Written by MichaelJM on 18 Apr, 2007
Somehow the holiday to Cuba felt really exciting. It was a country that had been on my "must visit list for sometime" and I guess there’s a bit of romanticism attached to the place linked to the almost legendary qualities of Che Guevara and Fidel…Read More
Somehow the holiday to Cuba felt really exciting. It was a country that had been on my "must visit list for sometime" and I guess there’s a bit of romanticism attached to the place linked to the almost legendary qualities of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. I hear tales of salsa dancing, Cuban cigars, and the roads full of '50s cars and an island that is well worth a visit. So we decide Cuba will be our next holiday. Guide books are checked out, holiday brochures thumbed through and the Internet thoroughly trawled. It seems OK to us so the final decision is made and the holiday booked.
When our eldest son gets wind of the holiday he suggests that Oliver Stone’s 2003 film-doc, Comandante, would make good pre-holiday viewing. Why not? So we hire it on DVD and prepare ourselves for 100 minutes worth of concentrated viewing. It’s a wee bit hard going (I’m not a big fan of sub-titles – it requires more concentration than I’m really able to give a film) but it gave us an incredible insight into the recent background history of Castro’s Cuba. Right at the beginning – in an early newsreel film – he proclaimed that he would not shave his beard until all his revolutionary pledges had been fulfilled. I wonder if that’s why he’s still bearded?
Now we’re used to taking some foreign currency with us, not a lot but enough to see us to the nearest ATM but going to Cuba we couldn’t get Cuban money in the UK. This was a weird feeling and one that I never real came to terms with. We’d checked the availability of ATM’s and apparently there were plenty in Havana. We still felt a bit exposed but after Havana we were all inclusive so it wasn’t going to be a major issue. Or was it. That uncertainty was not a great sensation, but there were no choices other than the amount of pounds or euros (I’d read that euros were easiest to convert over there and that although American Dollars were acceptable they carried a high conversion fee) that we were going to carry with us.
It was a bit unnerving to read that anyone carrying a DVD player would have it confiscated at customs. Why would that be the case we pondered and what else hadn’t we read about. Were our I-pods safe and what about digital cameras or videos. We needed to check with the tour operator just so we could be fully reassured. However, all the books only talk about DVD’s and some of the more up-to-date ones don’t even mention them. I’m reassured.
Once booked people started talking about the perils of being out alone in Cuba, the risks that a perceived wealthy tourist might suffer, the preying fraudsters and muggers that lurk around each and every corner. This time I’m ready for the alleged expert and my response is "so what precautions did you take when you visited Cuba". A pause followed a silence and then the embarrassed experts succumb and admit that they "actually haven’t been – it’s just what I’ve heard!" Isn’t it amazing how influential people without knowledge want to be, based only on their personal prejudices and their seeming desire to perpetuate the myth they’ve heard from others.
Of course we scoured the web to check out what injections were vital and were reassured that there was nothing sinister lurking in the country, no special course of injections and certainly no malaria. We were now mentally prepared for our early break. A break that marked a significant change of life style for myself as this was the holiday that was to come between my last working day and retirement. Yes, after 40 years of employment in Local Authority Social Care I was retiring early and looking forward to spending my time pandering myself and not being a slave to the office. What a great feeling. This surely was an experience that I would never ever repeat and this holiday (all inclusive for the first time in our life) would always be a significant and hopefully memorable event for all the right reasons.
Having confirmed in our minds that it was indeed the right holiday to have chosen we set about our preparation - a novel experience for a couple of holiday makers who usually book last minute and just have time to throw a few items of clothing into our half-packed cases. "Half-packed" I hear you say. Yes, you see there are so many standard items that need to be packed each holiday and we always ensure that consumables (such as sun-cream, insect repellent, first aid medication) are replenished on our return from holiday and standard requirements like t-shirts, shorts, sunhats, sunglasses etc are packed ready to go. There’s always the visit to the local library when they are selling off books – we "consume books" on holiday as if reading is going out of fashion and at 20p for second books we happily leave them in our room for the next guests to read - and I made a killing when I popped down there a month or so before the holiday. Enough books to see us through the next few holidays and many as cheap as 10p a book and so I left the library with four carrier bags full of light-reading novels.
But back to Cuba and I’m dead keen to have orientated myself well before we get there. The time in Havana is brief and I really want to make sure I make the best use of the days we have. So I’ll need to re-visit the guidebooks and sort out an itinerary. This holiday I plan to be organised and ready to hit the streets running, although I have that sneaky feeling that in Cuba I’ll need to be laid back (although not quite horizontal!). Just as I’m regaining my confidence that this will be a holiday to remember some "plonker" at the office tells me that the whole country is so restrictive that I’ll hardly be able to take anything with me. "Make sure" they said earnestly, that none of your clothes are made for or in the USA, don’t take your I-pod, because they’re made in California, and whatever you do don’t take digital cameras. They’ll confiscate all of these before you get through customs. You see they don’t like anything to do with America" My confidence is rocked and I’m now going to have to re-assure myself yet again by speaking with the travel company. I just hate no-it-alls!!
So on the pretence of checking where the tickets are I ring the company and they are categorical. The two items that are not permitted are DVD players, or cameras that use DVD’s as a storage medium, walky-talkies and GPRS devices. I checked and double-checked and finally put the phone down feeling confident that we would not be in contravention of any import regulations. Now I just needed to wait for the tickets and entry visa (supplied by the holiday company) to arrive. All is well and the planning can re-commence!
As the days approach the same work colleague loans me their DVD of Buena Vista Social Club – "just to give you a flavour", she explains of Cuban music. This will alongside the guide books take care of the following weekend – the last one before we set off on our Cuban Adventure. The film is set in 1949, my birth year, and I’m looking forward to "feeling the birth of Cuban music", before setting off on the ten hour flight to the shores of the island.
The day we left home snow was on the ground and the wind chill factor made the conditions particularly inclement. Always a great start when you’re planning on somewhere hot and dry. Will the holiday measure up? I hope so! But you can be sure that whatever the outcome this IgoUgo fanatic will be faithfully recording the details – warts and all.