Prenotes: The majority of my written journal from the Cuba trip was typed word for word. There were some additions based on a few photos that were taken as pictures and prompts when there wasn’t time to write. I will be continuing to work on these entries and cleaning up the posts, predominantly in format and structure. The content is not expected to change… much. I hope anyone that was on this trip will feel free to comment and include their own information/thoughts.
There were way too many pictures taken, as always. These can be found at: www.flickr.com/santasfallenangel/sets and in the Cuba folder.
As I was finishing my work on this trip and dividing it into entries, I finally got the news about of the opening of relations between the US and Cuba. History has a way of following us into the future.
11/13/14 – Cuba Trip Day 1
Every trip has just about the same beginning. Pack, unpack, pack, unpack. What is needed? What is wanted? What will I truly need? What is the weather like? Is this too much? Is this not enough?
In a pinch I come through ok and know what I can live with. In this case the biggest concern was having enough money. With ATM and creditcard use, if I don’t have enough money on me, and I rarely have cash on me, plastic can save the day. Going to Cuba though, no dice. You can’t use your USCNA* based ATM or creditcard. I probably have too much money on me but the notion stinks that it costs extra to convert dollars to convertible pesos. With the dollar relatively stronger currently than the sterling and euro and without the extra cost to change it over, the decision was easy to take that currency with me. Pretty easy to order from the bank. It was cutting it close getting it the day before I left.
I almost hope I don’t see many souvenirs I might want to bring back. Now is just the waiting game to board my flight to Houston, then to Miami then crash for the night after a welcome tour and information. I haven’t shared a room with a stranger in a while. Not really looking forward to it but it could be a not bad experience. The regular sleepiness is setting in as I stayed up to make sure I’ll be able to make my flight. It was quite chilly this morning. It’s going to be warm in Miami and Cuba so the extra winter clothes are just taking up space now. My bags are slightly full but I have shampoo, conditioner, body wash, soap, etc. to leave behind in Cuba as I’ve read they have a harder time getting those products on the island because it costs more. The space it leaves behind I anticipate will be filled with whatever I bring back.
*United States of Central North America aka USA
Cold flight. My carry-on was gate checked which unfortunately had my light sweater in it. There wasn’t enough room under the seat in front of me for my backpack so that went overhead. I tried to sleep but the gentleman across the aisle needed help first getting his Wi-Fi working which there wasn’t on the flight. He kept showing me pictures of trips and his granddaughter. Most of the time my eyes were closed when he started talking. I’ll try talking to him for little while. The few pictures I did see were nice.
In the airport, basic terminal hopping to my gate, but on the way it’s starting to sink in that I’m headed to Cuba. I think it’s been about 50-50 from people on thoughts of this trip. Half couldn’t care less about Cuba and have no desire to go while the other half are excited to read/hear/see about the trip when I get home. I’m not expecting internet and definitely no cell phone service. I hope the camera doesn’t fail or I don’t run out of space on the memory card. I’ve been known to take a photo or two on a trip. Besides the SLR, I convinced myself to bring the point-and-shoot for videos and just in case the SLR has problems. I have plenty of batteries and the charger. I almost feel the challenge to use up the batteries and fill up the cards. Worst-case scenario I just use my phone for pictures or put its microsd card in an adapter to use in the SLR.
After the checkin to the hotel there was an information sheet from the main US group running this trip. They had a different estimated amount of money to bring. Thankfully I was able to find my bank in Miami and withdrew a little more. Mainly for arts and crafts stuff as souvenirs as well as for extra shows, events and drinks.
The anticipation continues to build up at this rare opportunity I will be embarking on. Also thankfully the flight is in the afternoon now instead of the morning, plenty of time to sleep in and relax. I tried the pool at the hotel since… I could. Quite chilly but it eventually warmed up. Not much space for swimming though and sadly no jacuzzi.
I spent a bunch of time filling out paperwork and learning about the program, how it was established and how it is growing as a program. Maybe a future decrease of the embargo due to politics but also a chance these people to people trips might also change. Now off to get a drink and FOOD. I’m hungry.
Slept decently. Roommate snores at times but I’ve lived with it before. He seems decent which is good since he’s my roommate for the entire trip. We aren’t leaving this morning. The charter flight was changed to this afternoon. The buffet breakfast was not bad. The eggs weren’t runny and were fluffy. Low expectations help. We have a talk this morning then lunch across the street.
This talk was from Annie on Cuban-US relations and history. She was a previous US legislator and was born in Cuba.
