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Kees Terberg | profile | all galleries >> Portraits: everyone is beautiful >> Havana, Cuba: Where Time Stood Still >> Salsa & Socialism tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Salsa & Socialism

This is my journal and does not feature pictures. My photos should tell you more than this journal but if you want to read about a trip to Cuba... you might be better off to copy and paste it into a Word document, or just save the web page and read it at your own pace as this is quite a long ehhh read. For the pictures that accompany the journal, click on either of these two links: Portraits & Street Scenes

When on 1 July 2005 the managing director of my last firm handed me a big fat cheque and a thank you for all the great work I had done for him, with him and without any doubt, the great asset that I would be for my future employer, I headed for the nearest travel agent and asked them to book us (Flo and me) on a two week holiday away from the rock (Jersey CI). The budget was pretty much unlimited which made this a fantastic opportunity. The agent named various destinations and we managed to narrow it down to either the Maldives or the Dominican Republic. One week Maldives sounded great but I could already see myself die of boredom in the second week. I chose the Dominican Republic. This was at 15:00 in the afternoon but I had to wait with confirming that with Flo first. No chance that I would decide something like this on my own. Without her approval of the hotel facilities I could already see myself in the dog house. At 16:00 I had my 2nd interview with a potential new employer who appeared to be keen to take me on after my 2 week scheduled break. When at 17:00 Flo joined me back at the travel agent, the option on the holiday to the Dominican Republic had lapsed. The flights were no longer available on the short notice dates given. Instead, a far cheaper destination appeared to be available: 2 weeks Havana, Cuba, all flights, accommodation and transfers included. The only downside was that this was an entirely Cuban Government operated tour from the flights with Cubanair to the Cubanacan hotel…. and we would be leaving in about 12 hour’s time… No problem we said once we found out that visa’s could be arranged at Gatwick Airport. This gave us enough time to pack our bags, inform our friends and family and have a good night sleep… before the red-eye to Gatwick from Jersey International Airport (duhh).

Socialism and salsa, cigars and rum, classic cars and all that in a tropical climate. Great Spanish colonial architecture and American Grandeur…Cuba… yep, the biggest of all the Caribbean islands where time seems to have stopped since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. We were heading there...

You could have told me anything three weeks ago as the only thing I knew about the place was that it was a photographers Mecca. This was a hypothesis which I based on the great work that many photographers returned with…. and all with a similar style. Great modern day classic shots of beautiful American cars in back alleys, Spanish and American colonial architecture, fabulous characters portrayed with the marks of hardship but with fire and love in their eyes. Great medium format monochrome prints, vibrant colour shots and fabulous slides that all captured a different world, a different life, a different time zone… and all appeared to have been taken in this far away island. I could not wait.

The flight from Jersey to Gatwick went smooth but I wonder if civilisation ceased when Gatwick was constructed. This has to be one of the worlds most hectic, chaotic and least organized airports in the world and as such… we had a nightmare finding the counter where we were to pick up our flight tickets to Havana and our visa’s. After cueing in the wrong cues for a while we were finally pointed in the right direction by the people ahead of us in the wrong cue… but with the same destination. After cueing, cueing and some more cueing and eventually cueing in the right cue, we laid hands on our documents.

Hey, just for fun… there were two people checking in an entire flight… a full 747-400 and luggage restrictions were very tight. We had at least 4 hours to spare but the cue moved very slowly….and it was very very long. When I went to have a quick look at the front of the cue; I wanted to make sure that we were in the right one, I could see a photographer, with make-up artist, assistant and models battle with the luggage restrictions. 23kg Hold luggage and 5kg hand luggage max! My hold luggage weighed 20kg but my camera bag fully loaded exceeded 15… just imagine me panicking. The photographer was to unload his bag till it weighed 5kg. The same went for the make-up artist where the case without any contents appeared to weigh more than the allowed 5kg. The excess weight was placed in a black bin liner and sealed with tape and a sticker stating “FRAGILE” and checked into the hold section at apparently quite a high cost. I must have looked like a ghost when I returned back in the cue. A gentleman in the cue ahead of us game me a smile and handed me 3 “Duty Free” plastic carrier bags and told me to just temporarily place my heaviest items in those. He had done it before and believe it or not, by the time we checked in our luggage almost 3 hours later; my “cabin luggage” camera bag weighed just over 4 kg. The Duty Free was not weighed. Photographers: make a list of all your equipment with registration numbers at home and add several copies to your travel documents and your passport. That will avoid the guy at the check-in counter to write in all the details in your passport. I had this list for my insurance but thankfully did not need it. Re-packing my checked “cabin luggage” camera bag took me a few minutes but we were on our way….almost…with a few hours delay….as the inbound flight had not yet arrived at Gatwick. Having left home just before 06:00 in the morning… it was a great feeling when we finally boarded the plane at 18:00… ready to take off to Havana, in a brand new Islandic Airways 747-400, rather than the anticipated Cubanair jet. A quite unexpected delight. The flight was reasonably comfortable for cattle class transportation but the service was good, the multilingual movies were inspiring and the journey itself was a very smooth ride... Just in case you were wondering: Dodgeball in Islandic is guite a treat...

