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Wednesday 2 Apr 2008
Dublin, Ireland

Planning for a Cuba trip - what a major chore!

"Get to Cuba before Castro dies" goes the backpacker mantra. Better yet get there while he's still in power .. alas I'll have to forgo this last luxury and make do with his "more liberal" *spit* brother Raul!

This time 3 months ago I had no idea I was going to Cuba... I just knew I was going to take a 2-week trip *somewhere* to reward myself for what, I expected, would be the end of a major programming project I'm working on.

It had to be sunny and warm because I've pretty much experienced nothing but cold all year (1 year in Canada, and then an unbelievably miserable winter and spring in Ireland)

Tanzania was high on the cards, or South America, but harking at the back of my mind was a little voice: "Hoy! Don't forget me asere!! We were going to make great music together", etc etc.

Yep, once again little Cuba was brought to the fore. One of those places I "always wanted to get to", but probably would have inserted it somewhere in the middle of a South America itinerary.

I knew little of the place apart from the fact that it was regarded as one of the "cool" backpacker haunts (as long as you get off the beaten track and mingle with the locals that is), and many travellers I have met over the years have regaled me with tales of how great the people are and the avid music culture (it has to be noted that a lot of those people haven't actually been to Cuba themselves of course... simply passing on the good word from someone else who heard it from someone who might have spent a week in Havana).

To be honest, 3 months ago, all I thought I knew about Cuba was:
America hated it, the music kicks ass, Ché Guevara and Fidel Castro are role models for standing up to oppressive imperialism from the north.
In fact, being Irish, we can appreciate their struggle against imperialism on a more personal basis than most.

3 months on, I've made a spontaneous decision to "go for it" (I love when I'm spontaneous.. yay me Wink), I've discovered a hell of a lot about Cuba that I DIDN'T know, and... well... on the downside my project is not quite complete. Oh well, no turning back now.

I've discovered a lot about Cuba and it has taken me almost an entire 2 months to read up about it (on and off). That in itself speaks volumes.

Y'see, Cuba is a hell of a place to plan a trip for if you are a first timer.
You are 50% likely to pick out a beautiful unspoilt part of the country with pristine beaches and laid-back people; and then equally likely to pick out a jinetero-ridden (the "touts" I've read about that seem to lurk in all major tourist haunts) dusty town with a mediocre beach and no snorkelling.

Add to this the fact that when you think of Cuba, the first thing you think of is "Havana" right? Apart from this lively city, Cuba has little in the way of 'famous' landmarks, as Mexico or Australia or any other country I've visited has.

Not saying that Cuba doesn't have amazing landmarks, it does, but there's no obvious "must-dos" that you can plan your trip around.

This means that in order to plan your trip, you have to read pretty much every page of the Lonely Planet just to figure out where the best sights are in the limited 14 day trip I have.

This takes ages (obviously for longer trips none of this would be an issue and you could plan as you go along).

Other things I've discovered....

Cuba is WELL EXPENSIVE. Despite the fact that I've only ever heard backpackers raving about the place, it turns out the country is not as cheap as other nearby traveller stops like Chile or Guatemala.

Cuba has this awkward system of double currency, one for locals to use (the Peso), and one for foreigners to use (the CUC convertible - which is rougly 0.70 eurobucks). Everything priced for locals is cheap (mainly street food, and some drinks).
Everything priced for tourists: hotels, buses, and state-run restaurants charge in equivalent CUC, which means that they're expensive.

You could quite easily spend 100 CUC (or 70 euro) per day in Cuba. Ouch!

And yes I've heard many travellers complain about the food. But honestly that doesn't bother me. After living off noodles in Vietnam, or dead scorpion in Bangkok... even Haggis in Edinburgh, I can stomach anything.

Finally today after an excruciating week of solid planning, I've finally got an itinerary that takes in the things that will mean the most to me on this trip:

- Explore Havana

- Few days of just pure beach-lazing (I need to make up for so many months of cold weather!)

- Check out some Cuban revolutionary towns

- Explore Trinidad (supposed to be a really lovely colonial town)

- The tobacco-growing region (which has lovely biking/hiking... I'll make sure not to break an elbow this time!)

- Diving and Snorkelling (Cuba apparently has some of the best coral reefs in the Americas ... 2nd largest to the Great Barrier Reef in fact)

It's too bad I have to come back to finish my programming project after the trip is over (the point of this trip was to celebrate it's completion), but nevertheless I'm gonna have a hell of a time until then.

Onward mes amigos!!!!

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Perdido en Cuba de Fidel

Travel blog by peterforan

Swish antique

Swish antique

2 weeks in which I crap-dance salsa-stylee in my own inimitable way; terrorise the Cuban people after one-too-many mojitos and visit bars where they actually ENCOURAGE people to smoke cigars as big as your leg. If I get time I'll take in some culture..

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