I am so glad my friend and I decided to go to Cuba. The travel restriction prompted us to use Road Scholar and it was absolutely the right way to see Cuba for the first time. The material provided and the expectations set by our two wonderful guides about the expectation of accommodations in a country frozen in so many ways was helpful.
I read a lengthy biography on Che and a brief overview of Cuba's history. While my readings prior to the trio helped, they were not essential for the other travelers in our group. However, come with an open mind and don't allow assumptions about Cuba from a your native countries media perspective to color your first person experience of your own discovery and journey.
My experience with Cuba and its people has had a profound impact. Travel to Cuba, have your own discovery and your own journey instead of a description of my experience; It is just too difficult to describe in a short review the life change that has been stirred in me and other travelers in our group.
What I can suggest is that you truly consider taking items or 'gifts' that are very appreciated. For example, I wish I had found a way to bring tank-tops, ballet shoes and tights to the wonderful dance group we had the privilege to see perform and speak with; I wish we had brought more art supplies for the community art program in Santa Clara where youth are exposed to drawing and painting classes but lack colored pencils, acrylic paint and paper. In short, I wish I had done more. It is why I plan to travel to Cuba again with other friends.
I also with I had had smaller bills and change, at times for bathroom attendants and for the people in Cuba who shared a piece of their life and story during our people to people experiences.
Life in Cuba is very vibrant and at times the music and life outside your hotel window may go very late into the night. Bring quality ear-plugs and sleeping aides, they will help.
I bought small art from local artists but nothing too big or expensive. Although, a few of our fellow travelers fell in love with a larger painting or medium sculpture.
The suggested funds to bring are certainly sufficient, but it does not hurt to bring a couple hundres more in case you fall in love with a piece of Cuba you want to bring back.
Finally, but certainly very important. Don't forget to not only express your appreciation to the guides and the bus driver at the end of your trip. We tipped the local guide in CUC (convertible, you will learn about currency while in Cuba) and our American guide in dollars. Show your appreciation. I would say $20 a head (meaning, my friend and I gave $40 or the equivalent to each guide) We tipped the bus driver $10 a head or $20 for our group of two.
Most important. Cuba is the safest country I have traveled to. Please do not be dissuaded to travel to Cuba. I had my own reservations when planning our trip and friends expressed some concerns of us visiting Cuba. We and no one in our group ever felt threatened at all during our outing or walking with group members in the evening around the city squares. Do not let assumptions or politics dissuade you from expanding your world and world view.
Antonio Galvan in Madison Wisconsin
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