We actually stopped in Holguin first where the plane refuelled and waited out a tropical storm… for another 3 hours. By the time we reached Havana… more cues; first at the immigration desk, then at the security counter and then waiting for the luggage. It was late in the evening and dark but the heat and humidity felt like a brick wall. 120 Degrees Fahrenheit… whatever that is in degrees Celsius- I have no idea- but it was hot. Transfers to the hotel had been arranged impeccably and in the bus to the hotel we met the people we met in the cue at Gatwick again…. Destined for the same hotel… Comodoro in Miramar- 15 km west of the Cuban capital.

The huge 4 star fully air-conditioned hotel complex reminded me of my favourite hotel in Jersey: Le Chalet… derelict, old and smelling of mold… but it was alive and with all due respect, I cannot falter the impeccable service. Within an hour of arriving at the hotel we were introduced to both salsa and Mojito’s; a rum based cocktail with lemon juice, sugar, mint and soda water.

Waking up in the Caribbean meant waking up to the sound of tropical birds. After opening the windows to the balcony and noticing the remarkable difference between the air-conditioned room and the early morning outside temperature was yet again… like being hit by a brick wall. We had a sea view room with a spacious balcony where we spend a fair few evenings smoking cigars and sipping cocktails, Crystal and Bucanero Lagers and Coco Loco’s; Havana Club’s pre-mixed drinks containing rum, sparkling water and juice (mango, watermelon or pink grapefruit).

Breakfast was nothing to write home about but then again, we did not choose this destination for its culinary credentials. The best food turned out to be the pizzas served in the bar area. Cheap, cheerful and far tastier than any other food we tried in any of the hotels 5 main restaurants. I am sure that in Cuba food only serves to nourish, rather than to please the senses. My taste buds and bowels protested frequently and after 2 weeks we kind of had enough of broiled chicken, rice and black bean mash. I don’t think that I’ll ever really miss the “frijoles” but they helped me loose some of my excess weight.

Priorities first: Cash! I had to convert some cash to pesos and try to find an ATM. I succeeded but only after I discovered that the reception charged the same rate if not a better one than the CADECA in town. 1 EUR: 1 PESO Convertible. (I had already been informed back in Jersey that it was best to convert GBP to EUR as the exchange rate for 1GBP was also 1 Peso Convertible. Back home the GBP converted to 1.85 EUR. Hehehe, I opted to convert EUR instead. Loaded with some change I set off on a reconnaissance tour of the area around the hotel. The first day I walked 8 miles east… till I discovered that Havana was actually west of the hotel. I discovered hospitable people, classic American cars, a boxing school, various birds which were always faster than my ability to focus, bright yellow and orange land crabs that retreated to small mouse size holes on the side of the pavement and… heaps of garbage. I also discovered that there was no such thing as a sandy beach anywhere near Havana. I also discovered that a few words of Spanish carried a lot of weight here and they opened many doors.

