An American in Cuba : A Guest Blog by Leslie Spoor

An American in Cuba

A guest blog by Leslie Spoor

I never even thought about going to Cuba – it has been off limits my entire lifetime. But then, over the course of an hour, not one, but two emails came into my inbox promoting a trip and I thought it must be a sign! A sign to take a trip to Cuba! And it seemed really important to go now, before the trade embargo is lifted and our US commercialism mentality charges full steam into Cuba, destroying the quaint and simple lifestyle it has enjoyed since it was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492.

But here was the thing – despite the fact I am a seasoned world traveler, I was a bit nervous about going to a place that few Americans had visited. I tried researching information and did find some, but even with that little bit of info, it still seemed better to go with a tour group familiar with the customs and history of Cuba.

So we ended up picking Globe Drifters as our tour group of choice and boy are we glad we did!

As luck would have it, we opted to go to Cuba, a third world country by anyone’s standards, at the worst possible time.  We picked the week the U.S. President decided to go too. And the Rolling Stones decided to have a concert that week. Oh, and it was Spring Break, Holy Week and, of course, Easter.

What were we thinking? Here is a country barely able to support itself and now it was going to be overrun with visitors. Even though Americans have only recently been allowed to travel to Cuba, other countries (especially Canada and Great Britain) have been traveling there for years.

So we scheduled the trip, very excited to go, only for it to be challenging right from the beginning – Our charter was cancelled, there were problems with our casa particulares (the homes where we were staying throughout our trip), Havana was closed down for the Presidential visit, there are no ATM machines, barely any Internet, and no cell service. Had we been alone, we would have been cut off, isolated and unsure of what to do.

It was Globe Drifters to the rescue! Not only did they have connections and experience in Cuban travel, but they engaged a Cuban tour company who chauffeured us from town to town, making sure our accommodation was reasonable, showing us the best places to visit (and eat!) and explained Cuban history and culture at every opportunity.

If it hadn’t been for Globe Drifters and Jodie, Rebecca and our guide, Tatiana, our trip could well have been a disaster. So yes, while it was challenging and even sometimes downright ridiculous, it was also an amazing, beautiful, fun and exciting adventure. And that is the key to a successful Cuban vacation – you must remember it is an adventure.

I was amazed by how much I didn’t know before traveling to Cuba. Globe Drifters puts out a fair amount of good information before you go, but there were still unexpected surprises and of course unforeseen complications due to the particular week we visited.

When we returned to the US after our weeklong visit, it occurred to me that other Americans opting to go to Cuba might benefit from a comprehensive ‘how to’ travel guide. So I wrote An American In Cuba, a quick and downloadable e-book travel guide.

Now is the time to go to Cuba, before it is disturbed by all the corporations chomping at the bit to get into the country and build a coffee shop and discount super store on every corner. Go now! Consider Globe Drifters as your tour company and for sure, download An American In Cuba, available for download at Amazon. For just $3.99 it may help you have an unforgettable Cuban travel experience.

 

*Leslie Spoor is an entrepreneur and founder/president of two successful companies – Executive Errands®, a lifestyle management company in the Palm Springs area (www.executive-errands.com), and Concierge Business Solutions® (www.conciergebusinesssolutions.com), a consulting company for small business owners and a software development company that services clients all across the US and internationally.  Leslie may be reached by email at info@conciergebusinesssolutions.com

‘Off the Beaten Path’ in South East Asia

‘Off the Beaten Path’ in South East Asia

1) Son Doong Cave – Quang Binh Province, Vietnam

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Imagine trekking straight into the depths of the world’s largest cave! Be prepared… This trek is not for the weak!  

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There is currently only one tour operator that is permitted to take you into this cave : Oxalis Tours. A 5 day/4 night trek will cost you $3,000 USD. They operate from February to August with 10 travelers maximum per group.

