Two weeks ago, a group of us participated in Road Scholar Cuba tour 22857, “The Best of Havana and the Countryside”. We heard lectures, had a full schedule of road trips, were entertained and met many friendly and knowledgeable Cubans. We paid $4395 for our “trip of a lifetime”, and Road Scholar (AKA Elderhostel) gets an “A” from me.
I can understand wanting the Cuban experience, but not the expense (less costly tours are available), but as you can see on the attached video, our money did buy us a week of cultural activities and interactions that we could hardly have done on our own… AND we were comfortable, traveling in a big Chinese bus and staying in tourist-friendly hotels (modern restrooms, elevators, and TVs in the room with at least one English channel). The hotel and private restaurants that served us meals were wonderfully decorated, and the food we had was lovely. Complaints? Only about the long walks and waits at the Marti and Miami airports.
Wi-Fi is available in Cuba if one purchases a card for just a few minutes of air time, so by and large, our group chose not to be “connected” and that was fine. We were forced to talk to one another and pay close attention to the information we were getting from our guides and from our special guest speakers.
Did we drink the water? No. Two bottles of water were provided for us each day on the bus. Did we need the bug spray we were advised to bring? No. We saw more birds than flies during our visit, but that may be due to the time of year. Did I have any problems with the food? I did, one night, but a bit of imodium did the trick and I was fine. Yes, we did need our own “tissue” in a couple incidences when we used facilities outside our hotel, and we also needed to learn to pee without a toilet seat, but when nature calls, that isn’t so awful.
Cuba’s buildings that are in disrepair are not adequately shown in my video, but many structures could use money and supplies. We also saw new hotels under construction and buildings being rehabbed, though I couldn’t help but think how quickly our Las Vegas contractors could have repaired some of the structures. However, even the run-down buildings seemed somehow picturesque and they may have been next to brightly colored newly painted buildings. Pay rates are low for most Cubans ($20 or $30 per month), but additional pay can be had via private enterprise, and private enterprise seemed to be everywhere (yes, even those colorful cars are privately owned taxis). I dare say our Cuban tour guide most likely received the equivalent of several months pay just in the tips she received from our group.
Cubans all have free health care and free education through the university level. All families also receive monthly coupon books for basic food such as rice, cooking oil and bread plus small quantities of eggs, beans, chicken etc. Most food is imported, but some is locally grown. The farm we visited was experiencing a drought and the farmer said he has had to change his crop mix to less water-hungry produce. He now earns much of his current income by exporting barrels of honey from his bee hives.
Regardless of where our Cuban food came from, I personally fell in love with a guava dessert that was creamy and delicious. A Cuban staple called Ropa Vieja (Old clothes) is shredded beef with vegetables and flavorings and I loved it each of the three times I ordered it!
My travel companion, Mary Morton, has now visited Cuba three times. She’s the one who suggested the Road Scholar tour and I’ll be forever grateful to her.
In Cuba, Americans are welcomed. Music is everywhere; the sun shines; colorful buildings and cars dot the landscape and ocean views are common.
Thank you to Presidents Obama and Castro for re-establishing full diplomatic relations and allowing our group to make this trip.