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First time in Cuba.

Old Feb 8th, 2003, 12:16 PM
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First time in Cuba.

Hi, I'm leaving for Cuba next weekend. This will be my first time there. We're staying at Sol Cayo Santa Maria. Has anyone ever been? Is there something that isn't to be missed? Can you recommend any really good restaurants? Is scuba diving good here? Also, I've read that the staff appreciate personal toiletries as gifts. I've generally tipped in cash and wonder if it is silly to leave soap at our table after dinner. Or are gifts generally just given to cleaning staff? I really don't want to offend anyone.

Thanks for all your help.
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Old Feb 8th, 2003, 02:18 PM
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I went a few years ago, but didn't stay on the beach. Cuba is a very troubled place wit a dictator that won't stop. It is true that soap is scarce, but I'm not sure if it would be appropriate to leave in a restaurant. I know they would appreciate dollars, as their salary is insultingly low. Gp
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Old Feb 9th, 2003, 07:22 AM
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We have been in Cuba. I can't imagine leaving anything on the table except cash. And I doubt that the people who leave soap on your counter top need your soap to take home. My opinion.
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Old Feb 9th, 2003, 08:30 AM
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Hi Linusbear.....

I have been to Cuba many times and love the country and the genuine warmth of the people. I have stayed in resort hotels, private homes and Casa Particular's (legal guest houses). While I am not a fan of their political system, you can't hold that against the average citizen who simply wants to survive and have a few nice things. Much like us.

While I have not been to Santa Maria, I can offer you these general comments.

When in restaurants etc., I leave a cash tip as I would do in any other country. Generally 15% of the meal price.

As to toiletries. I generally take some with me (also medicines) that I give to friends and the family that I stay with in Havana.

In hotels, I also take some toiletries. The Cubans can get soap and toothpaste etc., but it is of a commercial quality and while it does the job, they have no access to the nice stuff we take for granted. So therefore I leave the maid a cash tip, but also a small bag with a bar of fancy perfumed soap, a small eau-de-cologne and some nice quality toothpaste etc. This shows her that I have appreciated her service and work. Things that not only are practical, but that are also a personal luxury item that treats her as a special person. I also always include a large bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol because this is hard to get in Cuba and they get headaches and colds just like us.

I stay at one hotel almost every trip to Havana, and have met and had dinner with the manager and his wife on several occasions. On repeat trips, I have taken then little presents to share our Canadian culture with them. Canadian Maple Syrup (they love it) and other consumer luxuries that are uniquely Canadian. We have developed a nice personal relationship and I have even had dinner at his home with his family and it was a wonderful time. It also gave his children a chance to practice their english which they all want to do.

During your travels, if you are polite, think of yourself as your country's personal ambassador of friedship, and treat people with respect no matter their income level, then you will run very little chance of offending anybody. People are people the world over and appreciate being treated with respect and dignity. Leave any "attitude" at home and don't flaunt the fact you might come from a wealthy country. Economic clout does not equate with being a better person. Too many tourists want to be lauded like kings and queens because they have dollars in their pockets. This is the fastest way to become known as the "ugly tourist".

Have fun and enjoy the warmth of the Cuban people.

Steve
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Old Feb 10th, 2003, 06:10 AM
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Thanks for the replies everyone. Steve, thank you for the guidance about gift-giving. I had thought about bringing maple syrup and then thought to myself...why would they want our maple syrup? So, that's good to know; I'll certainly bring some along with me. I'm really enjoying finding little things to bring along with us. I guess because it's really no skin off of my back and it would be so much more appreciated by someone so far away. I obviously can't save the world but I'd love to do my part for those that cross my path. I'm hoping we find someone that would love to have a Toronto Maple Leafs hat, because we're bringing one.

Strange that you thought you should tell me to be polite. I'm never anything but polite while in another country and would never flaunt the fact that I come from a wealthy country. I totally agree with you on this subject. All to often people go on vacation and believe that hotel staff (or others) are there to cater to their every whim. Geez, I can't stand seeing that in my own country let alone someone doing that to another human being on their own soil. I'm kind of feeling guilty about going to Cuba now. I hate the fact that the Cuban people are struggling and here we come along with our suitcases stuffed with clothes and accessories, and they've never left their own home. Gawd.

