I got back from Cuba just in time to read the Sunday headline in the Times Herald-Record: “Now that Cuba is open, Americans aren’t going.”
I think I know why, and why you should buck the trend.
If you want to visit, you have to have a reason.
Nobody asks why you want to go to Russia or China. But for Cuba, you have to be on some sort of mission, not necessarily the religious kind, but that’s included in the list of allowable activities.
You need to pay $100 for a visa, which is less than it costs to get into Russia or Brazil. And it’s not hard to get one. Show up at the airline counter in Miami with your credit card, and the stamped document is yours.
When you get to Cuba, you can’t use your cellphone. Worse yet, you can’t use your credit card or ATM card.
The embargo that has been in effect for half a century still applies to United States banks, so you have to bring cash and change it for Cuban currency when you get there.
Any people who are wary of foreign travel to begin with are going to be even more reluctant to visit someplace that requires all these accommodations.
But if you have any curiosity about Cuba, don’t let these obstacles get in the way. Cuba is friendly and fascinating.
I’m not a car guy, but even I was overwhelmed by the display of classic American cars.
How many are there? Imagine as many old cars as you can, then double it.
They still use horses, lots of them, for transportation, and oxen to plow the fields.
The revolution is alive and visible. You’ll see patriotic slogans and pictures of Fidel Castro all over.
Among the most fascinating experiences was a visit to the Che Guevara Memorial in Santa Clara.
Military guards man the doors to keep you from bringing in a camera, bag, hat or anything else. It was more restrictive than the Sistine Chapel.
You find references to Che where you least expect them.
We visited a cigar factory in Havana, a place where hundreds of workers rolled 25,000 cigars by hand each day.
Our guide showed us the chart with all of the varieties and brands and made sure to tell us that Montecristo No. 4 was Che’s favorite.
Although you can visit on your own, it can be hard to make the kinds of reservations we take for granted, because the Cuban infrastructure, especially anything do do with the internet, is way behind the rest of the world.
A tour group provides a smoother experience, and there are many from which to choose.
A tour also is likely to get you off the beaten path, into smaller villages and into some Havana neighborhoods where you can meet people with insights that go beyond the guidebooks.
We spent part of one morning in Hamel Alley, a center for art and music and Santeria, the Afro-Caribbean religion.
Elias Asef, who presides over that Havana neighborhood, explained a bit about what we had seen and what we were about to see, ending with this piece of advice: “Enjoy my country. Just don’t try to understand it.”
But if you don’t go, you can’t even enjoy it.
recordonline.com, February 20, 2017