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Inside Cuba: An In-Depth Island Journey

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16 Days | 15 Nights
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Discussion Board

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John Cubit Nov 29, 2015 at 12:13 AM

Regarding appreciated gifts, someone mentioned thumb drives. Thinking back to our time there, I think this is a great idea. Cubans have little access to the internet and need good ways to exchange information. Thumb drives are very cheap now. I'd also recommend loading the thumb drives with up-to-date antivirus and antimalware programs. CNET and other reliable sources list basic protection programs that are free and shareable. On this topic, I bought a CD with recipes from a vegetarian restaurant that was part of our tour. Something on the CD badly crashed my PC even though I have good protection software. I don't know if it was malware or a malfunctioning program meant to prevent pirating the CD. Be careful.
Carolyn Butler Nov 29, 2015 at 12:34 PM

Good recommendation to load thumb drives with up-to-date antivirus and anti-malware protection. I picked up several thumb drives during back-to-school sales in September, but I had not thought about loading protection onto them. Will do that before I go. Thanks too for your reading suggestions on pre-Castro Cuban history.

Pat Kosters Nov 28, 2015 at 11:27 AM

I'm currently more interested in reading about pre-historic and pre-Castro Revolution Cuba. Don't think James Michener (whom I loved reading) wrote fiction about Cuba, only the Caribbean. Any suggestions?? I'm on Feb 19 trip...
John Cubit Nov 28, 2015 at 03:33 PM

The single most important book I read before going to Cuba was "Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914" by John Robert McNeill. It's well written and well reviewed. It explains how the British circumvented Havana's impregnable harbor. McNeill describes how the Spanish relied on mosquito-borne yellow fever to defend Havana against overland invasions by Europeans, but lost the city to the British in a year when the seasonal rains--and mosquitoes--arrived late. Also check the various works by Bartolomé de Las Casas. He was a Spanish priest who participated in the original Spanish colonization of Cuba. He describes a land of plenty and how the Spanish brutally exterminated the indigenous people of the Island. Consequently, unlike most other Latin American countries, you will see no indigenous features in the people of Cuba. Also, read up on Cuba's war of independence from Spain. This is the same war that the U.S. calls the "Spanish American War" of Yellow Journalism, Remember the Maine, and Teddy Roosevelt fame. Two very interesting men of this war were José Martí and Antonio Maceo. There is a lot of information about them online. You will learn a lot about pre-Castro Cuba, including formative attitudes, when reading about these men. All these readings will give a much deeper context to the places and history you will see on your tour.
Pat Kosters Nov 28, 2015 at 04:15 PM

Thank you so much for such a great book review. Ordered the McNeill today. PBS ran all Kennedy/Cuba history programs this week refreshing my real life experience of those incidents in the 50's & 60's. This book sounds like it will fill in the pre-history for me perfectly.

Donald Schoengold Nov 22, 2015 at 02:36 PM

Three comments -

1. How many places outside of Havana will be accepting credit cards.

2. How many small shops inside of Havana will be accepting credit card.

3. How many artisans will be accepting credit cards.

Bottom line is that you still have to bring a significant amount of Cuban money.

Deborah Malbec Nov 22, 2015 at 09:51 PM

Clarification - I never said "credit card", I said "debit card." and at this time the card must be issued by Stonegate Bank. It will be most useful at major hotels, The card can be used in about 10,000 Cuban hotels, restaurants and other places that accept cards certainly not at individual independent artists.
Deborah Malbec Nov 22, 2015 at 09:53 PM

And NOT at ATM's. It is just a first step - not any immediate use to casual tourists, who generally have pre-paid hotels and restaurant meals as part of their tour package.

Deborah Malbec Nov 22, 2015 at 03:01 AM

Nov 19, 2015 financial news - Mastercharge debit cards can now be used in Cuba. "MIAMI — Americans visiting Cuba can finally put away their cash and pull out their debit card.

MasterCard and Fort Lauderdale-based Stonegate Bank announced Thursday that their cards are now active for use in hotels, restaurants and other stores in Cuba, becoming the first to take advantage of the new opening with the communist island.

In a statement, the two companies said there are 10,000 merchants in Cuba that can accept the cards. ATM transactions won't be available until 2016, but Americans can now use their debit cards to pay for hotels rooms, meals and all kinds of products and services across the island.

