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When I arrived on the stone plaza steps in the morning, I asked a waiter what time the music would start playing. He just looked at me quizzically, as if maybe I were dull-witted. “All the time,” he said. And, sure enough, it started a few minutes later and didn’t stop until after midnight. You don’t need to go to the plaza to hear music, though. It pours out of every tavern and restaurant as you walk the cobblestone streets of the old town, like Bourbon Street in New Orleans. While we were in Trinidad, staying in an old mansion, my friends took a cab every day to Playa Ancon, one of the beautiful Caribbean beaches only a few miles out of town. I didn’t go, because I just wanted to gorge on music, music and more music all day long. It didn’t quench my thirst. I still need more.
We spent three days in Trinidad, then headed two hours west to the Bay of Pigs and a town just outside of Playa Larga, This is famous for the attempted invasion of Cuba by a U.S.-supported counterrevolutionary force, ballerina pointe shoes and I fully intended to go to the local museum to be steeped in anti-American rhetoric, Unfortunately, the beaches were just too blue, the water too clear and warm, and it called to us to come, swim and snorkel, We didn’t even try to resist, I have one request: Please don’t take a package tour of Cuba..
The Cuban people are so warm and funny and inviting. And if you take a package tour, you’ll never meet any of them. That would really be a shame. Know the new rules. But, you are asking, what about the new travel restrictions that the U.S. president just imposed?. I was dismayed to hear President Donald Trump’s June 16 speech in Florida, which re-imposed travel restrictions on U.S. visitors to Cuba that had only recently lifted, though his proposed changes were alarming. Note that the changes he pledged to make must still be drafted into policy by the U.S. Treasury Department, and no date has been set for them to take effect. They also won’t ban U.S. airline or cruise travel to the island, nor place new restrictions on how tourists buy plane tickets.
Also, of the 12 official “reasons” that Americans are legally allowed to travel on their own to Cuba, only one is to be rescinded, with 11 remaining, Trump pledged that the “people-to-people exchange” reason for visiting, which had been expanded from tour groups only to individual travel, would be rolled back to apply only to package tours, We did not enter Cuba under this provision, but under a different official “reason,” which approves travel for “support for the Cuban people.” I do support the Cuban people, and this official “reason” for visiting won’t be affected by the changes, according to the U.S, Treasury briefing paper I read this week, Still, for my next trip (as all of them), I will buy “cancel for any reason” insurance from InsureMyTrip.com, and then I can get most ballerina pointe shoes of my money back that I paid in advance if there’s a glitch..
The president did indicate that he wants to ban Americans from spending their money in ways that enrich the Cuban military, which operates the government-run tourist hotels. I don’t recommend you stay at those hotels, anyway, because I love the guesthouses. What you should do instead is stay in a Cuban guesthouse, and this is the time to go. Under Raul Castro, the communist regime is loosening its grip on private enterprise, allowing small businesses like restaurants, tour companies, vintage taxis and such to operate. This means more selection in places to stay, eat, shop and recreate.
But go now, before the American trade embargo is inevitably ended, and this unique time in Cuban history, which is like stepping back in time, is ended, Before you find a Starbucks on every corner, with a McDonalds across the street, Until then, you’ll find beautiful Havana, where the old town is restored but the rest of the city is crumbling, like a genteel lady whose beauty has faded, Live like a ballerina pointe shoes native, Cuban guesthouses are called casas particulares, and they are licensed by the government, In order for proprietors to get a license, each room for rent must have an air conditioner and a private bathroom, It’s Cuba, so things are always in flux, but that was the rule at this writing, We loved ours..
In communist Cuba, everyone ostensibly works for the government for minuscule wages. People have universal free health care. Excellent education, also free. And ration books that provide them food staples at heavily discounted prices. But anyone who wants more than a basic standard of living needs to find a second job in tourism, which drives Cuba’s economy these days. This means you have odd experiences, like we did of staying in a guesthouse run by the presiding judge of Old Havana. She only earns $25 a month as a judge, and her lawyer husband earns the same. We paid them $35 per night for each room we rented in their charming apartment in central Havana, with the beautiful balcony overlooking the street. And an additional $5 each morning for a breakfast that included luscious fresh fruit, eggs and coffee.
Our casa particular in the historic town of Trinidad was a mansion that once served as the Spanish consulate, We took the entire ballerina pointe shoes second floor, all four bedrooms, with antiques and open-air patios, It’s owned by a former veterinarian and his wife, We paid $35 per night, per room and felt like we were sleeping in a museum, After inquiring what they needed via email, we brought them medicine they couldn’t get in Cuba, In return, our hosts couldn’t do enough for us, The owner, Rogelio, even drove my son to the beach in his motorcycle sidecar, just for fun..