The holiday rep popped round at 9:00 and gave us a whole list of ideas, security measures, tips and suggestions. By this time I had already broken half the security measures suggested. “Only take officially registered taxis”… and I had just discovered that the big old Americans, even though they were not officially allowed to carry foreigners, were heck of a lot cheaper than the hotel taxis. They proved to be more adventurous and easier to barter with. The hotel taxi works via a meter. To give you an example; from the hotel to down town Havana would be 15 Pesos Convertibles. A local taxi will ask you if you wish to negotiate a rate or use the meter. On the meter he will charge an average of $7 per trip. A tourist pays in Pesos Convertibles which convert 1:1 with GBP or EUR. The local peso converts to 26 pesos to the $. During the first week I paid in Pesos Convertibles (PC) and gave my tips in PC. During the second week I had converted a stack of my convertibles to Cuban $ which made far easier currency to hand out as tips, give to kids and beggars and use as my modelling fee as everyone happily poses for you… for a peso. Unfortunately a tourist is not supposed to use the Cuban $ so I just used them for tipping and handing out. Any purchase or bill would have to be settled in PC. The ATM machines in Havana only seem to work occasionally. They may have run out of Cuban Peso's but they did seem to dispense the Tourist stuff. No worries about making any mistakes. With a non Cuban cash card you will only be able to withdraw the Tourist Peso. The local currency is only available if you have a Cuban Government issued cash card. With me that was not the case. I did notice that an additional 11.5% was charged for use of an ATM or any debit or credit card or even a cheque anywhere. Traveller's cheques could not be cashed in everywhere and in many cases they only charged around 6% fee, plus 11.5% government fee, plus an additional 15% conversion charge, plus a few various rates and eventually you would get about half your cash in comparison to just having converted plain Euro's or Sterling. Anyway, I am diverting...

My eyes opened in Havana. Fabulous characters, young, old and living literally on the doorstep and balcony, complete lack of racial discrimination, live music in every café, people who appear to have been brought up with dance as if it is in their genes, public transport with a difference, vibrant and pastel colours surrounding you, old colonial architecture and streets that appear to have only just survived the ages but occupied and in use. The initial old American classic car proved to be more the rule than the exception….and cues… pretty much for everything.

Castro may have been responsible for the lack of progress in the colonial architecture and the time pause that Cuba appears to have experienced since the 1950’s but I did not notice the extreme poverty that I noticed in Romania, Turkey and the Ivory Coast. Most people I conversed with explained how incredibly difficult life in Cuba under the socialist regime is but I hardly heard any of the really poor people (wherever in the world) whom I encountered complain. I guess that complaining is healthy and if you can complain then you are still better off than some others. My parents donated their entire household contents to an agency in Ankara that deals with the less fortunate of the society before they retired and returned to the Netherlands last year. They had seen the plasterboard huts of the untouchables – illegal settlements- get bulldozed annually and they knew that they were powerless. Some how in Cuba, that sort of poverty and the untouchables, even if they were there, remained well out of sight and those who complained, were far better off. Nevertheless I am still glad that I am so far better off than the majority of this world’s population. I drive a car, have a roof over my head and have a pretty solid education, travel world wide and have no financial worries. I AM rich!!! In comparison.

The first visit to La Habana Vieja (Old Havana) with a hotel taxi, delivered us to the Cathedral square. This reminded me of Spain. A stunning old plaza, great colonial architecture and an outdoor restaurant on the square with live music… and more tourists than locals. Just past the cathedral started a cobbled pathway to El Capitol, a copy of the US Capitol in DC which dates back from the years that Cuba was a bit closer to the US, politically. I know nothing about politics and that side of the discussion, or argument would be wasted on me. I loved the buildings, the characteristic people and the old cars. I loved the atmosphere and I was going to try to capture that on film (compact flash)… perhaps like the million others with equipment far more professional than mine. The first person I noticed was an elderly lady with Harry Potter glasses. A hideous yellow and red rose hair band and puffing on a cigar while seated with one leg up against the door still and one on the road. I asked her if I could take her photo and she replied “1 peso”. I had just run into the probably most photographed character in Havana. Her strategic residential location and lack of electricity forcing her out on the porch, made her one of a few typical characters who had established a business posing for happy snappers like me, believing to have stumbled upon a gold mine… But she sat there every day and complained to me that business was slow after a multiple of Hurricanes paid Havana a visit and forced tourists to remain in their hotels till well after all the clean up operations had been completed. She was 82 years old and enjoyed the chat with people from all over the world. Her name was Graciela. Over the weeks I snapped a few shots of her. The pose is always the same. Only the outfit is different- except for the hair band and the Harry Potter glasses. Nevertheless, she proved to be quite a character.... and definitly one of my favourite grannies...

OK, I am a chatterbox and I tended to spend more time chatting to some of the great characters, talking about the weather, the beauty of Cuba and inevitably politics. I should really have studied up on local politics before hand but gathered mainly that life in Cuba is tough but that it has both up- and downsides. Hey, one of the downsides: Apparently for a local to leave the country, about $1500 precedes in documentation, authorisations and permits, before travel expenses come in play. The local coffee tastes great but patience definitely is a virtue. During the conversations I have been proposed marriage, offered pets, accommodation, rum and cigars…but not in that particular order. My Spanish is perfect, my eyes are beautiful, I have a beautiful smile and I am a warm hearted person who will succeed well in this world with many thanks to coming to Cuba and promoting international tourism. I had no intention of getting an ego boost but they did well here. I even managed to learn how to dance Salsa and improved on my chess skills. I’ll progress on the latter.