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2) El Nido, Palawan Island, Philippines

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Until recently, the Philippines was often skipped over by travelers to South East Asia. However, in the last 5-8 years, this country, especially Palawan Island, has seen a huge surge in tourism, so it’s not really as ‘off the beaten path’ as it used to be. Nonetheless, the Philippines is still not a typical ‘vacation’ spot for many. Most prefer the more popular islands in Thailand and Indonesia, but by overlooking these islands, they are missing out!

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El Nido is at the tip of Palawan Island and has a large archipelago surrounding it. While topographically similar to the islands in Thailand, the reefs and islands around El Nido are in much better condition in comparison.

The main beach drag in El Nido

One of the most popular excursions while in El Nido is going beach camping on one of the deserted islands in the surrounding archipelago.

I went in 2007, but have heard there has been an influx in recent years. I really like the Philippines and think it is sadly underrated, but maybe that is what has kept it in its pristine condition?!

View from my room!

3) Koh Rong Samloem Island, Cambodia

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Koh Rong Samloem is a deserted island paradise; so deserted that the show ‘Survivor’ filmed 2 seasons here and has a permanent base camp on the island for the production team to stay in.

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Village in Koh Rong: Photo credit – Joe Achacaso

If you had gone to this island 10 years ago, you would have only had one choice in accommodation and very limited amenities. With each passing year, more and more bungalows are popping up, making the most of what is essentially a ‘deserted island paradise.’ 

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Unfortunately, the future of Koh Rong Salmoem is not looking too bright. The island has been leased out for 99 years to the Royal Group, who plans to push out the bungalows on the island and build Asia’s first environmentally-planned resort. I am guessing that to stay at this soon-to-be resort will cost quite a pretty penny. Now is the time to go before the development starts!

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Village in Koh Rong: Photo credit – Joe Achacaso

The island is not hooked into an electrical grid with most bungalows only offering electricity for 4-5 hours a day, usually between 6-11 pm. However, there are a few bungalows now that offer electricity 24 hours a day. Hot water is in only at one or two ‘hotels’ on the island and there are no ATMs, no vehicles, no medical clinics and very limited Wifi. Who needs wifi when you’re in paradise!

If you are looking for places to stay, I suggest Saracen Bay Resort.

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Saracen Bay Resort does have 24 hour electricity, but no hot water and only has fans. The restaurant on the premises is probably the best on the island and the rooms are really well-equipped compared to most other bungalows with basic amenities and are geared more toward backpackers.

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If you’re interested, we run a trip to Vietnam/Cambodia and we spend 3 days on this island at the Saracen Bay Resort. Click HERE for more information. 

4) Phu Chi Fa, Thailand

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Phu Chi Fa is located in the Northeast of Thailand and is rarely visited by foreign tourists, but is a popular vacation spot for local Thai people.  Many of the local Thai’s have never experienced cold weather nor have they seen a large mountain range, so many of them come here to get their first dose of both. They usually camp inside the national park. Their excitement is clearly visible while they wrap scarves around their necks and put on mittens for the first time!

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The main attraction here is to hike to the peak of the mountain to watch the sunrise. It may seem like a treacherous hike, but it is relatively low in physical exertion. In the morning there are minivans that will take you into the national park and to the base; from there it is only a 30 minute hike. The hike has a moderate incline on a wide dirt path with plenty of places to sit to the side and take a rest if you’re feeling tired.  

Although it is an early start, it is well worth the early wake up call as you look out over the sea of clouds and mist enveloping the mountains.

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Both locals and foreigners alike embark to Phu Chi Fa from the northern city of Chiang Rai, but if you are up for more of an adventure, you can take a scooter or motorcycle here.  

Actually, you will see a lot of motorcycle tours go through this town as this is almost always a stop on their tour. If you’re interested in scooter/motorbike trips, we do a 10-day scooter tour in the North of Thailand and we stop here as well. The below picture is what the roads look like. Click HERE if you want to check out the details.