Notes from the talk:
-Cuba is the size of Florida with a population of 11 million. The average age of the population is increasing as people get older, the birth rate decreases and young people are leaving.
-back in the 40’s and 50’s travel was easy. You could take a ferry from Havana to Key West with your car and then drive around from there.
-Jan 1959 Dictator Batista was overthrown by Fidel Castro in a coup d’état.
-’59-’60 private property was lost, nuns/priests and the catholic church was gone
-April ’61 The bay of pigs, which had been concocted by Eisenhower, was attempted and failed, possibly because President Kennedy chose not to use air strikes to win. Some Cubans in the US went to fight. They were killed or captured and classified as traitors.
-Eventually the prisoners were exchanged for $54 million in food and medicine. Those Cubans that fought and were returned were given free education in the US like the GI bill.
-With strained US-Cuba relations, Cuba opened up relations with the Soviet Union.
-ABMs (anti-ballistic missiles) were installed by the Soviet Union.
-There was an eventual mutual disarmament between the US and the Soviet Union to the unhappiness of Fidel Castro. The Soviet Union took their missiles out with the US removing their missiles from Turkey (pointing at the Soviet Union).
-1967 The Cuban adjustment act: allowed for Cubans fearing persecution that could come to the US would/could apply for citizenship after one year and one day after being in the US and didn’t get into trouble.
-April/May 1980: Close to 10,000 Cubans broke through the gate of the Peruvian embassy to apply for asylum
-Summer ’80 Fidel announced it was ok for people to leave from the port of Madrid. People left from Cuba as well as people bringing boats from the states to Cuba. Close to 125,000 people are estimated to have embarked in 4 months to Key West, including people Fidel released from the jails and mental institutions that he sent on the boats. *reference to Scarface made*. The US government wasn’t prepared and most people coming in were not processed. The present Cuban-Americans didn’t like the new Cubans coming in. It disrupted their power structure. Once the feds were involved those Cubans processed were sent to different places.
-because of concerns about Kennedy’s (D) failure of the bay of pigs and Carter (D) [what did he do?], many Cuban-Americans after getting citizenship chose to join the republican party.
-The embargo was codified in 1996 *(1992 from a different website with 1996 being another act from congress strengthening the embargo)* specifying restrictions and things that would need to be changed/present before an act of congress could lift the embargo.
Lunch at the Cuban restaurant wasn’t bad. I had a good veggie sandwich and a fresh yummy churro for dessert. Then we headed back to the hotel for the shuttle. Things were smooth at the airport. We waited for someone to check our passports before we could check in. Then we checked in. Pretty simple.
There were lots of Cubans/Cuban-Americans with lots and lots of electronics and other packages to take to Cuba as it’s cheaper to buy in the US and pay the customs tax in Cuba rather than buying in Cuba. We were able to board right after 1st class. Bonus that I was in the emergency exit seating for the legroom. Being vertically challenged wasn’t a problem this time. It wasn’t really needed, though it was appreciated, as the flight was only an hour long.
Landed in Cuba. Surreal.
I’m in a place lost in the history of most Americans. A country I’ve been told that is locked in a time capsule. I understand some of the embargo from the US but the rest of the world? Why is it still in a time capsule other than the leaderships’ choices or is it the only reason? The people coming back were bringing so many things into the country as well as the ability to send back money in unrestricted amounts. It seems the US businesses are hurt more by the embargo than Cuba but my understanding is probably lacking.
Getting ready to turn in. I was feeling awake and revved up to go out and at least walk but now that I’m sitting in the dark writing I can feel the fatigue setting in. Tomorrow will be true day 1 in Cuba. Exchanged some euros for convertible pesos. *(tourists use convertible pesos and the locals use Cuban pesos. 1 convertible is equal to 25 Cuban)*. Wonder if it will be enough. Was told by Daniel that we won’t be able to exchange dollars when we are about but people/locals others talked to tonight said we could. We’ll see tomorrow.
Earlier we had some food. Good enough and fresh to hold me down. Fast friendship with Ebru. She’s traveling with a friend from the states. Ebru is from Turkey and is a tour guide there. Her family is over there. I wonder if they like to travel. If not, I hope her son develops a taste for it.
I also learned from the cuban tour guide, Ramiro, that it was announced recently that the country will be moving to a single currency. I hope to pick up some local currency to take home as souvenirs. Wish I still had some francs before the euros. Pretty money and one had the petit prince on it. Oh well. Devices are charging and I’m ready for snapping a lot of pictures tomorrow at the botanical gardens.