Flo’s best friend’s dad is a grandmaster in France. I have spent hours getting slaughtered by him but regardless of that, I learned a lot. I quite enjoy the game. On one of my strolls though the side alleys of Habana Vieja I observed a game of chess between two elderly fellows. Packed with a 10kg back pack I decided to take a break and watch. When the match ended they analysed their moves, something that Claude would do as well and repeating the last 20 moves is something that I learned to do quite well. I was invited to play a game. The camera bag ended up under the table; a plank held up by the player’s legs. I won the first game, lost the second and got slaughtered the third one. At that point one of the local masters had arrived at the scene where a crowd of both locals and tourists had gathered and asked to join in the game for a match. I played white and used one of Claude’s favourite openings. One where if you are not careful, the opponent is mated in 11 moves. Guess what; I slaughtered the guy. Apparently I was the first person to beat him in two years. He was flabbergasted and unfamiliar with the moves I played. We replayed the same game in repeat and then he tried it on me but as I was familiar with the moves,… he played a tough game in defensive which I eventually lost. I had made new friends. Claude would be proud of me and I took a snapshot of my opponent, the other person I played and two kids who had taken over the seats.

I encountered many people and made many friends. The Lonely Planet’s statement that Cuban people are con artists and difficult to approach may be true but I had no difficulty with them. Even the con artists are trying to make a living and if a tourist is conned, the worst thing for them to happen is that they are a few quid short or that they will be smoking Cuba’s finest banana leaves rather than tobacco.

I love a good cigar but my initial encounter with Cuban tobacco, in the shape of a Cohiba, send me to the loo where a lady sold me single sheets of loo paper for 10 centavos each. I needed at least 50 sheets… but I’ll spare you the details. Strangely enough, I brought along a box of my favourite cigars from the Netherlands: “Flor de Cuba- Habana.” Even though I seriously doubt that any Cuban tobacco was used in the composition of them. Nevertheless, these were the cigars that I love and I enjoyed them thoroughly in Havana. The most common hustlers in the streets of Havana are those trying to sell you cigars. Many of them work in the factory where there is a school where people learn to roll Montechristos No 4. as a basic cigar. Once they are able to roll over 100 good cigars per day they are moved on to the different brands such as the Monterrey, Romeo & Juliette and the Cohiba’s. In the factory they can smoke as many cigars as they fancy and you can’t blame them for secretly smuggling out some of them, the training cigars or most of the ones that would not pass the final selection process. The easiest response to one of these hustlers on the street is to say that you have already bought your maximum allowance of two boxes. This immediately puts an end to the hustle as well as the hassle.

To see the city, there is no better way than via a Coco taxi. This is a converted moped that looks like an advertising blob for Orangina; a plastic orange on three wheels which is capable of racing at high speeds through the narrow lanes as well as the main roads. If you tip the guys enough, they will take you just about anywhere. The going rate of $6 per hour made the 15 mile distance from town to the hotel a piece of … you get the picture. Advising this is quite contrary to what the rep had advised us so please don’t take my word for it but we had a great time. We saw the safe zones, we saw the outskirts and the driver’s tours were adventurous and informative. Flo swore that she would buy one of these converted mopeds for back home.

Back at the hotel a message from our rep awaited us. Havana was anticipating a force 4 Hurricane named Dennis. The message: buy whatever you need now as the shops, service centres, offices and pretty much all businesses around you will close till after the storm has passed. Do NOT leave your hotel. Do NOT attempt to photograph the storm. Stay well away from windows. The safest place will be your bathroom and the rep will get back in contact after the clean up operations have restored safety to the environment. We were to anticipate loss of electricity, loss of running water, perhaps a lot of shattered glass so extreme care was to be taken when venturing anywhere. The streets would be a no go zone till the government would announce that it was safe to venture outside again. Rain was anticipated, with flooding, high temperatures and a surge in mosquitoes which tend to flourish after any tropical storm. Ehhh, nice. I tried to call my parents to let them know that we would re-make contact after the storm but no connection could be established. Ahh well. No news would be good news.

