VACATIONING IN CUBA
To think that communism has condemned the nation to a life of poverty and destitution would be wrong. Most Cubans seem to be living decent lives with enough food and adequate housing. The average Cuban may not have luxuries or even basics comparable to a typical Canadian. But he is not suffering as some might think. He has to work; so do Canadians. He would like to earn more; so would every Canadian. His job may not be guaranteed; neither are jobs of most Canadians. He does lack things which we take for granted. He has no WalMart, no Home Depot, no Canadian Tire. The hallmark of operating vehicles which are 40, 50 years old and more is a credit to the ingenuity and creativity of Cubans. A Cuban auto mechanic is not considered to be a real mechanic until he can install a 1950’s Ford carburetor into a 1960 Chevy and the car runs just fine. Even the hotel maintenance staff use tools which do the job but which would be trashed by a repairman in Canada.
Because there is no luxury in their lives, no second tier of quality, most Cubans accept the cards life has dealt them. They yearn for better things quality as seen on cable TV or in what the tourists carry or wear on their holidays. Hence, they welcome tokens of appreciation from tourists, but more than just tips.
Vacationers should prepare themselves accordingly for a Cuba holiday. Hotel rooms will likely be very clean, big and accommodating but old, likely built during the Russian heydays. Service at any tourist resort will be cheerful and very good. Staff usually seems happy and willing to give very good service.
Tips on tipping in Cuba
Tipping in Cuba as in any destination catering to tourists is very acceptable but watch out for the currency you are using. Canadian coins are useless to Cubans as banks will not accept them. Paper currency is almost useless except that the banks will exchange it for local Cuban money, the only currency a Cuban is allowed to use.
In light of the above and that Cubans lack the much more than the basics of life, instead of thinking of money as a tip, one should consider bringing good previously worn clothing and footwear. Shop for electronics on eBay and Kijiji: watches with extra batteries, mini flashlights, USB sticks, even lighters, items which can be purchased for very little but which when given to the waiter, the bartender, the housekeeping staff will ingratiate you tremendously to them. We once even gave away a suitcase, though I wonder how it was used.
Destinations of note
Varadero, Santa Lucia, Costa Verde and beaches of the south coast are beautiful destinations. Coral reefs draw snorkelers and scuba divers as well as sailors and sun worshippers.
Holguin, located on the costa verde, the north-east coast of Cuba, has numerous beaches and resorts. The transfer from the small airport to the hotel is about an hour bus ride, maybe a bit less but it is a nice little drive through the Cuban countryside. One sees small farms, a number of little towns as well as the city of Holguin, a larger city with a university and the only professional baseball stadium in that entire region of the large island.
Sunwing tours offers an exceptional deal which includes children under 12 for free. It must have been one of the best tour deals offered by anyone because tourists from every part of Canada, from Italy, Germany and Russia populated the resort on the coast. For anyone speaking a foreign language, it presented a Tower of Babel opportunity of speaking other languages.
One of the tour hotels for Sunwing Tours is the Hotel Blau. It is an excellent hotel, likely built about 2 or 3 decades ago but still well maintained with large, clean rooms, air-conditioning, a mini-fridge and cable TV with at least 10 channels including CNN, BBC, RAI, and France too. The hotel had purchasable Internet connectivity with good service.
The bars in the hotel offered limitless drinks, but more important was that one could select from premium imported brands at no extra charge. Name brand scotch, Napoleon brandy, Dubonnet were some of my favourite libations and proof that Cuba had trade ties with European countries. Of course, the beer was domestic, cold, bubbly and with a nice taste to it. On a hot afternoon, it was a refreshing accompaniment to a light lunch or a cold and crispy salad.