I know it’s been awhile since posting anything here and I finally feel it’s about time to dust off my little corner of the internet. Mid-May marked my one-year anniversary of land life. I have not worked on a ship in over 12 months! It’s sometimes so hard to wrap my mind around and in other ways, I feel like it’s been way longer. When new friends find out about my past, I get a lot of questions. One of them now is, “do you miss it?” And without trying too sound wishy washy, the answer is, and probably always will be, “yes” and “no.”
I miss the adventures, but work came first. And unfortunately in my role I worked a lot. And when I wasn’t working, I was thinking about work.
I don’t miss the falseness that was commonplace among crew and guests. People love to talk about themselves, but don’t always ask questions or care to hear about others. I met THOUSANDS of people over those seven years, but it rarely felt like I was making true friends. I am so grateful to say that I DO have a handful of beauties I met over the years, but they live all over the world – great for traveling, sucky for catching a quick drink together.
For awhile once I stepped off my last ship I felt that travel had been poisoned for me. It was hard to separate the ship-related anxieties I faced from the joy of exploring the world. Other than a couple quick trips to California, I hadn’t gone anywhere in a year – and was fairly happy with that. BUUUT the time had come to rekindle my love affair with travel and reignite the “bug.”
I had always wanted to travel to Cuba. The fact that as an American, I wasn’t supposed to go for the majority of my life just made me want to go that much MORE. And, after all those cruise ship contracts, it was one of my last Caribbean countries to visit. So in March, a friend and I finally booked our trip – and then Rob booked his ticket, and then just a month before our flight, my cousin joined in as well!
By the way, thank you Alaska airlines for offering a flight to Cuba from the west coast! We had just about four and a half days on the island and we rushed to make the most of it. I would have loved more time, but what can you do?! It was better than just the few hours of port time I used to get!
So, all that said, we did it. We may have not done it “correctly” in the eyes of some but we did it quickly and we did it safely.
We managed to explore old Havana, spend a day at the beach in Veradero, visit the giant prehistoric mural in Viñales, boat through the Viñales Indian caves, watch locals roll cigars, salsa dance, visit the bars were Ernest Hemmingway enjoyed his favorite mojitos (La Bodeguita del Medio) and daiquiris (El Floridita), eat lots of food (see below for vegan details), hang out with locals on the Malecón, ride in amazing old cars from the 40s and 50s, watch the Tropicana burlesque show and chat with lots of friendly Cuban locals.
In the end it was not a restful vacation but definitely a cultural experience! We learned a lot! And while there is still time for my fellow American travelers to get down there, I want to briefly share some of my observations from our time there.
- Although it’s quite big, it is an island and if you’ve been to one before, you know thing slow down a bit and run on island time. Although difficult to get used to, it’s refreshing since in our daily lives, we’re so scheduled and reliant on our watches and calendars.
- From what I saw, Cuba does not have crosswalks. It generally wasn’t a problem anywhere but on the Malecón – we just waited a while a kept an eye on how the locals handled it.
- For the most part, everyone was super nice – not always enthused, but lovely when you made the effort.
- English is definitely not widely spoken so brush up on your Spanish. If you have specific needs, maybe print off cards with the photo or translated phrases so you can just show cab drivers, restaurant servers, or whoever else you want to communicate those needs to. That said, I found the people I spoke with were very patient and did their best to adapt to my rough Spanish.
- Being from the Pacific Northwest, I’m used to really fresh air. That was not so much the case in old Havana – lots of old cars spitting out exhaust, and tons of cigar and cigarette smoke. It’s not a complaint – just a heads up. If you have asthma that can be irritated by these, definitely pack your inhaler.
- Of course Havana’s old buildings are extremely charming, but I was surprised to see so many that were falling apart. I don’t know the reason for this but I do know it provided very interesting contrasts with the well kept buildings nearby. Also, some of the sidewalks are a bit worn down so watch your step!
- There are musicians all over the place! It’s wonderful to hear live music through the streets from restaurant to restaurant but they seem to be working for tips – so carry some small bills or peso coins with you.
- Speaking of tips, it is often expected that you tip the bathroom attendant as you enter or leave. You should also carry TP with you just in case!
- Stray cats and dogs were all over but I noticed that everyone seemed to treat the animals with respect, contrary to some places I’ve been. Was really nice to see – we’re all in this together!
- I felt VERY safe in Havana. Yes, sometimes men would look over, but I never felt leered at our threatened. The crime rate in Cuba is very low, so that was very comforting as well.
- Before we left, I for SURE thought I had the money thing nailed down. In my head there was NO WAY I would spend more than $400 CAD worth of pesos…and then we got there. And the mojitos started flowing, and there were cigars, and we booked some tours, and we took SO many taxi rides…anyway, it’s a good thing I brought back-up US currency and a British boy toy to take money out. American cards are not yet accepted, so thank goodness for Rob’s UK credit card!
Traveling to and from Cuba was one of the EASIEST customs and immigration processes I’ve EVER experienced! Here is the link to the site we got our visas on:
I hope you get a chance to explore this amazing country! And may it be filled with tons of cigars, mojitos, and music!
EATING VEGAN IN CUBA
Overall there is a lot of meat eaten in Cuba, but not to worry fellow vegan travelers – it’s completely possible to strictly stick to plant-based meals. Not always the easiest thing, but you can do it if you’re determined. Definitely learn how to speak your dietary needs in Spanish. I often say, “No puedo comer carne, pescado, pollo, o productos lácteos, solomente frutas, vegetales, y arroz y frijoles.” (Please forgive if I missed an accent!) That generally works for me. It translates to, “I cannot eat meat, fish, chicken, or dairy products, just fruit, vegetables, and rice and beans.”
You can often find lots of bread (might be buttered – ask for no “mantequilla,” tropical fruits, vegetables, rice, and beans. I would suggest bringing snacks just in case. I ate a lot of oriental-flavored top ramen and oatmeal in our apartment, and as always, had cliff bars for the road. Best of luck!
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