Holiday booked. Negotiations not that complex this time, just four of us going and all fairly laid back. The complications largely involved finding somewhere Central America-ish that didn’t require flying for 20 hours, transferring onto a mule train and then scaling the side of a mountain to get to. We’ve only got a week off – otherwise would definitely get on the mule train.

Was that a song by the O’Jays?

Anyway, its very exciting. Looking forward to Mojitos, Castro… everything. I don’t really know what to expect – imagine some of the more ‘developing nation’** aspects will remind me of some of the crappier bits of Malaysia, so there’ll be some familiarity. But culturally I suspect it’ll be very, very unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before and I’m v. excited as a consequence.

What should I do when I’m out there other than:

    1) Say ‘hi’ to the Castros
    2) Drink lots of rum
    3) Smoke some cigars

Suggestions in the comments if you know anything about it, please, and will be greatly appreciated. I may even bring back gifts for people who tell me of interesting things to do out there.

** is that the PC thing to say? I don’t know anymore.

2 thoughts on “Cubacuba”

  1. Have fun! Although it’s five years since I was there, I’ll drop you some tips that may or may not be useful…

    Learn to (quickly) deal with the local jiniteros (hustlers) who will try to sell you anything and everything, with a friendly persistence that will drive you mad if you’re not careful. They have a sales patter, you’ll need to learn a friendly rejection patter.

    Bone up on your Beatles and John Lennon since every Cuban’s first reply back to you once they find out you’re from England will be a reference to either. They all have a mate in Liverpool, too.

    Learn to like fried chicken, chips, black beans and rice since (unless you’re dining at the really expensive touristy places) that will be your diet for the whole trip.

    Avoid local buses and trains at all costs – get cabs.

    Go to Chinatown for a laugh but don’t expect to eat any remotely Chinese food there.

    My favourite club was La Zorra y el Cuervo – the jazz there was just great. Plus it’s where the US diplomats in Havana go drinking.

    Cristal is the near-ubiquitous beer over there, though I preferred Buccanero.

    Chill out and forget the rest of the world exists – Cuba has that slight other-world quality about it, an isolated snapshot of another reality.

  2. Chris’ tips are pretty much on the money: you WILL get annoyed by the hustlers, and your responses will become almost robotic in the end. I found myself saying no before they’d even opened their mouth.

    Beans and rice come with everything. The food is dire overall but you’re not going there for the grub so just take it in your stride. Remember these people have to live on state-run ration cards hence their diets are very basic, and the stuff you will be eating is better than most… so don’t be ungrateful.

    Cabbies will pull the “I have no change” routine on big notes, and watch the coinage – you’ll sometimes get normal Cuban peso coins back instead of Convertible Peso coins (the proper tourist money) as they try to rip you off. The Cuban peso is virutally worthless so the people want convertible pesos to buy goods to help make their lives a little more comfortable. This means tourists are the best possible source to obtain money like this – don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe (you won’t get mugged), but that’s why you will be constantly targeted by hustlers. They just want to supplement their incomes. A couple of times I knew they were ripping me off but I felt sorry for them and let them have their extra $1. We have so much and they have so little – so why not?

    Cristal was much nicer than Buccanero though, sorry Chris.

    My tips would be to get a hotel close to the old town or in it if you can. Hotel Raquel is good – beautiful old building, clean rooms, in the heart of everything.

    My other tips are go to the chocolate shop in the old town. Regularly. The chocolate drinks are superb – hot “Aztec” chocolate that is like a cup of warm chocolate mousse, and the chocolate frijo which is the best choc milkshake you’ll ever have. Served with golden syrup to make it even sweeter. The service is terrible (get used to that, btw – Cubans don’t have a capitalist economy service ethos… they know they will get paid so why make an effort?) but it is worth it.

    Other tip is the Tropicana show – yes, frightfully expensive, and a little bit naff on occasion, but overall it is amazing. Plus you get a bottle of rum and a cigar on entry (bring extra cola!!) ;-)

    But overall be prepared for a completely different experience. And go with the flow!

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