion would be pretty safe.

This is not to excuse the mafia society before Castro, but what a heck of a price to pay for relative safety.
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Old 02-19-2009, 10:30 AM   #10
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I'd love to go to Cuba, too, for many reasons. I think the best way to bring political change there is to open up the doors. Think Nixon and China.
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Old 02-19-2009, 11:20 AM   #11
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Frugality,

Your moniker is quite funny.

How nice that you're going. I too hope to return soon. Oh, I keep forgetting, I've never been there, what was I thinking? Do you have other destinations besides La Habana? I'd love to hear your itinerary, and look forward to your trip report. You can even catch some baseball! The season ends, I think, in May or maybe June. The Cubanos are rabid fans. How do you say...pase un bien viaje. Sorry, that's probably not right...

Tom
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Old 02-19-2009, 11:36 AM   #12
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Thanks Tom. I booked into a beachfront hotel, a half hour east of Old Havana. I have been researching things on the internet. Apparently the Cubans have just recently started a "hop-on hop-off" bus that has a stop at our hotel, so we will be using it each day to visit the city (It is only 6 CUC, less than 10 dollars I think). I wanted to book an historic hotel in the Old Havana area like Ambos Mundos, the hotel where Hemingway lived, but they often don't have pools (at least not the ones within my budget). I will visit all the areas the hop-on-hop off bus takes me!
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Old 02-19-2009, 08:13 PM   #13
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The Obama Mystique in Cuba - US News and World Report
I think the embargo will end soon.
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Old 02-19-2009, 08:22 PM   #14
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Tom, nice dream! Most have been all the imaginary cigar smoke that made the dream so vivid. When I was in Canada, my classmates told me about the no-stamp rule, but I wasn't crazy or intrigued enough to fly from Montreal to Havana just to see. The only thing that would intrigue me to go is what I saw in Miami Vice. If people really spent hours dancing outside to live music, then I'd want to be there just to soak up the atmosphere.
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Old 02-20-2009, 12:37 AM   #15
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Tom, nice dream! Most have been all the imaginary cigar smoke that made the dream so vivid. When I was in Canada, my classmates told me about the no-stamp rule, but I wasn't crazy or intrigued enough to fly from Montreal to Havana just to see. The only thing that would intrigue me to go is what I saw in Miami Vice. If people really spent hours dancing outside to live music, then I'd want to be there just to soak up the atmosphere.
http://www.boogalu.com/video-gallery

Just press to see the video samples.
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Old 02-26-2009, 04:46 AM   #16
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I have an American friend from Seattle who drove to Vancouver and flew to Cuba for vacation with his wife. The Cubans won't stamp a US passport so there's no proof you were there.


I had heard that too, and was therefore quite surprised and a little upset when they stamped mine. I had a very busy passport so I let it go thinking it would never be discovered, but right after 9-11 when I re-entered after a trip to Canada they carefully paged through my passport and discovered the stamp. Fortunately they didn't prosecute me for violating US Treasury regulations but I was quite concerned for a while. I have since replaced my passport.

I do know that others have not had their passports stamped while there. So it seems to depend on the whims of the immigration guy.



Back to the original posters question, I think Havana is a very very interesting place to visit. If you are a male traveling alone or with other males you will find the prostitutes to be unceasingly aggressive (for example, approaching you at your table while you're eating breakfast at a restaurant).

If you can avoid that (say if you're female or are traveling with one) it will be a fascinating place.

My biggest surprises when I was there (97) - Marlboro and Coca Cola everywhere. Not just for tourists. And the 'official' taxis were all late model Mercedes Benz' with leather interior. Really.

Speaking of taxis, every car on the road is an 'unofficial' taxi, in that if they see a foreigner walking everyone will offer a ride. We had a car filled with 8 people offer us a ride, had we accepted they would have left their passengers on the roadside, driven us wherever we wanted to go, and then returned for their passengers.

Most depressing moment - I was walking down the road and a man offered me his wife.


Bring plenty of cash if you're a US citizen because your credit cards and atm cards will not work there. (unless things have changed since 97). When I went I didn't bring enough money, fortunately one of the guys I was traveling with had a credit card from a non-US bank.


Despite all that, it is a very interesting place, and I think worth seeing soon beofre it changes completely.
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Old 02-26-2009, 08:02 PM   #17
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I see that a lot of dancing does wonders for the physique. I just came back from 1/2 class today because only me and my partner showed up, and the teacher didn't want to teach just one pair. Argh!
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Old 02-26-2009, 08:17 PM   #18
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I see that a lot of dancing does wonders for the physique.
That, and very little to eat.
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