CUBA - July, 2016 - by Kathryn Gadbow

Day 1 - Exploring and dinner

Getting to Cuba, oh my!  There are currently no direct flights from Philadelphia to Cuba so I had to fly to Miami. From there we got a charter flight to Cuba. Cuba is only 60 miles from Miami, however the whole flight process took 7 hours.   A highlight from this time frame was when we were waiting for our boarding passes and a rumor from the conference group was that there was an additional $25 fee to enter the country. We already had Visas in hand and paid several other unnecessary fees to enter their country. Most of the people attending the conference were from the Midwest and appeared to be very trusting and all whipped out the money. My professor and I who are not trusting walked right through and were never asked for the money. I guess sometimes it pays to not trust anyone.

When I first walked out of the airport, wow!  Hundreds of screaming people were gathering at the gates. I went on a quest to exchange my money before we headed back to the hotel because again rumor has it that you can get the best exchange rate in Cuba at the airport. Well I was inconveniently given bad directions several times and eventually gave up and settled for doing it at the hotel. Every travel blog agrees that the biggest scam in Cuba is the currency exchange. To convert US dollars to CUC (Cuban peso), there is an additional 20% surcharge and the US dollar equals the CUC. Hearing this, I changed my money at home first to the Euro. By doing this, I was able to get a fabulous rate (1.7 euro to the CUC).

 

With money in hand, we could actually start exploring. Havana is a city of contrasts. Intensely poverty stricken shacks blended with beautiful remains of a once affluent place.  There was a lot of construction happening and the restored buildings were outrageous. However, there is a ways to go to restore the city to its original luster. Fun fact: nobody really drives the old 1950’s cars for personal use. These cars are mainly used as taxis only in touristy areas. Also beer was cheaper that water so you can guess what I mostly drank.  Their beer was basically like drinking water though so I am glad I opted for the cheaper choice. First night meal was rice and beans because we dined with vegetarians. Cuba is not the place for the meatless, the plantains were stuffed with ham and cheese. I loved them, others were disappointed. Not a bad first impression Cuba.  

  

taxi in Cuba, July, 2016 

 

Click on the links below to view Kathryn's posts on her trip:

Day 2 - Havana in the rain and a Russian Ballet

Day 3 - Research presentation

Day 4 - Beach

Day 5 - skip day, exploring

Day 6 - Hemingway house

Day 6 - fancy dinner at Hotel Cuba