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5) Loikaw (Kayah State), Myanmar

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The Kayah state is the smallest in Myanmar and is one of the least visited regions making for a truly unique visit. It takes about 8 hours by car to get here from Inle Lake.

Samkar Liquor House in Loikaw

Loikaw is hill tribe central. In Loikaw, foreigners are few and far between and the hill tribes are not inundated with tourists swooping in and flashing cameras in their faces, which makes this is an ideal spot to see and interact with the people of the hill tribes.

Loikaw itself is a small town and the main attraction is the Taung Kwe Pagoda. This pagoda is well worth a visit. The region is also known for its liquor production.

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If you want to visit the hill tribes, you’ll need to head out to the country side. You will also need to hire a guide who will provide you with the necessary permits to visit them.  

The Kayah state was one of the states that was involved in a recent bloody civil war with the Burmese military. There was a recent ceasefire, but tensions still run high.

Many people visit the ‘long neck villages’ while in Thailand, but this tribe is originally from this state as well as the surrounding areas. If you want to read more about the Padaung people and the long neck villages in Thailand, click HERE.  There is a lot of controversy surrounding visits to these ‘human zoos’, so you can click on the link to learn more.

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We recommend that if you go, you try to be respectful of the people there and avoid taking a million photos. These are people and they are not just there for your amusement.

6) Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

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Khao Sok is not really ‘off the beaten path’ per se, but it is skipped over quite a bit during tours to Thailand. Khao Sok is in close proximity to both the islands in the south and in the east and is approximately a 2 hour drive.

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View from our bunglow

It is one of the oldest tropical rainforests in the world and is said to be over 160 million years old, which would make it the second oldest jungle in the world.

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One of the highlights of the area is to stay inside the national park on a floating lake house.  

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Lake house

Although the lake houses lack a bit in comfort, the views make up for it. You might even consider it akin to camping, but in a floating “tent”.

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view from your room at the lakehouse

My favorite accommodation in Khao Sok is at ‘Our Jungle House’. It is one of the very first eco-hotels in the area. We stay here on our tour and many have said it is one of their favorite stops on the trip!

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Khao Sok is one of my favorite places ever and the rainforest is absolutely amazing! Other activities you can do are tubing, canoeing, bathing hot springs, night trekking through the jungle and so much more. If you want to get more info about trips there, you can click HERE.

7) Cenderawasih Bay National Park, Indonesia

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When most people think of secluded exotic diving and snorkeling in Indonesia, Raja Ampat comes to mind. However, Cenderwasih, which is to the east of Raja Ampat, is slowly growing in popularity and it is due to mainly one aspect : whalesharks.

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Getting here is no easy task, but those who embark on the journey will be rewarded with a truly secluded part of the world that few ever see.

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When diving and snorkeling here, you are almost guaranteed to see the majestic and giant whale sharks who stick around because of the fishermen throw the leftover bait fish into the water. It also is said to have the most pristine hard coral gardens in Indonesia.

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It is always fun to get off the beaten path so go ahead and give one a try!

 

Exchanging Money in Cuba

Exchanging Money in Cuba

Money in Cuba : Double (Currency) Trouble?

There are two types of currency in Cuba : the peso cubano (CUP) and the peso convertible cubano (CUC). This is sometimes a source of confusion for tourists traveling to Cuba. Basically, the CUP is the currency used uniquely among the Cuban people for everyday exchanges of goods. On the other hand, the CUC is the designated currency for tourists. Neither currency is up for exchange in foreign markets. This means, that outside of Cuba, you cannot legally exchange either type of Cuban money for another currency. At the same time, no other foreign currency is accepted by local shops, restaurants, and bars.