I've rambled enough....thanks for the advice you guys.
)
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Old Feb 10th, 2003, 07:53 AM
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Hi Linusbear:

Please don't misunderstand me. I was in no way implying or inferring that you might be impolite during your travels. Please accept my apologies if I accidently left that impression.

I was merely generalizing on the attitudes that I hope all travellers should have, MYSELF INCLUDED. I love the fact that as travellers, we can experience foreign cultures and people. But all too often, I have seen boorish travellers (of all nationalities) and it makes me sad to see this. Perhaps I was editorializing a bit and hoping other readers of these postings might take a second to think of their own travel practices. Trying to make the world just a little better place. We can only try.

thanks for the soapbox....

Steve
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Old Feb 10th, 2003, 08:20 AM
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Steve, no problem about your post. I may have been a bit sensitive because I find that people get somewhat snarky to posters on this board. I've only posted one time before this and got a lot of negative feedback over a few simple questions. I suppose it's hard to judge personalities over a computer screen.

Thanks again for all of your helpful hints. And hey, it takes a just few nice gestures for the world to be one step closer to peaceful. Okay, maybe more than that, but you know what I mean.

Btw, you're doing a great job as the resident Cuba expert.
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Old Feb 11th, 2003, 04:41 PM
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Hi - been meaning to add my two cents worth from our visits to the Melia resorts in Cayo Guillermo and Holguin (Rio de Oro). My husband scuba dived off Cayo Guillermo and did most of his research for same on the net...search for Scuba Cuba I think.
As for gifts...dollar bills to the bartenders (or five or tens at the end of your week) or particular serving staff will be much appreciated. However toiletries, candies and such are great things for the chambermaids, etc.
This last trip, I brought down a pile of old clothes and our maid was thrilled with all of them. I also brought candies for her kids and some toiletries for her. My husband had some never worn Jays caps and so he gave those to the guys in the dive shop along with some cash tips and they really liked the caps. If you think you might be going on an excursion off the resort that would take you to one of the villages or small towns around, some tylenol for the doctors office, some pens, pencils and paper or toothpaste and toothbrushes for the school kids won't go amiss.
And after typing all this have just realized you've already left. Oh well. for next trip maybe.
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Old Feb 12th, 2003, 01:14 AM
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Two_Cats and others:
Just reading this post. Leaving for Cuba beginning April and so glad to find confirmed what to pack as small gifts. While cash is widely appreciated anywhere, I am happy to know about toiletries, pens, etc. It's a nice gesture for chambermaids and school kids.
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Old Feb 12th, 2003, 10:18 AM
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Thanks very much two_cats. We don't leave until Saturday so your tips are not wasted on me. I didn't realize that doctor's offices need tylenol also. That's good to know.

I notice your user name is two_cats. My user name is made up of the first name of two of my five cats. =^..^=
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Old Feb 12th, 2003, 11:19 AM
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Hi Linusbear - neat name yourself. One more point on the scuba diving then. From my hubby's research on scuba in Cuba I don't recall there being much in the way of dive sites in the Santa Maria area but I could be wrong in that. If there is a dive shop on the property though, you must try it out as you'll find yourself diving on virgin reefs. My hubby found the visibility not too good when he dove off Cayo Guillermo but that was just because there was a quite a bit of windy cloudy days when he was diving...later on when it calmed down he figured the visibility would be improved.
When we were in Holguin, we did this one excursion off the resort which involved a tour of an old sugar factory and a train ride on an antique steam train into the sugar cane country. I remember before we got on the train, the tour guide offered the women a washroom break in the little nursing station for the factory...I will never forget the site of a woman rolling cotton onto the end of sticks to make Q-tips, so just an example of the little things you can give that we take for granted! There is also bound to be a massage therapist on the resort (and at $25 an hour, enjoy it!) so some massage oils and such would be a nice tip in that regard as well.
And if you know any Spanish at all, use it, practice it and the smiles you will get in return will be threefold.
Have a great trip. The Sol Melia's are very nice hotels.
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Old Feb 12th, 2003, 11:33 AM
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Linusbear:

I visited SuperClub Breezes Jibacoa in Cuba and left soap, shampoo, pantyhose and writing paper on the bed every day for the maid. She told us, in her broken English, she was grateful. We also left a tip at the end of the week because they always want US dollars.

