Trip to Cuba and New Orleans

Mike and Judy Henderson
January 25 to February 8, 2016

I (that's me, Mike) don't know exactly why, but I've always been interested in seeing Cuba.  So after we returned home from our trip to Italy last fall, we were talking about where we should go next.  Judy saw an advertisement for a Vantage land tour of Cuba and we decided to sign up.

So we're off again.  We fly to Miami on Sunday, 1/24, and then to Cuba on Monday, 1/25.  We will not have Internet access (or phone access, for that matter) until we return to Miami on Feb. 2.  I'll keep the trip blog each day but I'll only be able to post it on February 2. [Update:  I was able to get Internet access in Cuba, albeit at a fairly high price.]

Following our return from Cuba we take a plane to New Orleans on February 3 to spend a few days with my family.  Mardi Gras is early this year - February 9 - so we'll be there for the lead up to Mardi Gras, but we return home on Monday, February 8, the day before official Mardi Gras.  About Cuba:  First we fly to Cienfuegos.  We'll stay there for about three or four days and then travel by bus to Havana.  We'll get a chance to see the Bay of Pigs on the 28th as we bus to Havana.

1/24/2016 We're off!  The limo picked us up this morning at 7am and we had an easy, low traffic trip to the airport, arriving very early for our 10:05 am flight.

I usually post a picture of Judy and our bags, but this time I have a shot of the two of us as we're preparing to depart.

Arriving early we had time to get some breakfast before we went to the gate.  Our flight was delayed about 30 minutes.  Considering the historic blizzard on the east coast, I guess that's not too bad.  Here's Judy in the waiting area.

Our flight was uneventful and we arrived in Miami almost on time.  We caught the hotel shuttle and are now in our hotel room (Marriott Airport Hotel). 

1/25/2016  Today we fly to Cuba.  In our meeting last night with Alex, our tour manager, we received documents and information that were necessary for our arrival in Cuba.  It's all very straightforward and everything is on paper.  Cuba has not converted much to computers yet.

We had breakfast at the hotel and then gathered in the lobby about 9:30.  Alex is ready to go.

And so are we, waiting to transfer to the airport.

As a side note, the Marriott at the Miami airport was very nice.  They charge for Internet access but gave it to me free because I'm in the Marriott "frequent guest" program.

The trip to the airport was very quick and we cleared security without problems.  We have a second Vantage person with us, from Vantage Corporate: Micaela.

The plane was a 737-400 charter and it was not full.  After about an hour flight, we landed in Santa Clara, Cuba.

The view coming into Santa Clara.  The area is agricultural.

We deplaned via steps rather than a jetway, as is commonly done in Hawaii, and we walked across the tarmac to the terminal building.

Inside, we had to clear customs - with those forms we filled out last night - and they put us through a security inspection even though we had gone through a security inspection before we left.  I think the reason they do the incoming inspection is that the inspection at the departing airport is for weapons and explosives, while the Cuban inspection is for drugs.

Then to the bus, which was a modern China-made bus.

We met our Cuban tour guide, Walkys, at the bus.  He had worked as a professor of English and Spanish at a Cuban University, but makes significantly more money working as a tour guide.

Our driver is Rolando.  This picture was taken a few days later.

Someone once gave me a definition of communism as "equality of misery" and that seems to describe the area around the airport.  The houses and apartment buildings in this area are very basic.  I expect they will get better as we get to the major cities.

The "main" roads were paved, although potted, narrow, and mostly empty.  The traffic consisted mostly of large trucks and horse drawn wagons.  Here's a horse drawn wagon with a farmer and a pig.

I thought this shot captured the road situation well:  a six lane highway, built as a "freeway" with overpasses, and not a vehicle on the road.  I'm sure this was meant as a major thoroughfare but very few people seem to own automobiles or pickup trucks.  I used the word "own" but I'm not sure how ownership works in a communist/socialist country.

Santa Clara has the distinction as the burial place of Che Guevara.  They have a large museum/monument to him there.

If you visit, be careful of the steps.  The monument is "terraced" but the steps of the terracing are too high.  They report that people are injured each year falling because of the steps.  Fidel Castro recently fell while visiting the monument.

After about an hour on the bus - the bus travels fairly slowly - we arrived at the Hotel Jagua.  These pictures were taken the next morning.

The hotel, by Cuban standards, is very nice.  It has obviously been renovated and is clean and somewhat modern.  I believe it was built in the mid-1950's.

The hotel is only one room wide.  There's a walkway on the left side (as you face the hotel) and each room has a balcony on the right side.  Plumbing is decent and there's hot water. There is a hair dryer in the bathroom and a small refrigerator in the main part of the room.  Here's a view of the inside of the room, from the entrance hallway towards the balcony.  I took this in the morning before they made up the room.  The room is a comfortable size, about the same size as a medium level hotel room in the US.

The electricity is 220V but they used the standard two or three prong, polarized 120V outlets in the rooms.  Every outlet is marked "220" because guest would naturally assume that the power is 120V.  

Our first dinner was in a restaurant that is part of the hotel, even though it is a separate building.  This is what the building looks like in daylight.

The room where we had dinner:

And some of the decorations on the walls.  The house belonged to a wealthy sugar plantation owner before the revolution.


Our trip continues here.