Subject: RE: Cuba

Cuba! I'd go again in a minute!

Are you a US citizen? That does make it more challenging. I recall some of our Canadian Ziners have posted about Cuba, but it's been a while. For them it's a more rational experience.

It's been 4 years (snivel, snivel) &I think it may have been easier for US citizens under the former administration. Working to get a Cuban choir here to Eugene for the Oregon Bach Festival last year was absolutely painful. I was ready to fly down via Cancun with 20 air tickets around my waist, but we ended up having them come out thru Jamaica.

My sister, a photographer friend &I went from Cancun in January. We purchased air tickets from a travel agency there (we had to ask around to find one) who also handled our flying visas. It took about 3 days to get it set up. We showed up at the Cancun airport, queued up at a counter that had no identification &was therefore hard to find but our tix &visas were waiting in a dog-eared cardboard box. The plane was an old Russian Tupelo &crammed full. The other Yanks were 2 men from Miami, one a Cuban-American who was going back to see his grandmother after 30 years in the US. Formalities were easy upon landing; most folks are on prepaid hotel/air packages &are met by transport &whisked away to resorts. Even so, there were couriers trying to get travelers signed up for tours &accommodations right in the airport. It wouldn't be hard to arrange those accoms on the spot, I think. We had the name of a woman who let rooms, so we were winging it. Unfortunately she was out of town or her phone wasn't working, so we just took a bus into old town & wandered into a hotel whose name I can't even recall. We were only spending a night there, as our destination was Isla de la Juventud, on the south side of the island, for scuba diving, the intent to do some underwater photography & story to go with the pix for publication in a scuba magazine.

Charter flights from Havana to Isla de la Juventud leave from a different airport in Havana &it took many hours of standing in wrong lines, etc., to finally get return tix to Isla sorted out. We had no accoms down there, &really had no idea what to expect. It's a big-time resort for Italians on package tours, so the accoms are all pre-sold. Ooops. No place to stay! So we trudged down to the yacht basin &I hallooed skippers till I found one willing to let us stay aboard. It was such fun! We dived (a long story, for another day!) &decided to go back up to Havana the next day. Great decision! Everyone at Isla was on a meal plan &there are no restaurants. Ooops again. There was a little bar near the yacht basin where we had baked potatoes one night; otherwise, it was water &beer!

We found accoms at a hotel near the University &wandered everywhere, of course including the daiquiri trail. We talked with students, artists, fishermen, you name it; these memorable conversations will be with me forever. It was Jose Marti's birthday, so a great parade began with a long speech by Fidel at the University, followed by a march thru the city. I thought it was thrilling, to see &hear Fidel up close.

We ate breakfast (cold plain spaghetti) at the hotel, found lunch at bars &ate dinner in tiny backyard patios of private homes around the old part of Havana. The latter we found just by asking folks on the street where we might eat. Fare was simple but yummy, usually some kind of black bean soup, wonderfully spicy. We hired a gypsy cab for a morning to drive around the neighborhoods. It was a grand morning.

The dollar is the currency of choice, although it's illegal for US citizens not on an approved tour to spend any. Yeah, right. Everyone wants to practice English, but I loved chattering away in Spanish anyway. Literacy rate is well over 97% &it's a colorblind culture. I found this very appealing.

No matter where you come down on the blockade issue, you can 't help but weep for the Cuban people who are suffering from the lack of access to trade with the US, their nearest & richest neighbor.

We left everything but our scuba gear &the clothes we were wearing with new friends as we left. I truly want to go back.

Gail In Eugene but never for long