Each currency’s value and rate of exchange within Cuba is controlled by the Cuban government and can fluctuate albeit generally not too drastically. For all intents and purposes, most travelers think of 1 CUC as equal to $1 USD. However, a more precise ratio is below :

1 Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) = approximately $0.87 USD 

3 Cuban Convertible Pesos / peso convertible cubano (CUC) 

When traveling in Cuba, you will almost always purchase goods and services with CUC and receive CUC as change. On rare occasions, you will get CUP as change, but that is usually when the sales establishment has no CUC to give or it is not a major tourist institution.

Most Cubans you encounter, would much prefer to receive CUC because the CUP is extremely undervalued. 1 CUP is less than $0.05 USD – just to give you an idea of how little the local currency is actually worth. One Cuban man I spoke with once told me that the CUP is worth so little that he might as well use it as toilet paper!

5 Cuban Pesos / pesos cubanos (CUP)

ATM Withdrawals? Forget About It!

Should you run out of cash while in Cuba, there is a slim to none chance of getting more. You will not be able to withdraw money from an ATM using any American card. Western Union and other wiring services take a very long time to reach the receiver in Cuba.

This is why we always tell our travelers to bring more cash than expected to spend. We think it is always better to have extra cash on hand rather than to run out and have no way to get more. A large number of our travelers to Cuba have told us that they wish they had brought more spending money. Cigars and rum are probably the most popular souvenirs for purchase, but many travelers regret not budgeting for the amazing, original artwork. Artwork is exempt from the souvenir quota of $400 USD.

Artwork in Cuba is very popular as a souvenir!

Many travelers have also told us that they found Cuba to be a lot more expensive than other developing countries they have visited. In Cuba, be prepared to pay as much for food and services as you would in a ‘developed’ country. The unexpected higher prices are mainly due to the government placing large taxes on anything considered “non-essential” or tourism-related as well as the artificial exchange rate for the CUC. The trade embargo placed on Cuba by the United States also has some effect on prices. Cuba is a unique case and it is not as cheap as countries such as Indonesia, Guatemala, or Thailand just to name a few. Most visitors find it much more expensive than they anticipated.

Every traveler is different and therefore money spending will vary. Please consider your own spending habits when it comes to budgeting for drinks, shopping and tipping.

If you tend to purchase many souvenirs and/or art or if you enjoy spending a lot on big nights out, we recommend that you take more than the estimated amount below. An estimated total to bring for purchases, activities, and tipping is between USD $400-600. WE HIGHLY ADVISE BRINGING MORE MONEY THAN YOU EXPECT TO SPEND IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY!

At the end of the trip, if you are satisfied with the service that you received from your Cuban guide and bus driver, you are more than welcome to tip them. You will have one bus driver that accompanies the group throughout the tour. The driver is employed by a Cuban government transport agency and thus receives a typical Cuban salary, ranging from about $10 – $20 USD a month. We therefore encourage you to tip the bus driver, especially if you received excellent service and your experience was enhanced by his/her services.

You are welcome to tip according to what you feel is appropriate, but here are some suggested amounts :

Cuban tour guide : $30 – $80

Cuban bus driver : $5 – $10

Our awesome Cuban guide (in black shirt) 

Exchanging Money

For international exchange purposes, 1.00 Cuban Convertible Peso = $1.00 USD.  Note that on top of the 3% currency exchange fee, there is a 10% fee charged when exchanging US dollars, so you will only receive 87 centavos CUC for one US dollar when exchanging currencies.

There are two official currencies in Cuba. The Peso Convertible (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP or Moneda Nacional – M.N). The exchange rates of these currencies are fixed by the Cuban government and are liable to change at any time.

Tourists use Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cubans use Cuban pesos (CUP). You will be quoted for everything you purchase in Convertible Pesos (CUC) as a tourist.

In Cuba, there are official government exchange houses called CADECA. These can be found in every reasonably-sized city and also at the airport. We suggest exchanging most of your currency at the airport for the sake of convenience. There are CADECAs in some of the bigger hotels and also near the accommodation in Havana. All exchange houses and hotels offer the same rates so there is no need to shop around for the best rate. Be sure to count the money you receive from the CADECA, as staff have been known to short-change tourists.

