Trip Report (first of several to follow)
Replies: 10 - Last Post: Nov 9, 2012 10:46 PM Last Post By: angelbel
Nov 6, 2012 9:31 AM
Trip Report (first of several to follow)Just back from a month-and-a-half (yeah!) in Cuba!
Itinerary: 3 days in Varadero (with one of these spent going two/from Havana to deliver goodies to my adopted family)
2 days in Santa Clara (via ViAzul)
4 days in Sancti Spiritus, via privae taxi, (one of my new favorite places)
3 days in Ciego de Avila, then, via the new Cuba Conectando bus system down to Santiago de Cuba
2 days in Santiago de Cuba, then by ViAzul to Baracoa
5 days in Baracoa (another of my new favorite places...stayed an extra day)
2 days in Santiago, then, via tren frances, back to Habana
2 weeks in Habana, one of them at the home of my friends, on Ave.51, in San Agustin/La Lisa/Arroyo Arena
1 week at the nearby Hotel Mariposa, Novia de Mediodia, due to unforseen circumstances
1 final night back in Varadero, before take-off the following day, via WestJet, back to Toronto.
First off, I got a great price for the r/t from WestJet. Their service was outstanding. This is what an airline should be (and once was, before most airlines became mere "Greyhounds in the sky!").
Also, for the first time, I had to pay the health insurance. All previous times, since this went into effect, I was never asked. Maybe because I am getting, err, sort of old, and am beginning to look it, too. I didn't even use this insurance, though for one week suffered severe gastro-intestinal probs., which were cured via my friends' use of "green medicines" (i.e. brewed teas and infusions from leaves from trees, bushes, and roots on their property, plus special soups, plus a concoction of mashed bananas and malangas to help me hold my s**t together.)
From mid-September to the end of October it is pretty HAZY, HOT and HUMID in Cuba! If I could, I would have gone a month later; however, since I am only semi-retired, I work, teaching academic subjects at a special school for training winter sports athletes (skiing and snow boarding), from early November through early April, so it was not an option to go later. Only my last two weeks in Habana did the hot weather break, and it became more bearable from, say 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Also, since this was temporada baja, I got some great rates on hotels, comparable to, and often even cheaper than, casas. For example: the Dos Mares in Varadero was only $23/noc, breakfasts included; the Hotel Santa Clara Libre was only $18/noc, breakfasts included; the Hotal Rancho Hatuey in Sancti Spiritus was only $21/noc, breakfasts included; the Hotel Ciego de Avila was only $21/noc, breakfasts include;, and the Gran Hotel Escuela, in Santiago, was only $18/noc, breakfasts included.
Stayed the first three nights in the ** Hotel Pullman/Dos Mares "complex". This was fine. The Dos Mares's own beach, including a snack-bar, is but a half-block away. My room was dark and pokey, but I only used it to sleep and watch tv. Spent most of my time at the hotel's beach-front snack bar, walking up-and-down 1st Avenue, at the Centro Comercio, or nearby parks, etc.
From Varadero, I took ViAzul to Santa Clara, where I booked two nights at the minty-green, Santa Clara Libre. Not only was the price right ($18/noc, incl. breakfast), but it is of historic significance, since it played a part in the final battle of the Revolution, and still is pock-marked with bullet holes from that time. Also, it is right on Parque Vidal, underneath whose trees I spent many a happy hour.
Immediately after arriving, from the airshaft I heard the most incredible music--danzones, sounding exactly like some of the ones on my CD's of recordings (transferred from early records) from 1915-26. These were coming from the Casa de Cultura, right next door. It was a private concert, for some (Dutch? German?) tourists, but I talked my way into the concert by demonstrating to the young man who was working for the center that I knew my stuff and was a great afficionado of the danzon. The band was playing on period instruments from the 19th Century. The European tourists, of course, were only observing, but there were several Cuban couples, from their look all in their 80's and beyond, who were dancing!
Later, I visited the Mausoleo and Museo de Che (the former was closed for renovations); On one of these trips I have to find out if the Steven's single-barreled shot-gun on display is the same one I donated to the M-26-7, at their then HQ at the Restaurante Paulo's in Miami, back in the summer of 1957 or 1958, when I was 14 and 15.) Also visited the site of the Tren Blindado, and the hill, overlooking Santa Clara, where the rebels had their observation point for the final battle in December, 1958. It was my second visit to the first two sites, which I had previosly visited, along with my oldest daughter and my friend franco franco from Habana back in 2008.
