Discovering Cuba by Sue Kuti Director of Smallgroup Travel Tour

Cuba had been on our wish list for many years but something had always interfered with our plans. With the election of President Obama and the promises of change in government policy towards Cuba, I decided to make a Smallgroup Travel Tour to Cuba a priority. Cuba did not disappoint us!

Havana

We loved its vibrancy! Havana was full of life – every corner presented music and dance. Salsa was everywhere. Old Havana is a fascinating city with amazing architecture just waiting to be restored. There was evidence that some restorations had begun but the lack of finances and materials hinder the progress. The people speak openly of their hope for the future when the USA will lift the embargo. The Cuban people are friendly and welcoming. Although poor, they seem happy. Their lives are simple. We soon learnt that to enjoy Cuba, you had to accept the locals’ philosophy – make do with what you have. So we asked “what is a Cuban breakfast?” the answer – whatever we have!

We spent 4 wonderful nights in Havana walking Old Havana and absorbing its vibe. At night, we found lots of bars and music. We had been warned not to expect a culinary experience but to our surprise, we found that the cuisine was varied and if you knew where to go, you could get some extraordinary meals. We were soon to learn about the many different faces of Cuba. Even in a socialist country there are those who are more equal than others. One of our amazing meals was at a Palader – a local family that has a licence to serve dinner to about 12 people. We discovered the meaning of a “Cuban 12”. It is whatever you can get away with.

Touring Modern Havana in Vintage American Cars is a great treat. These cars are everywhere but although ours were in pristine condition, it is not unusual to see a group of Cubans under a bonnet devising a way of repairing the car till the next break down. Cubans are ingenious at making do with what they have. Buses were made up of old and new – all put together and as long as it works - that is fine! We tried the local transport across the harbour in an old boat to see Casa Blanca and the fort with a large statue of Jesus – not quite Rio but still a great view!

Vinales Valley/ Las Terrazas

We left Havana to drive to the Vinales Valley and Las Terrazas where we visited a tobacco farm. The valley was a green contrast to Havana. It was wonderful to enjoy the cool green valley. After our brief visit, we made our way to another highlight of our trip - Trinidad De Cuba. Here, we were once again to learn that we needed to be flexible. We were all looking forward to our stay at a Casa Particular ( Homestay) but due to the local shortage of water, we were advised to stay at the Iberostar Grand Hotel where we were given magnificent rooms overlooking the local square. Apart from the luxury, we were to find that this was a great location to either watch or join in on the May Day celebrations – a big event in a socialist country!

In Trinidad De Cuba, Salsa comes to life! We spent several nights at Casa de Musica where tourists and locals dance. I am sure we provided the entertainment for the locals as we attempted the steps that we were shown in our Salsa lesson in Havana.

Veradero

Our last stop before returning to Havana was Veradero, a wonderful beach resort. We couldn’t resist the warm, clear turquoise waters and the all inclusive rate provided us with unlimited drinks! We lost count of the Pina Coladas and cervezas ( beer)! Everything was perfect - food, drink and sea! How decadent we must have seemed to the local Cubans!

Finally, we returned to Havana for what we thought were our last two nights but the Swine Flu had caused panic and the Cuban government placed an embargo on flights to and from Mexico. By the time we were due to leave, there were no flights. We enjoyed an extra night in Havana and used this to visit the cigar factory and the Rum museum. We sampled the rum there and then, but bought the cigars to sample back in Sydney. We had our farewell coffee at the Café de Cuba in Old Havana. The best coffee in Cuba !

We finally boarded our plane out of Havana to Los Angeles via Panama, an overdue but sad farewell to a wonderful country. I hope that I will return to see the rest of Cuba and its wonderful people.

Sue Kuti is the owner of Smallgroup Travel. Sue is an experienced Travel Manager who is passionate about travel. Over the past few years she has organized small group tours to many exciting destinations. She was recently the winner of the Travel Weekly Best Consultant South America 2009. Sue runs small group tours to Vietnam, China, Southern Africa, Japan and of course Latin and South America.

www.smallgrouptravel.com.au





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