Welltravbrit's Cuba Trip Report - Finally!

Dec 13th, 2016, 11:28 PM
  #41  
 
Join Date: May 2005
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Your musings are very helpful and you have articulated many of the issues I've been agonizing about. As of tonight we're leaning toward the airbnb - will decide in the morning. We have stayed at many throughout Europe and a place with no reviews is usually a dealbreaker - but in this case I'm ready to trust the photos and the manager's good reviews for other properties. Other advantages to the airbnb are that with wifi we can completely unplug, and also that we can prepay and travel with less cash.

Our "kids" are 23 and 26 so the pool is not as essential as it once was (and we will have a pool in Viñales)... comfortable beds are now more important for all. Like you, we're looking for 'people to people' encounters but that should happen without much effort because we all speak Spanish (I'm bilingual - lived in Mexico and Venezuela, and the rest are reasonably proficient).

We too looked at the Saratoga, where many friends stayed, but it isn't available. And even if it were, it's over $1000 a night per room over the holidays, so not in the cards.

Thanks again for weighing in. Will soon go over your report for more recs...Fabrica del Arte is also on our list - just saw that Bourdain visited there as well.
crosscheck is offline  
Dec 14th, 2016, 02:24 AM
  #42  
 
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I agree with WTB - I would pick the airBnB over the badly serviced hotel any day, and you will not be able to avoid music and dancing, especially if you stay in Habana Vieja.

as you will have a pool in Vinales [where are you staying there?] you really don't need one [IMHO] in Habana where there will be so much else to do anyway.
annhig is offline  
Dec 14th, 2016, 08:08 AM
  #43  
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Too funny I read "young sons" and missed that you'd put "young adult sons" - scratch most of what I said re the pool .

Bourdain is my bête noire, lol! I did read his first book but we don't have cable and I haven't seen his show, nonetheless I can't tell you how often we go places, Burma, Colombia, Penang etc where people start telling us, did you know Anthony Bourdain was here? Sometimes last week! Occasionally I think we travel the world either in his wake or going to places right before him. I'm looking forward to going to Sudan because hopefully I won't be hearing about him there!!!

Wow, the Saratoga was below $500 at the end of May which I thought was extortion, but $1,000 is insane and for Cuba it's all just obscene when you consider the national average wage. We saw just the same craziness in the pricing in Burma and eventually I went for very midrange places there because I couldn't bring myself to overpay in Asian where you generally get such value for your tourist dollar. I think it's interesting to visit Cuba right now because you'll see how things are changing but in many ways (like Burma) it will be interesting to return when they have the whole local boutique hotel infrastructure set up too.

In terms of conversations Spanish will of course make all the difference in the world! I'm sure you've read plenty about the Jinteros but certainly you'll encounter lots of conversations ending in a recommendation for a restaurant/request for milk etc. The question is how to have conversations that go beyond the transactional which is a real issue in a place where the financial gulf is so great.
welltraveledbrit is offline  
Dec 14th, 2016, 09:41 PM
  #44  
 
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Sudan: I think that's one place that Tony has yet to visit, though he's been to Ethiopia. Can't wait to hear about that! You do indeed deserve the WT in your screen name.

Airbnb vs. hotel update: I'm now a little nervous about violating my airbnb 'no reviews' rule so we're still on the fence about the Loma del Angel place. Meanwhile I had emailed the hotel manager and he got in touch today to say he was reserving two primo view rooms for us - and that he also secured some paladar reservations - so at the moment we're leaning toward the hotel.

People who meet people to people: I don't think we'll be chatting up random strangers on the street. We will visit friends of friends and I'm also thinking of trying to find some of the people I met when I spent a month in Soviet Cuba in the 80s. We also have booked a couple of interesting guides.

annhig, In Viñales we're staying at Los Jazmines, which is supposed to have gorgeous views and crummy rooms...kind of like our hotel in Havana. We still haven't met other Americans who are doing the whole trip independently, but my older son has three friends who are going the same time, so it does seem that Cuba is truly becoming a hot destination ro Americans...for the moment, at least. Wouldn't surprise me if DT pulls the plug in January.
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Dec 15th, 2016, 01:50 AM
  #45  
 
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crosscheck - we got to see Los Jasmines and the other big hotel in Vinales by taking the HOHO bus, which drops off and picks up there. The situation was indeed lovely, but we didn't see inside, obviously. Certainly the position is great.

if the food is bad, I can recommend getting a cab or the bus down into town [or walk down, get the cab back] and eating down there. there are lots of restaurants, though we ended up eating in our casa [the second one - we couldn't stand the first for more than a night!] for both of the evenings that we were there.

we didn't have any trouble with Jinteros except in Trinidad where they are quite insistent in plugging their restaurant but otherwise they left us alone; perhaps we don't give off those sorts of vibes or looked too poor! We did have innumerable tuk tuk drivers ask us to use them but a quick "no gracias" seemed to do the trick most of the time.
annhig is offline  
Dec 15th, 2016, 08:33 AM
  #46  
 