Cadeca – Official money exchange offices of Cuba

Exchange counters accept all denominations, so you can bring 20’s, 50’s and/or 100’s. Make sure that the bills are in relatively good shape with no tears and limited wrinkles.

At the end of your trip, you can exchange your money back to USD at the airport. You cannot exchange pesos outside of Cuba, so you can either exchange it to USD in Cuba at the airport or spend the rest on souvenirs at the airport.

Many travelers ask about bringing Euros or Canadian dollars to Cuba as these currencies do not have an additional 10% exchange fee like the USD. Remember that all foreign currencies in Cuba are subject to the 3% currency exchange fee. Your home bank may also have supplementary currency exchange fees, so it is up to you to check with your bank and inform yourself of the exchange rate, which you can find online.

Please understand that we do NOT advise travelers on what currency to bring with them to Cuba and it is the responsibility of the traveler to decide on his/her own. Please weigh the pros and cons of exchanging to another currency on your own.

Cuba – Expect the Unexpected

What to Expect in Cuba

Cuba is trending big time these days – in the news, among travelers, on social media, etc. More and more tourists are flocking to the tiny island before it is “ruined”. (Don’t even get me started on that topic. I’ll save it for it for another blog post!) I encourage anyone and everyone to go to Cuba because it is a beautiful country with warm and extraordinarily resourceful people. HOWEVER… before going there, please, please, pretty please with sugar on top, open up your mind and as the title recommends : expect the unexpected! Here are seven “unexpected” things to expect during your travels in Cuba!

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1.) Breakdowns

I don’t mean the emotional or mental kind! Cuba is a small and pretty much isolated island although it is only about 90 miles away from Florida. Because of the embargo still in effect, access to what we consider common tools and parts needed to fix cars, air conditioners, bathrooms, and so on can be very hard to come by. On top of this, appliances tend to be older models, so there is a strong likelihood that something will break down. So when the air conditioner in your accommodation is leaking water, don’t expect it to be fixed at the snap of a finger.

How to deal : Be patient! Kindly speak to a person working at your accommodation about whatever appliance is broken and understand that it may or may not be able to be fixed during your stay.

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Broken down car on the side of the road

2.) Hablamos espanol

Spanish is the official language of Cuba, so naturally, you’ll hear it everywhere during your stay in Cuba. Furthermore, don’t expect to be able to speak English everywhere you go. If you stay in a casa particular, there will most likely be little to no English to be spoken. If it is spoken, it may be broken and limited in nature. When visiting a store or food/beverage establishment, interaction in English can be rare. Many non-Spanish speaking tourists rely on gestures as a means of communication.

How to deal : Learn some key Spanish phrases before going. I suggest the standard “Please” and “Thank you” as well as “I would like…”, “How much is it?”, and brushing up on food and numbers before you go. Most guide books will have useful phrases in them to help you out.

3.) Spend Those CUCs

While Cuba remains relatively cheap in comparison to other major tourist destinations, it is still more expensive than developing countries that you may have visited. You shouldn’t expect to be making it rain CUCs in the club simply because the cost of goods and services are not as cheap as you might expect. A meal at a restaurant including a drink and tip can come to $10 USD or more per person. Cuban cigars, while cheaper than in other countries, can still be pricey, especially the more well-known brands.

How to deal : For our 9 day trip, we recommend that travelers plan on spending around $400 – $600 USD. Additionally, we recommend that you bring a few hundred more in case of an emergency situation.

One Cuban peso convertible (CUC) approximately $0.87 USD

4.) Go Off the Grid

As an American, cell phone and Internet usage are very limited for the time being. Most American cell phones do not get service in Cuba. Even some of those who had purchased international plans and were told that they would work while in Cuba were disappointingly unable to use them. The Internet is also not always a given. In order to use the Internet, you can go to a major tourist hotel and purchase an Internet card. These days, there are newer establishments where you can go to purchase these cards as well. However, you can only use the wifi in designated public squares in various cities throughout Cuba. Unfortunately, even when purchasing these cards, connection can be spotty at best.