When we went into Havana, a man at the market bartered for my Nike hat. He wanted to give me some jewellery but I ended up just giving him the hat.

We took Juicy Fruit gum and handed it out to the youngsters we saw. Soon we were swamped, everyone wanted some gum. That was fun. We also took pencils and asked out tourguide to stop at a school where we gave them out.

We have so much, I wanted to give them something.

Have a great holiday.
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Old Feb 12th, 2003, 12:45 PM
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Tsk, geez you guys are getting me all teary eyed! Two_cats and Newsygal....I can't imagine anyone having to spend that much time just for a little Q-tip. So far we've got, perfume, fask masks, soap, pens, pencils, highlighters, and moisterizers. We're heading out tonight to get lots of munchies for the little ones. I'm glad you guys offered up scenarios of when/where to give out certain things. I wouldn't have thought about giving little kids gum....it's a great idea. A massage at $25/hour...uh...that's unheard of here in Canada. I'll set aside something for the spa lady as well. Thanks for the tip about using my Spanish. My Spanish is horrible but I'll certainly give it a shot.

Two_cats...that's too bad about the scuba diving. I'll bring my mask and snorkel in any case. It may be pretty good considering this place isn't very busy. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Thanks all!
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Old Mar 10th, 2003, 05:30 AM
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Hi everyone. Just thought I'd comment on my trip to Cuba. I L-O-V-E-D IT! igh: I had such a fantastic time in Cuba. The people were just as warm and friendly as you all said they'd be. The beaches were beautiful and the weather was superb. I would have thought that having very little happening around the resort that I'd be disappointed, but I wasn't. I enjoyed knowing that we were pretty much the only people around for a while. It was a quiet and restful vacation. We took one trip outside of the resort....to Trinidad. I am so excited to have been able to see this part of Cuba. The towns were full of old beautifully structured buildings. My Dad is an artist and I'm hoping he'll do a painting of one of the buildings I saw....what a gorgeous piece of history. We were happy to be able to stop at a school and give the kids gum, stickers, pens, pencils and paper. These children don't get very much and you could tell by the looks on their faces how happy they were to get these things. It brought tears to our eyes.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to going back to Cuba....just need to figure out where. What a wonderful place to visit.
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Old Mar 10th, 2003, 06:38 AM
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So what did you leave for tips?
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Old Mar 10th, 2003, 12:45 PM
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Hi Linusbear......

Very glad to hear that you had such a wonderful trip. Always nice to see that people enjoy themselves on their vacation. Wish I could head back to Cuba soon, but alas, budget doesn't currently allow it.

Trinidad is a place that is on my "must see" list as is Santiago in the east end of the island. I do however love Havana and its galleries and museums, and especially Havana Vieja (Old Havana).

Many thanks for posting a return report. So often I am left wondering how people fared on their travels. Nice to see and hear about the end result.

ciao
Steve
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Old Mar 11th, 2003, 08:14 AM
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Jed. We tipped cash to the bartenders, wait staff and some of the other hotel staff. We left our housekeeper toiletries each day. We gave our snorkelling guy an NFL hat, chocolate bar and gum. I think we did a pretty good job in tipping. We did feel a bit stressed about tipping while we were there. We just didn't want to leave anyone out and would feel bad if we didn't have any cash on us when we got a drink.

Steve, I hope you get to see Trinidad eventually. It really is a city with lots of beautiful architecture. We didn't get a lot of time there on our own so I can't comment on more than just the architecture and the small market. What was really cool was the mansion we toured. It had a lot of it's original furniture. It really was a step back in time. There was also a small market....very small, but nice nonetheless.
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Old Mar 25th, 2003, 10:31 AM
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Hotel staff get their fair share of soap. Give them hair accessories, cosmetics, or cash if you think they deserve a tip.

Bring old clothes, pens, pencils, etc. to give to churches.

Bring soap (I took Ivory) to give to people who give you directions. However, do not perpetuate the begging that goes on... don't give to people who come up to you and say "Sabon, amigo?"

Bring toothpaste, nicer soaps, etc. for your host in the casa particulaire.

Bring chocolates for the children.
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