Although the breakfast was o.k. at the Hotel Santa Clara, the lunch buffet did not look appetizing, though the view, from the 10th floor, was great, and as the hotel's elevator was often broken, the walk up from the 5th floor often worked up an appetite! Instead, I had lunches either at the state run La Concha (between the Che Mausoleo y Museo and the Parque Vidal--o.k. food, s-l-o-w, s-l-o-w service), or at a new paladar, "La Casona Guevara" (formerly Dona--can't read my writing--Cobia? Celia?) on San Cristobal, a.k.a Eduardo Machado, #58), where the food was great, as well as the service.
Also I began eating street food in Santa Clara--a practice I continued for the rest of my month-and-a-half in Cuba, and--which greatly reduced my daily food expenses, especially after I came down with gastro-intestinal problems, when I didn't eat for several days, nay, was even afraid to eat, save for bananas, dry bread, and of course lots and lots of bottled water!
Due to the shockingly hot weather, my daily routine during the hotest hours of the day was to find a bench 'neath the shade of a tree in the central parks or plazas of Santa Clara, Sancti Spiritus, Ciego de Avila, Santiago and Baracoa, and just hang out there, often just listening, and just as often talking with, the local citizens. Although I quite dispair of ever reaching total fluency or understanding, poco-a-poco my Spanish is improving. I can pretty much understand everything being said on radio and tv, can read GRANMA, TRABAJADORES, and the local rags, such as INVASOR, SIERRA MAESTRA, etc., but when it comes to the street language, especially slang, my understanding is like listening to a distant radio station, which fades in-and-out. Still, my progress is two steps forward, then one step backwards. In any event, despite my language deficits, I felt a growing confidence in using and understanding Cuban Spanish. These "park bench sessions" really helped give me more confidence.
Next: One of my new favorite places, Sancti Spiritus!
to be continued.
Nov 6, 2012 11:45 AM
Nov 6, 2012 1:41 PM
Since I am from the EE.UU., rather than Canada, I don't have such a card. Also, I suspect Medicare, and my (partial) Medicare Complete/United Heath Care "gap coverage" would not honor any requests for emergency treatment in Cuba. The Cuban coverage wasn't that expensive; a tad over $100 CUC's for the month-and-a-half I was there. Also, I believe the Cuban insurance (actually, an international company) covers the cost of emergency air evacuation back to Canada, or even the States (though I'd have to look up the terms, but I seem to remember this proviso from reading the policy).
Nov 6, 2012 2:06 PM
Nov 6, 2012 2:57 PM
Nov 6, 2012 4:02 PM
5Also, I believe the Cuban insurance (actually, an international company) covers the cost of emergency air evacuation back to Canada, or even the States (though I'd have to look up the terms, but I seem to remember this proviso from reading the policy).
The insurance provided by Asistur / Havanatour provides up to 7,000 in coverage for repatriation / transport. It does not specify if this is 7,000 CUC or USDollars. I have a one page policy / coverage limits in English. If anyone wants a copy, just PM or e-mail me. Simply Googling my name and "Cuba" will lead you to my personal website where all my photos are. Then you can click "contact me"
Nov 6, 2012 4:32 PM
Nov 8, 2012 7:10 AM
7The Canadian health card does not cover foreign travel. You can buy annual travel insurance from a bank for less than $100, though each trip period is limited to 17 days or less. That said, $100 is pretty cheap for the 6 weeks.
Looking forward to more of your report
Nov 8, 2012 2:15 PM
8"The Canadian health card does not cover foreign travel."
But a (any) Canadian Provincial Health card IS acceptable to Cuban authorities.
Nov 8, 2012 10:31 PM
9Canadian medical insurance will pay, anywhere in the world, the amount the services provided would cost in Canada. Assuming these costs would be less in Cuba, which I think it is safe to do, then Medicare would cover basic medical care. If you want to make that assumption. What would most probably not be covered is evacuation costs back to Canada. That said, it is still recommended to buy additional insurance.
Nov 9, 2012 10:46 PM
10Thanks for the detailed report!
I'm assuming you traveled through the month of October? I'm planning a trip for next year, most likely in October. There is a possibility I may be able to push it back to early November but that will mess with other travel plans I have for that time.
I've read that it can be hot and humid and uncomfortable but I was hoping you might be able to give me a little more info on the conditions around that time of year? ie. what sort of temperatures? what level of humidity (50%, 60% etc)? And how much rainful was there?
I work in a pretty hot and humid climate (the north west of Australia) so I'm fairly well acclimatised to heat and humidity, to a point :)
Thanks in advance!
(4 star Hotel)
From US$264.28 per night
(4 star Hotel)
From US$217.70 per night
(3 star Hotel)
From US$189.18 per night