CUBA – is it worth going?
Holland American Cruise line had a cruise at the right time to the right place, Cuba.
Cuba has been on my bucket list for years. After watching “I Love Lucy” back in the 60’s and 70’s, I was obsessed. I knew one day I would get to Cuba. There was something about Ricky Ricardo, who was Lucy’s Cuban husband, that intrigued me.
So, when this cruise became available and the question was whether or not to sit in my dad’s Ft. Lauderdale house for a week or take him on a cruise to Cuba, I chose take him on a cruise to Cuba.
I only wished that the cruise spent the entire time in Cuba. Although I enjoyed the other stops, I was most interested in seeing Cuba and learning about the culture and the people. Everyone else on this cruise was thinking the same thing!
Not what I expected
Cuba was not what I expected. When the boat went past the fort and the statue of Jesus Christ and into the Havana harbor, I was in awe. It was much bigger than I expected! There were big buildings throughout the city. It looked bigger than many of the US cities.
Did you know that Cuba is larger than the state of Florida?
Getting special visas:
Did you also know that you can’t go to Cuba unless it’s for educational purposes? We needed a special visa, which was provided by Holland American Cruise Line. We booked two tours, although I was told by other passengers that the second day, they did a self guided tour and no one stopped them.
What we learned:
On the first tour, the young woman guide was positive and upbeat. She loved her country and was excited to tell the guests about the wonderful opportunities in Cuba. She said that all the people in Cuba are happy and live together in harmony.
She also told us that Cuban education is at a 98% rate. That means that 98 percent of the population is educated. I was impressed. She told us that many were doctors and professional people who worked for the government. However, if you worked for the government, the average salary was $35 – $40 a month.
“Don’t be horrified,” she said, “the beauty with this country is everyone gets free housing and gets an allowance for food.” She noted that although many people think this is a communist country, it’s actually a socialist country with free education and medical for all residents.
I later learned that 45 percent of the population work for the government and 22 percent work in the private sector and can earn much more than $40 a month. “Taxi drivers and tour guides work for the government, but get tips and those tips can help us afford much more,” she said.
Classic Cars, Homes and the Military:
The second tour guide on day two was less enthusiastic. He said that 45 percent don’t work and get money directly from their American families. He told us that those classic American cars were inherited. “It’s way too expensive to buy a car,” he said, “and we have amazing mechanics who have converted the classic cars to diesel fuel, which is more efficient.”
The other thing he told us is that if you own a home, it’s often inherited from a family member. “Temporary housing is the luck of the draw. You can be in a good neighborhood or a very bad area depending on your number.”
“Men and women are totally equal here in Cuba,” the first tour guide told us. “However, the men must go to the military for one year. Women are excused unless they want to go.”
I wanted to know about religion. Was Christianity practiced in Cuba? I asked the tour guide. I was told that the majority of the people in Cuba practice Santeria. “There are some, but not many who practice Christianity,” the tour guide told me. There were plenty of churches there, but many were converted to senior housing or for apartment living.
The architecture in Cuba is awesome. It’s a shame that many of the buildings were run down or dilapidated.
On the first tour, we stopped at a dance studio, Habana Compas Dance, in one of the dilapidated buildings that the company renovated themselves. It was pretty cool to see. The dancers and the percussionists played and danced to African rhythms. We were told that the African people had an influence on the Cuban culture.
My dad and son went on a different tour and landed at an assisted living facility where the seniors rapped and danced. My son found it quite entertaining.
Ernest Hemingway’s House:
Hemingway had a house in Cuba, in addition to his home in the keys. It sat on a hill and overlooked the city of Havana. It really had breathtaking views. Interestingly, his office where he wrote was high up to see the view. I was amazed at how many people took videos of his bathroom and closets. I just shook my head.
To me, the most interesting thing about the house was the backyard where his boat was situated. He also had a huge swimming pool and tennis courts. There was even a cemetery for his wife’s cats. Did you know she had 50 in the house living with her and Ernest?
Would I go back?
I found Cuba to be intriguing and I would certainly go back, but I wouldn’t spend too much time in Havana. I would love to visit the mountains of Cuba and take an educational tour around the entire island. But, that’s for another time.