A MasterCard executive even tested out the cards earlier this week to purchase one of Cuba's iconic cigars."
Nan Schaller Nov 22, 2015 at 06:20 AM

I'm not looking to undermine the excitement this engenders, but if you are hoping to take advantage of this, I would strongly encourage you to check with your bank. There was a similar announcement before our trip last March but alas it was not to be so. Also, someone wrote at that time that the lack of wifi infrastucture meant such transactions took a very long time to process. As much as I disliked carrying cash, I suspect that is still the best way forward.
John Cubit Nov 22, 2015 at 01:24 PM

John Cubit Nov 22, 2015 at 01:31 PM

Nan's right. Don't count on it. Your hotel bills are already paid by Road Scholar. Most of the things you will need to pay for are at small restaurants and small shops--the places that will probably be the last places to have access to to credit card transactions.

Premium Email Subscriber Nov 18, 2015 at 09:07 PM

I highly recommend "Cuba: What Everyone Needs To Know" by Julia Sweig which provides great insight into the Cuba that has never been able to be its own.

Our trip starts February 5th and ends on the 20th.

Glenn Kline-Casey

Glenn Kline-Casey
Carolyn Butler Nov 19, 2015 at 09:16 PM

I'll tackle this one when I'm ready for a serious read - I hear it;s got a wealth of information about Cuban history from the colonial period forward, but it's a bit academic for casual reading. An excellent resource that I hope I will get to.

Elizabeth Spona Nov 18, 2015 at 08:09 PM

Great ideas, John and Carolyn. I'll check it out. There's so much information out there, and so little time to take it all in. I am currently reading "The Cuba Reader" edited by Chomsky, Carr and Smorkaloff, published by Duke University Press.
Carolyn Butler Nov 18, 2015 at 08:19 PM

"The Cuba Reader" is in my reading pile too. Let me know how you like it.

John Cubit Nov 18, 2015 at 02:15 PM

Recommended viewing that I just discovered: If you Google "Castro PBS", you will find numerous links to PBS programs tracing the history of the Cuban Revolution, starting with the military coup by Fulgencia Batista, Castro's popularity, the badly failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the US embargo, and the consequences of Castro's resorting to Soviet support. I wish that I had seen these programs before my Cuban trip--it would have given me a much better perspective for the places and history we covered across the country. I also would have more easily recognized Raul Castro when he and his entourage walked through the lobby of the Hotel Nacional while we were there. (However, it was easy to figure out by the number of stars on his shoulders and the massive Secret Service style body guards in black suits clearing the way.)
Carolyn Butler Nov 18, 2015 at 03:58 PM

Sounds like another great resource. I'll check out the PBS programs. I read most of a book titled "Cuba: A Global Studies Handbook" by Ted Henken which went into a lot of detail about Cuban history. I took some notes, but there there was a lot to digest. I also listened to an audiobook of interviews with Fidel which gave me a very interesting perspective on the man. He said that he considers himself to be a "Utopian Socialist," which I thought was an apt description of the values he holds. The trouble is that there is no utopia on this earth, and so his ideals have never been fully realized.
Carolyn Butler Nov 18, 2015 at 04:00 PM

The audiobook (and the hard copy book) was titled "Fidel Castro: My Life, A Spoken Biography."
Carolyn Butler Nov 18, 2015 at 04:01 PM

Correction: The title is "Fidel Castro My Life: A Spoken Autobiography."

Carolyn Butler Nov 12, 2015 at 03:25 PM

I've heard that guitar strings and strings for cellos and violins are needed items. Since they are compact and easy to pack, I'd like to take some along with me when I go. But...I lack any knowledge about exactly what kinds of strings to buy. I can ask at the music store, but if anyone has knowledge of the specifics, I would appreciate anything you can tell me.
Charlotte Drayer Nov 12, 2015 at 10:48 PM

That's a great idea. They do need strings. The music store can advise on the orchestral strings. For the guitars, just clarify that they are acoustic, not electric.
Ralph Palmer Nov 13, 2015 at 06:44 AM

For more bang (so to speak) for your buck, I'd recommend going to www.sharmusic.com (Shar Music). I've used them for years, and they guarantee low prices on strings. They also have free phone service to help you decide on strings. Shar Music is reputable, their prices are reasonable, and they are helpful.
Carolyn Butler Nov 13, 2015 at 01:37 PM

Thanks, Charlotte and Ralph. My sister (a music teacher) also suggested Shar Music, so I'll definitely contact them.

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