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jinEteros
SambaChula is offline  
Dec 15th, 2016, 08:46 AM
  #47  
 
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www.bestcubatravelguide has an interesting page on how to deal with jineteros/as in Cuba.
SambaChula is offline  
Dec 15th, 2016, 02:05 PM
  #48  
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We were deciding between Sudan and Ethiopia and who knows, if the situation in Sudan heats up we may indeed go to Ethiopia instead. We have an overnight in Addis on the way to the Seychelles but we won't have time to see much, I went through airport there in the 1980s when Ethiopian airlines was one of the cheapest ways to get to SA.. I'm thinking about booking a morning market tour so we'll get to see something but that would mean waking up at 5am which sounds a bit painful!

Cuba - We stayed in a casa not far from the Jasmines so we saw the place. The location is lovely. I heard mixed reviews about the place one woman said it was dreadful and another it was descent - so perhaps it's all about expectation.

While you're there do walk over to the restaurant el Balcón del Valle. They have a series of wooden decks built out overlooking the valley. It's exactly the amazing view we had from our case and it's lovely. There's a staircase nearby where you can head down into the valley for a hike which we did too. We stopped there in the morning and only had a drink but we had the place to ourselves before any tour buses arrived which was charming.

Glad to hear the hotel manager was responsive and you're smart to prebook the tours. We planned our whole trip at the last minute and had trouble booking things.

Annhig LOL!!!!
welltraveledbrit is offline  
Dec 15th, 2016, 02:26 PM
  #49  
 
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honestly, WTB, they did! I was expecting the sorts of approaches that we have had in other places, but it really didn't happen. We did have quite a few interactions with our "fellow travellers" from many different nations, which was fun, and we spoke to lots of cubans too, mainly in the casas we stayed in, but as for Jineteros, we met very few.
annhig is offline  
Dec 15th, 2016, 04:42 PM
  #50  
 
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sambra, WTB and ann, Thanks so much to all of you for the suggestions (and again, sorry for the hijack!) WTB, We must have similar taste in restaurants - I've already booked El Balcon (as well as Cocinero, Esto no es un Cafe and La Guarida in Havana). I'm not usually this organized (check out my trip reports) but heard from a friend that holiday reservations are not easy without the help of a tour company. Besides hotels and paladares, we have reserved drivers for our long distance transfers, a photography tour in Havana, a guided hike and farm visit in Viñales plus dinner at El Balcon. Left 2.5 days in Havana completely open for some serendipity.

There were slim pickings at all the casas when I booked in September, so we chose hotels. I was thinking of eating at a casa on our free night in Viñales so we could meet a Cuban family - any thoughts or recs?

WTB, So envious that you're going to the Seychelles. Has been on my list forever. If you do go to Ethiopia, take a look at my friend's travel photography - she photographs festivals all over the world and said Ethiopia was one of the most extraordinary places she's visited, with truly wonderful people.

http://cindybendat.com/portfolios/ethiopia-angola/
crosscheck is offline  
Dec 16th, 2016, 03:39 AM
  #51  
 
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I was thinking of eating at a casa on our free night in Viñales so we could meet a Cuban family - any thoughts or recs? >>

Well certainly not the first one we stayed at!

the second one was nice but not a place that you would go to specifically to eat.

Have you looked at TA for rave food reviews? I'm sure they have casas [and paladars, where you can also meet cubans] on their site.
annhig is offline  
Dec 19th, 2016, 09:39 AM
  #52  
 
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Would a casa particular do dinner for someone who was not staying there? (Never heard that question brought up on forums, but I suppose they would to make money.) I suppose you could call or show up ahead to make arrangements (they generally need a heads up to buy food and prepare) and drop the name of their former guest (whoever told you the cook was good). Interesting
.
Most Cubans might find the prices at a paladar or restaurant that you might consider eating in to be much too expensive, so that may not be a good place to meet any. I took the hosts of one of mine out one night and, while they had fun, they mainly commented on how much food at the markets that same money could buy.
-------
WTB-- Headed for Ethiopia soon with a friend who's retiring "home" to Addis.
SambaChula is offline  
Dec 20th, 2016, 03:22 PM
  #53  
 
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Would a casa particular do dinner for someone who was not staying there? (Never heard that question brought up on forums, but I suppose they would to make money.)

I'm emailing one of our guides to see if he can set this up. For those of you who have stayed in casas, did you eat with the family or did they serve you the meal separately?
crosscheck is offline  
Dec 21st, 2016, 02:00 AM
  #54  
 
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crosscheck - we ate with the other guests, not with the family, though they seemed to be eating a similar meal, though with less of the meat and more of the veg. the soup and "moros y cristianos" were probably the same. We were given a choice of meat, fish or "lobster" [with the price adjusted accordingly] but so far as we could tell, most cubans eat pork most of the time.

So eating in a casa may not give you that much exposure to cubans but it does give you an opportunity to see a little of their lives.
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