How to deal : Be mentally prepared not to be able to use the Internet and phone while in Cuba. We always advise travelers not to tell their friends and family that they will be emailing/video chatting/texting/calling during their travels. Also, try not to let your need to be connected affect your trip. We know it can be hard because we are so used to having lots of telecommunication options at your fingertips, but try to enjoy it! It’s not everyday that you have an excuse not to be glued to your phone, tablet, or computer!

Cubans using wifi in a public square

5.) Toilet Toils

I have seen threads on forums and blogs on this pretty frequently. Toilets in Cuba, especially public ones, often do not have toilet seats. Ladies : now is as good of time as any to learn the art of hovering! Your accommodations will have a toilet seat and/or lid. Also, toilet paper is not usually freely offered in public restrooms. There is almost always a bathroom attendant to whom you give some small change and in return, you will normally receive a small amount of tissue for your use. Finally, don’t flush the toilet paper down the toilet in public and private bathrooms! If you have traveled to parts of Asia, you probably have had some experience with this. Plumbing in Cuba is kind of weak sauce, so wads of tissue down the toilet does not usually end well for the toilet and pipes. There is usually a small waste basket next to the toilet in which you can dispose of your used tissue.

How to deal : Bring your own toilet paper. It’ll come in handy when you feel that the amount of tissue you receive from the restroom attendant is too small. Plus, you can use it to wipe off the toilet bowl rim prior to using it.

Cuban toilet without lid or seat

6.) Water Woes

These days, there has been a big influx of travelers to Cuba and that has put a strain on the infrastructure. The housing and plumbing are just not ready to handle all the tourists flooding the island. This will most likely have an affect on your showering habits. Be prepared for lukewarm or possibly even cold showers and low water pressure. In all of our travels to Cuba, we can count the number of times we have had a hot, high-pressured shower on one hand!

How to deal : The showers may be cold, but on the plus side, the weather will be hot! Shower fast and perhaps split the shower up into two parts. At night, very quickly wash your body. Then in the morning, wash your hair over the sink or tub if it has a detachable shower head. The water will be cold, but it will break up the showering process and hopefully you won’t feel too chilly after getting clean!

7.) Eat Your Veggies

Some find Cuban food to be delicious; others not so much. Cuban cuisine tends to be pretty simple in nature. You will almost always have a protein consisting of pork, chicken, beef, or fish that will be generally pan fried or grilled and lightly seasoned. Your meal will also come with some fresh vegetables that are in season. You may be offered some sliced tomatoes or cucumbers with shredded cabbage and a simple dressing of olive oil with salt and pepper. Also, for the starch, there is almost always rice and beans or just rice served. Occasionally you will get some boiled potatoes. A lot of people have told me that they have found the food in Cuba to be quite bland or very monotonous.

How to deal : Bring your own hot sauce! No joke! I always have my favorite one constantly on hand at the dinner table whenever I’m dining in Cuba.

Cuban meal : Ropa Vieja (spiced shredded beef w/ veggies), plantains, assorted veggies, black beans & rice!

All of these things seem pretty basic, but you’d be surprised at how many people gripe and complain about these things. I’m going to keep it real and let you know that the best advice I can give you is to remember that while it is tough to take a cold shower, have a boring meal, hover over a toilet, the Cuban people have had to live with this on a daily basis and they have survived. If they can do it for most of their lives, you can do it for a little over a week! Finally, don’t let this little stuff – because let’s face it, it really is little stuff – affect your trip too much. There are too many awesome things to see and lovely people to meet in Cuba to sweat the little things.  So with these things in your open mind, definitely DO go to Cuba and have tons of fun!

