What to Expect when Visiting Cuba

Full Body - Trinidad (Cuba)With Cuba being the latest hotspot destination for Americans it is a good idea to know what to expect. It’s never been easier to Travel to Cuba, however, there are few things you can expect once you land and start exploring:

Your credit card and ATM card will not work. Cash is king!!! Make sure to get some CUC once you land. The line will be long but you will need cash for everything. You may get by using some US$ for the cab or your transfer, then I suggest going to one of the big hotels to exchange money. There will be no line and it will be fast and easy. A 10% commission will be taken and the exchange rate is the same everywhere you go. When I was there in January it was .87 and I doubt that it will change.

Some people recommend buying Euro and changing them, however, in my opinion, it will be a waste of money because you will pay a commission here and most probably lose on the exchange both in the US and in Cuba. Most people will be carrying a couple of thousand dollars at most. Therefore we are not talking about large losses.

Everyone speaks Spanish (of course LOL)….. so! unless you are at large hotels or touristy spots, you will need to be very creative with you basic English and use a very creative sign language. This is particularly true if you are staying at a bed and breakfast (casa particular).

If you think you will be connected to the internet you are dreaming!!! The Internet is harder to get than you think. You need to buy a one-hour internet card for 2 CUC and hope to find a hotspot. Usually, you know you are in a hotspot when you see people gathered on a street, along the sidewalks and hanging out with their noses glued to their phones. In Havana, it will be easier (a couple of spots here and there), especially if you are in a large hotel (usually one spot at the hotel). However, once you are out of the city good luck to you. In the city of Trinidad, there was one hot spot in a park and the service was lousy at best.

Don’t bother getting a sim card because your phone should work once you turn it on and it will be working on the Cuban service. I did use it to text my family and call them few times to check in. My phone bill arrived this month, my overage for the whole week was around $60 However, I used it sparingly to text and connect here and there. I did not download or use social media.

Forget about plumbing as we know it. All around Cuba they use a septic system….. so!!! you really cannot flush anything in those toilets. Guest houses and hotels provide waste baskets next to the toilets. When you go to a public restroom, you better have some toilet paper in your bag because the restrooms do not have toilet paper. Most of the time, you will find an attendant who will give you two tiny pieces of toilet paper for a tip. The shower pressure is another story, especially if you are staying at a guest house. The hot water level will depend on how many people are using the shower and hot water throughout the house.

Those lovely old cars that you see are a carcass of their old grandeur. I would say around 10% of these cars are well kept in and out. The others are basically put together with scotch tape, pins and glue LOL!!! They look decent and colorful on the outside but the inside is barely there. They are fun to ride and great for pictures.

You will also meet amazing people wherever you go. Most Cubans want to take pictures with foreigners and Americans in particular. We were standing by our guest house in Havana and a guy was passing through and asked us to take his picture with us. I mean, he does not have a phone and will never get to keep a copy of this picture. We took the picture and showed him. He was very happy and proud then went on to finish his job. It was very sweet. They are very happy we are visiting their country.

If you think you are going to shop in Cuban, you will be disappointed. Beside souvenir shops, books about Fidel and Che, galleries with printed oil paintings (I am sure made in China), there is nothing else to buy. From one city to another it’s the same thing and all at the same price.

Food at the hotels was not so great in my experience. However, the meals we had at the guest houses and the paladars were superb. Fresh, organic and delicious homemade meals.

Would I go again to Cuba?? May be!!! I would love to go again and see as many hotels as I can. With the influx of Americans going to Cuba I want to make sure the accommodations are acceptable for my clientele. I am glad I was there and glad I saw it now. Would love to see the change in 5 to 10 years.

Sydney Bridge Climb

SydneyIf one had to put a name on the fear of heights it would be TerryB in capital letters!!!

When I was in Cuenca (Spain), crossing the bridge of Saint Paul this was a real challenge for me. The current bridge was built in 1902, made of wood and iron. It stood at over 131 feet tall and when you are walking on it you can see through between the open foot boards several hundred feet down below to the river. The height really freaked me out and I was paralyzed in fear every time I had to cross the bridge from the Parador to go to dinner across the other side of town. My friends had to hold my hands and walked so fast looking straight ahead. Too bad because I missed the best views in town of the hanging houses and the amazing landscape.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I climbed the Sydney Bridge…… for the second time!!! I proudly got my Master Climber Certificate complete with gold trim. I felt like a champion!!!! The first time I climbed the bridge in 2011 I was petrified, especially on the way down because you have to go down the four ladders on your own. I was counting the steps and looking straight ahead of me. The noise of the tram and the traffic below was terrifying (at least to me) and my heart was pounding. This time around I felt like an “expert” and following one of my colleagues who was terrified. I was the voice of reason (me!!!) encouraging her along the way. Going down the ladder on my own and took in the noise and the sound and even enjoyed the sunset and the views. The climb is exhilarating and not as strenuous or challenging as one might think. The experience takes around 3 hours and is very well organized and safe. The staff is very well trained, confident and competent. The views, on the other hand, are spectacular. The Sydney Bridge climb should be a must to on everyone’s itinerary and bucket list.