At the hotel, people were starting to board up the windows with huge boards of that compressed wood chip material. The swimming pools were covered. In Jersey the hotels which were derelict were boarded up to keep people out. Here every window, door or crevice was closed off from the outside world. The rain started and the tranquil sea turned into a milk pond. The wind picked up and the spectacle slowly started. The news revealed that the eye of the storm moved very slowly and was about to make landfall on the other side of Cuba. In Jamaica it had already caused devastation. The day turned to night very early and the wind picked up more. Quite against the suggested advice we enjoyed the building up of the storm from our balcony. The waves were growing and the spray water was reaching spectacular heights. For some weird reason this reminded me of a regular high tide at St Ouens bay back home. The difference was the temperature. Standing on the balcony was like standing in front of a hundred hair dryers blowing at the same time. Even the rain was warm. The eye of the hurricane passed Havana during the night and we slept through it. The power in the hotel was off and Havana- most of Cuba actually- had blacked out. It was still raining and the waves were spectacular. Trees had snapped and there was indeed a lot of debris around the hotel. We checked in for breakfast only to discover that everything was still closed. Without power we could not get back into our room as the sophisticated electronic card door was… duhhhh... not working.

By 08:00 the hotel had switched on generators which meant that the core essentials were back on power. Lights, door locks and radio worked again. Havana had survived Hurricane Dennis. I tried to contact my parents with news but the telephone lines were down. I was suggested to head for the Habana University where I could use their e-mail services. The hotel was still completely boarded up and after breakfast I picked up my camera bag and escaped from the premises by using the staff stair way. The first things I noticed were the flooding, the large amount of exhausted birds on the floor, from swallows to parrots and the number of flies; millions of them. I halted a taxi on the street and headed towards downtown Havana. There was a lot of debris on the roads and the smell of the open piles of garbage was gone. It actually looked as if the town had been cleaned up. I spoke to Graciela, sitting on her porch, and she complained about the lack of tourists on this rainy morning. I then headed back to Malecon, the sea front avenue alongside the southern part of Havana. Kids were playing on the wall, ducking the high waves crashing over it.

The general temperature was a pleasant 28 degrees C and the water temperature seemed to be the same. When it rained it poured… warm water. Every now and again a break in the clouds would reveal clear blue skies but those spells never lasted too long. I ended up snapping around 3 cards of 512MB at Malecon, from under one of the apartment ledges, well out of the way of the torrential rain and the sea’s spray water, hoping to coincide the driving past of a classic American car with one of the waves breaking on the wall but that was perhaps expecting too much. Fortune was with me though and I managed to capture a few shots where just that occurred.

After having snapped the shots I was aiming for, I headed towards the University. A cue awaited me for people trying to access the one working PC with internet access. After half an hour I was informed that the internet connection had not worked for almost 6 months so that was that plan out of the window. On my way back to the city centre I sheltered against the rain under yet another ledge and ended up chatting again with the residents. I was offered coffee but perhaps due to my lack of patience I never had it. I moved on after about 2 hours and headed back to the hotel to see if Flo had finished reading “The Da Vinci Code” yet.

We headed into town together and explored the areas of Havana that had remained unexplored by us…and without camera for the ease of mobility and general access to various premises. Most of our explorations led us to museums, cigar factories, rum factories and other places where photography was not permitted. I had seen pictures of the cigar factories but did not expect those images to be up too date. I stood corrected.

A few days after the hurricane, life in Havana returned to normal. We booked a day trip to Cayo Blanco, a tropical paradise island between Varadero and Florida. This stretch of grand - fully inclusive - hotels was apparently out of range for the local population due to its close proximity to the Florida Keys. We took a large catamaran that accommodated 100 passengers to this idyllic white sand and turquoise water island. On board was an open bar and great music. The trip was great till we reached the final destination. After we anchored and walked the last 500 yards through crystal clear water and pristine white sand, we walked onto the shores in the same way Christopher Columbus must have reached Cuba a few centuries ago when he pronounced the islands the most beautiful paradise in the world. Beautiful birds, hermit crabs and the most colourful bugs were the first things I saw. But after a few minutes, clouds of mosquitoes decided to use us as a buffet. Within 5 minutes Flo and myself retreated to the warm tropical sea where we spend most of our stay at Cayo Blanco. Surrounded by tropical fish, rays and langoustines I must admit that I really enjoyed myself. The mosquito bites started to take shape and for the following 48 hours I must have looked like a serious sufferer of leprosy. The itch made me sick and when I mean sick, I mean truly ill. The mosquito repellent that we had brought with us had proven to be a useless medium.

