Tag Archives: Cuba

Cuba Visit | Part 6 Final Impressions

by Jim and Melanie

We’re going to wrap up our trip with a few thoughts and favorite photos from each of us.

From Melanie:

Often I suggest going somewhere — “We should go to Portugal!” “We should go to Turkey!” Even imagine much less exotic locales — “we should go to Missouri!” Agreeing we should is easy, but scheduling it into our lives is harder. Imagine my surprise when I came out of the copy shop in February to hear Jim say, “We should go to Cuba!”

He’d been listening to our local jazz station, KCCK, on the car radio. They had a group tour to Cuba scheduled for October. Given all the political changes between the two countries, we knew this would be a prime time to go, so we said “Yes!”

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Cuba Visit | Part 5 Viñales Valley

by Jim and Melanie*

[*Melanie’s note: I was drowsy all that day and slept on the bus a good chunk of the time we were on it. Most of these observations are Jim’s.]

The final full day of our Cuba visit involved a bus trip more than 2.5 hours west of Havana to a national park called Viñales Valley. The highway was similar to other modern four-lane expressways. We stopped part way at a nice rest area complete with palm trees and a coffee-snack bar. As in other locations in Cuba, random dogs seemed to wander around.

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Cuba Visit | Part 4 Daily Life

by Jim and Melanie

If all we showed you were tourist sites, you would miss some of the most interesting parts of our trip. Below we give some impressions of the food and housing, utilities, transportation, and employment we saw. Needless to say, we are not experts and it’s possible we got some things wrong. However, this is our understanding as best we can convey. If you would like to know more, an interesting source of information and data is available from The World Factbook of the CIA.


As tourists, we ate very well in Cuba. Our hotel’s European-style breakfast buffet included a vast array of breads and pastries, fruits, sausages and other meats, potatoes and eggs. Lunches and dinners were at government-owned or privately-owned restaurants. Though we had rice and beans at several meals, meat was always on the menu. Our first dinner in Cuba included roasted chicken, while others featured pork, beef, and seafood.

Typical Cubans, however, have a more constrained diet. The cost of living exceeds official wages. To help offset that, the government issues coupon rationing books to each household, to provide subsidized staple foods. The rations differ depending on the age and health status of the household members, and they vary somewhat depending on supplies available. For example, each month the rationing booklets allow each healthy adult a total of 5 pounds of rice, 5 pounds of sugar, 1 pound of chicken, and 5 eggs, as well as a few other items. The items must be purchased at the citizen’s assigned market, based on their registered address.



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Cuba Visit | Part 3 National Pride

by Jim and Melanie

2015_1022Cuba_19So much imagery we experience of Cuba stems from immigrants washing up on the shores of Florida on rafts or tiny boats. The Mariel boatlifts of 1980 and other stories of refugees can make us think everyone is trying to escape the small island. On the contrary, Cubans are incredibly proud of their country as it is, as well as its past and burgeoning future.

Their literacy rate and education system, and high-quality free healthcare, stem directly from the revolution of the 1950s. But we found some points of pride that cross a longer history. There is a sweet and odd fixation on Ernest Hemingway and the decades of his prominence there. Baseball, the national sport, holds fascination for most. Below we share a few pictures and thoughts on these areas of national pride.
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Cuba Visit | Part 2 Architecture

by Jim and Melanie

As mentioned in our Cuba Visit | Part 1, the architecture of Cuba captured our attention. We were told that about 12% of existing buildings are from the colonial era of Cuba, from 1515 to 1898. Eighty percent is from that point of independence until the revolution, in 1959. And about 8% has been built since then, mostly with Soviet influence and help.

When we left the airport on entering the country we soon saw the effect of the last 8%. On one side of the highway, ugly concrete apartment buildings rose up in groups. Though still used, they looked damaged and abandoned. (The worst of the Soviet buildings, though, is the Russian Embassy. The link is for the googled images of it and in fact, it’s worse in person than in the photos.)

On our second day we went to the Presidential Palace, now used as the Museum of the Revolution. It was built in 1920, though it shows neo-classical styling rather than art deco. Some of the decorations were provided by Tiffany & Co. Much of the building has been renovated, and work is being done now on the back of the building and also on the high front windows. You may be able to see the scaffolding above the front entry.


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Cuba Visit | Part 1 Arrival

by Jim and Melanie

We were in Cuba for five days of visits with people and for sight-seeing. Each day required up to 8 hours of supervised travel as a group. Some time was free and we could take a taxi and travel around the city freely. Four of the days were in Havana. The fifth day was spent about 2.5 hours west of Havana in a rural area called Vinales Valley. It is a UNESCO heritage site including a broad fertile valley and limestone mountains to the north shown in this map view. (We’ll show you pictures of that visit in another post.)

The evening before departing for Havana, our entire group gathered in a hotel near the Miami airport. The meeting was led by a representative of Chambers Explorations in order to distribute the necessary documents, fill them out properly, and enter the country with no problems or issues. We gathered our passports, visas, and declarations sheet with all the correct check boxes marked. We received instructions about money exchanges. We were told what to expect in the Miami and Havana airports. Above all, we were told to be flexible and expect things to be complicated. That was good advice. The next morning, processing through security went as expected. We boarded the Boeing 737 for our short flight of barely more than an hour to Havana.


Arrival in Havana

Upon arrival, our plane taxied past a terminal that looked relatively modern. We wondered why we didn’t pull up to it. Instead, the plane parked on the tarmac out in the open near an old and small terminal building. A set of stairs was driven to the plane so passengers could exit.


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Cuba Visit | Links to Parts 1-6

by Jim and Melanie

ComplicatedBetween 21-26 October 2015, we were in Cuba under the auspices of People-to-People. Local jazz stations KCCK and WVIK organized the trip with the assistance of a travel agency.

Much happened during those few days. Our impressions and photographs of the beautiful people and things we experienced are described in the six posts linked below.

One thing is certain, Cuba is complicated as reflected by this typical utility pole in a Havana neighborhood. We have tried to make the experience more meaningful by breaking up the posts into themes instead of a day-by-day sequence of events. We hope this is helpful.


Part 1 | Arrival

Part 2| Architecture

Part 3 | National Pride

Part 4 | Daily Life

Part 5 | Viñales Valley

Part 6 | Final Impressions