Cruising Cuba for the first time, exploring cities and seacoast: Sixth Cuba blog by David G. Molyneaux (first, cars and artists // second, Havana people-to-people // third, Bay of Pigs, Trinidad // fourth, dancing at Juventud // fifth, bumping into rules )
On our last day on the south coast of Cuba, my wife Fran Golden and I set out on a long walk, sandwiched by two outstanding musical programs arranged by Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic — a religious and classical Cuban performance by the Cantores de Cienfuegos choir, and a classic children’s show, Cucarachita Martina.
Our full afternoon walk, from the center square, Marti Park, to the yacht club harbor, was in search of conversation and a souvenir. We found both.
People we met on the streets, walking or sitting at doorsteps or stoops, welcomed us, asked us where we lived, and talked about their lives and their homes, where, said a local guide, many residents still display photos of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and other fighters in the Revolution that began nearly 60 years ago.
“Why?” I asked. “To many, the revolution is still going on,” he said.
Travelers in my Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic group unanimously reported a positive feeling about life in Cuba and their many contacts with its residents. American travel guides who have spent time recently in Cuba call it a country of scarcities when speaking of material goods but with no scarcities of enthusiasm and confidence among the people.
That was an accurate portrayal of the Cuban folks we met, both the people we were guided toward and those whom we met casually on the streets.
We encountered hope that Americans will come to visit, but that the American government and its powerful corporations will not attempt to take over.
We heard some simple, honest understandings about political events, such as the decade of deprivation in the 1990s after the Soviet Union collapsed and money from the USSR stopped arriving to support the economy of Cuba.
“I was in primary school, and I remember things were good in the 1980s,” said Raffy, 34. “We always had snacks in school. Then, one day we had a good snack, the next day, and days thereafter, no snacks.”
Snacks still are hard to come by, he said, though Cubans are excited by the expected income from tourism, first from Europe and now from the United States.
Travelers will need a capable guide
Without guides, travelers will find searches for basic services difficult.
Despite a relaxation of government rules that allows residents to try their entrepreneurial hands at small businesses, such as restaurants, Cuba remains a country without advertising — no billboards or neon come-ons for material goods in stores or shops that are largely non-existent.
I was unprepared for the feeling of walking in a major city, be it Havana or Cienfuegos, without advertisements shouting at me. No sign seemed to be touting anything, except the joy of Cuban government and Revolution, which show up on the sides of buildings and on billboards in the countryside.
In Cienfuegos, word of mouth was the only advertising, and that was mostly young men on the street suggesting a restaurant or a bar.
We bought an oil on canvas
Cienfuegos is a comfortable town for strolling. After several attempts at directions, my wife and I located a street of artists and bought an oil painting on canvas, a fine souvenir of Cuba.
Not so easy, however, was locating a shop in Cienfuegos to replace the nose guard that had broken off my reading glasses. I found a store and the helpful, enthusiastic employees inside tried to fix my glasses. But they did not have such repair parts.
No nose guards for eye glasses? I blamed it on the U.S embargo. Cubans are accustomed to making do. A clerk returned from a back room with a used nose guard from old, disgarded pair of glasses, smiled and accepted the Cuban equivalent of $3 for her efforts.
Alas, the repair lasted less than an afternoon, so I reached for the fix-it commodity that all prepared travelers carry — Duck Tape, a post-Cuban revolution product that I wound around the sharp stem on my glasses frame so I might read on my way back home to Cleveland.
David Molyneaux writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at TravelMavenBlog.com. His cruise trends column is published in U.S. newspapers, including the Miami Herald, Dallas Morning News, and on Internet sites, including AllThingsCruise. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com