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Mar
02

Don’t You Want to See Cuba Before It’s Too Late?

old havana

old havana

With all this talk of Cuba lately, Fidel’s brother’s incredible reforms, his stepping down, I want to see it before the gates really open and the kernel of old, closed Cuba is gone forever.

I am a sucker for the story of Castro and Che. Motorcycle Diaries was one of my all-time favorites.

And now you can travel to Cuba without too much hassle. The Italians, of course, have been doing it for ages. Where else can you sit on the roof of Havana’s Saratoga Hotel, mojito to hand, listening to guitar and traffic?

the man

the man

We are all so familiar with the image of Cuba: Crumbling Spanish colonial baroque, fifties American cars in flat pastels, cha-cha. Apart from the ugly Stalinist monuments in the Plaza de la Revolución, and some bad 1970s tourist hotels, nothing has really changed much since Castro took over in 1959.

The US blockade has basically frozen Havana in time. Poetry, music, black magic and Hemingway—Che and El Comandante and Papa their long beards and Caribbean tans. This is the way we see it.

hemingway-castro-1960

hemingway-castro-1960

And the way I want to see it. Which means I’d better get my butt there fast. Because soon all those antique Pontiacs, Buicks and Fords will be replaced by Korean and Chinese cars with zero, and I mean zero style.

I want to go before the colonial houses are purchased by developers. I want to sit in La Habana Vieja, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

 La Habana Vieja

La Habana Vieja

I want to bar hop as they did in the fifties in party dresses and mob suits, check out the lobby bar of the Riviera Hotel on the Malecon and watch the sun go down on the ocean. The Malecon is the treeless, concrete, ad-free, 11km long promenade that is the finest spot in Havana for solar reflection. Sadly, it’s ripe for re-development. The Riviera was built by mafia gambling hoodlum, Meyer Lansky. It opened only days before Castro and 89 pioneers ousted Batista and the mob lost it all.

Meyer Lansky

Meyer Lansky

Perhaps not such a bad thing.

But they’ll return. After 50 years of being banned, real estate agents, architects and interior designers will return. Each of those crumbling houses has a pre-revolutionary resident family member with some claim to title, waiting for the moment to come back and take what they believe is theirs. But in the meantime, if you’re an American, it’s still pretty tough going.

Cuba

Cuba

Alright, so now that the Obama administration is allowing legal travel to Cuba, how do you go about getting there? It’s called people-to-people travel and it goes like this:

“Each traveler must have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba,” according to the U.S. Treasury Department guidelines.

Green_1950_Chevrolet_in_Varadero,_Cuba

Green_1950_Chevrolet_in_Varadero,_Cuba

U.S. visitors coming via people-to-people trips shouldn’t plan on too much beach time. Sadly, for now, Under the Treasury guidelines, tour operators have to plan nearly every moment of the trip, and “people-to-people” travel, at least in theory, excludes relaxing by the pool with umbrella-topped beverages.

People-to-people travel isn’t cheap or easy, though.

A four-night “Weekend in Havana” trip from Insight Cuba, without airfare, sells for about $2,000 per person.

hemingway's house

hemingway's house

The high cost of the trips is due to the fact that operators need to send guides with their groups to make sure they comply with the travel regulations, and that renewing the yearly U.S. licenses can take months of navigating a complicated bureaucracy.

Hopefully this friendship stuff will end soon and the gates will open and we can go and see what we want when we want to. But in the meantime, I want to see Cuba before the gates really do open in earnest. No pun intended.

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