Food in Cuba

Food in Cuba

Many travelers are pleasantly surprised at the quality and variety of food that can be found in Cuba. Beans and rice are the staples, along with cucumber, tomato and cabbage as conventional ingredients for a Cuban salad. Chicken and pork are the most common meats served in Cuba. However, fish and a surprising variety of delicious seafood are also very frequently offered.

Here are eight of the most common Cuban foods and dishes. Try not to drool all over your keyboard!

  • Moros y cristianos — Also known as “rice and beans” is a staple of the Cuban diet. It can be found at pretty much ANY Cuban restaurant. It is literally translated as “Moors and Christians”. The black beans represent the “Moors” while the rice represents the “Christians”. The black beans are boiled in water and the rice is then boiled in that same water. Other ingredients such as garlic, bell pepper, oregano and bay leaf are added for more flavor. Moros y cristianos can be eaten alone or with a meat/fish dish.
Moros y cristianos (black beans and rice)
  • Ropa vieja — This is one of Cuba’s most famous dishes and can be literally translated as “old clothes”. Don’t worry though, the taste is far from that of an old pair of gym socks! This specialty consists of shredded beef flank slow cooked in its own juices and stock along with tomato sauce. There are some vegetables such as onions and bell peppers added and it is usually served with rice and/or beans.
Ropa vieja tastes better than its name suggests!
  • Plátanos — Plantains look just like bananas, but are less sweet and are commonplace in Cuban cuisine. You’ll find them prepared in different ways, but every way is delicious! I actually went through painful plantain withdrawal after leaving Cuba! 😉 One way you’ll see them is in the form of mariquitas or pan-fried in thinner slices, which gives them the appearance and texture of crispy chips! Another common plantain preparation method is twice-frying them and when prepared this way, they are called tostones. They are also known in Cuba as tachinos/chatinos.
Tostones aka tachinos aka chatinos. (Try saying that 3 times fast!)
  • Picadillo — A dish that is actually common in a lot of Spanish speaking countries, but is equally popular in Cuba. It is made of minced beef that has been seasoned with onions, garlic, oregano, cumin and other herbs and spices. Picadillo is almost always served with… You guessed it! Rice and/or beans! It can sometimes have a slightly Christmas-y taste thanks to the occasionally added cinnamon and raisins.
Picadillo cubano served with plantains & rice and black beans
  • Mojo — Austin Powers lost his mojo and you can find yours in Cuba! Mojo is a sauce used in the preparation of some dishes, but is also frequently used as a dipping sauce for fried plantains and cassava/yuca. It usually contains garlic, olive oil, onion and a citrus juice. Although I could probably do without the plantains or yuca and just drink straight up!
Mojo cubano…bottoms up! 😉
  • Medianoche — You might know it as the Cuban sandwich, but the one that you’re probably used to is a bit different than what you’ll find in Cuba. Its name means “midnight” in Spanish and is called this because it is a popular snack to have after a night out on the town. It will typically have ham, roast pork, mustard, swiss cheese, and dill pickles. The main difference is the bread on which it is served. Cubans usually make a medianoche with a sweeter egg bread.
Medianoche… *drool*
  • Arroz con leche — In English it is called “rice pudding”. It is a simple dessert that is eaten all over Latin America as well as Cuba. Cuban-style rice pudding is made with rice, sugar, cinnamon, lemon, evaporated & condensed milk. It can be eaten warm, but also can be served chilled and is quite refreshing after a meal on a hot day.
Arroz con leche is a perfect way to top off a meal.
  • Flan — It’s not specifically Cuban, but a lot of people eat it in Cuba. You’ll usually see it two different ways. First, it might be plain, but even without any topping or garnish, it’s pretty dang tasty! The second way you’ll often see it is with a caramel sauce poured on top, which is also really delicious, especially when paired with a nice cup of café cubano!
Flan with caramel is a must.