Even back in Havana we were pestered by flies and mosquitoes which were apparently quite normal after a tropical storm. When I regained my strength and managed to open my swollen eye lids again, I headed back into town in the search of a mosquito repellent that worked, as well as a powerful antidote to bites. The cues and patience never paid off. The best remedy appeared to be salt water and plenty of Mojito’s.

I had tried to get a tube of after bite or similar and checked out various pharmacies. The first one gave me a resolute NO. The second one told me that they would get some new stuff in in a month or so. The third one made me wait 25 minutes (while the lady checked a card folder, then walked to the fridge, took out an almost empty jar with lid, walked to the the back of the room, filled the jar with water from a huge jerry can, walked back to the fridge and placed the jar in the fridge. Looked in the card folder again, walked to a cupboard, browsed through the shelves, went back to the fridge but empty handed, took out the jar, took a sip before replacing the lid and placing it back in the fridge... and then walked back to me to tell me that they had nothing in store against insect bites...). The last one was Johnson's (an authentic and truely classic pharmacy), where they explained to me that they were a chemist and that they only mixed powders and chemicals prescribed by a doctor. They were not able to provide the public with anything other than what had been medically prescribed. Time proved to be the only remedy. After just over 48 hours- yep, two days, the bites and bumps had been replaced by scratch marks caused by my relief seeking nails...

On one of our last nights we went to the castle on the opposite side of the straight that connects Havana Town with the harbour port. Every night at 21:00 a canon is fired to announce the closure of the gates. This accompanies a nice show with dressed up people; from the original slaves that were brought to Cuba for the sugar cane production to the Spanish guards; as if they had just participated in the Armada. Once again we experienced the origins of the Cuban Salsa dance. I am sure that this originated in people avoiding the vicious bites of mosquitoes and an attempt to keep on moving with all parts of the body. Not having mastered the art quite yet... we ended up with a few more bites to our collection.

On the last day we bartered for a few pesos to remain in our hotel room well past the check out time. We tipped the maids, the bartenders and the salsa teachers with our remaining pesos and about an hour before we were due to be picked up by the coach we ordered our last fresh orange juices and Comodoro pizzas. Quite contradictory to our expectations, the transfer was ready for us about 45 minutes early and we did not manage to wait for our last meal and drinks at the hotel. Regardless to say, we did make up in time at the next hotel where the residents did not like to be rushed. We arrived at the airport to be met with yet another great set of cues. Having passed through the check in, we had to cue for the $25 p/p exit permits, then the exportation documents but without cigars, rum or art work we did not need to declare anything or require any paperwork to be authorized so we managed to flow through that one rather quickly. The final checking through went very quickly but hey… Cuba would not be Cuba if anything went fast. Our flight was delayed by an hour. A thunderstorm passed and the building proved to be about as water proof as a Welsh Farmers Market. About 4 hours after we were supposed to depart, we finally boarded the plane. I can seriously recommend upgrading to First class. What an incredibly luxurious experience; worth every pence in duplicate. This really was the icing on the cake, or rather, the cherry on top of a great holiday.

Our Cuban trip had been a fantastic one full of memorable events. If anyone is planning to travel there, I could only offer the following suggestions; bring plenty of aspirin or pain killers. Bring a strong mosquito repellent with at least 50% Deet, anti diarrhoea tablets, toothpaste, dental floss, sun screen and after sun lotion as these products are incredibly difficult to get hold of in Cuba. Bring some presents for kids (and adults) such as pens or small toys as you will be amazed how much difference these can make to someone who has virtually nothing. Besides that, use common sense and don’t be afraid to speak with the locals. Even with limited Spanish people will prove to be far more hospitable than they may appear at first. Don’t be afraid to mingle with the locals. If you have no problem with decay, dereliction, heat and high humidity, public pollution and mosquitoes, the country really is a beautiful and inspirational place. Rules don’t have to be broken but bending them slightly may add to any adventure or experience and last but not least… be very very very patient. The Cuban pace of life is far slower than that of any western culture. Other than that… we loved it and I am sure that any other semi flexible person will too.

Hey... hey... are you still awake? If you are and actually managed to read all this I am very impressed. Chapeau! This is a 2 week holiday compressed into a couple sheets of A4 paper if you would have printed it off. You must either be interested in travelling to Cuba, have been there or have been bored. I reckon that it will have taken you quite some time to read all this so I am grateful for the time you have spend with me. Thanks!

I am not asking for a vote but would like to know who actually took the time to read this. Please leave a short comment in the comments section. I guarantee you that it will not take as long as reading the journal.
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