Additionally, fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season are to be found and include : mango, pineapple, papaya, guava, coconut, orange, grapefruit, breadfruit, corn, an assortment of sweet potatoes, bananas and enormous avocados, as well as many other tropical fruits.

Breakfast is included everyday on all of our trips in Cuba. It is an especially wholesome and filling experience at the homestays (casa particulares). The breakfast varies from house to house and typically includes coffee, milk, fruit juice, bread, eggs (or omelette), and fresh fruit.

Cubans are gradually becoming more aware of vegetarianism. Many of them are aware of its existence, but do not quite understand the reasoning behind it. The belief that to eat well means eating meat is still firmly embedded in the nation’s consciousness. However, through the influence of tourism, more and more vegetarian options are to be found on restaurant menus in Cuba and the cooks in the homestays are now quite accustomed to providing vegetarian meals. Therefore, it is not too difficult to get a vegetarian meal in Cuba, although you generally won’t find much variety and you may get tired of being offered the same (i.e. rice, beans, omelet and salad) everyday.

A vegetarian dinner in the homestays in Cuba will cost between 5 and 8 CUC. This isn’t much cheaper than a dinner containing meat and the reason is that vegetables on the free market in Cuba are of similar prices to those of meat.

There is little problem maintaining a strict gluten-free diet in Cuba. This is mainly because the food in Cuba is very natural (there isn’t much processed food available in Cuba). This is especially true in the homestays where there is also the additional advantage of being able to order specific meals and give the cook instructions about what you can and cannot eat. The guides are informed about gluten intolerance and to know which ingredients to instruct the cooks to avoid.

Most of the food you will have at paladares is limited to what is produced locally and what is in season. The US relies on mass imports and industrial farming to provide us variation in food year round. In Cuba, you will be offered what is in season. If it is avocado season, you will eat many avocados. If it is guava season, you will eat a lot of guavas, and so on. It is quite a treat to eat local and organic food. Monsanto and other US pesticide and GMO corporations are not allowed into Cuba due to the embargo, so think of how fresh the fruits and veggies will taste! Also, the meat is all grass-fed and free range. In Cuba, there is no industrial farming in which the livestock are pumped full of antibiotics or mistreated. Cuban pigs can lay on their backs and play in the mud! ¡Buen provecho!

Getting from the Bangkok Airport to your Hotel

Getting from the Bangkok Airport to your Hotel

Bangkok taxi
Bangkok taxi

There are two airports in Bangkok. One is called Suvarnabhumi Airport, the international flight hub. The other is called Don Mueang Airport for largely domestic flights, but some flights to and from neighboring countries also can be taken here. Both airports are about equal distance to the city center of Bangkok. If you are flying from the West you will be flying into Suvarnabhumi Airport.

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Jet Lag is for Amateurs

Jet Lag is for Amateurs

Plane landing by sunrise

These days it seems like more and more people are traveling further and further. Different corners of the globe are now open to exploration. The wonders to be seen are countless and the high you get from seeing, eating, and experiencing new things is second to none. However, there is one aspect of traveling that may put a damper on the excitement and adventure : jet lag. It is real and it can lay the smack down.

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How you Know you Have Been Traveling For a Long Time

Have you traveled or lived overseas for an extended period of time and then returned to your home country?  If so, then you can probably relate to these habits.

1) Your mom/roommate/friends keeps wondering why the trash bin in the bathroom is always filled with toilet paper.

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Why You Should Not Volunteer While Traveling

The problem with volunteering overseas is that most do not have a skill set that is really needed for the volunteering position and most organizations want a minimum commitment of 6 months to really “make a difference,” not three days.

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A Love/Hate Relationship- Welcome to India

Oh India…. you make me feel uncomfortable, give me severe diarrhea, make me take 30 hour train rides but in the end you utterly amaze me. You are that really bad relationship that I keep wanting to go back to. Continue reading “A Love/Hate Relationship- Welcome to India”

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