We are just finishing up our December Expedition. Among other things, we’ve had 2 birthday parties. We have visited Havana, Viñales National Park in the mountains, the Bay of Pigs, and Varadero Beach. I can’t begin to describe all the things we did, but it has been a lot of fun. We have been eating very well. In Havana we saw many interesting sights, met with a representative from the Ministry of Health, and visited a clinic and two hospitals. We’ve heard some terrific music, which we have enjoyed every day. In Viñales we visited a rum factory and a tobacco farm, while riding through lush green mountains. At the Bay of Pigs, we swam in the calm, flat ocean and snorkeled near our hotel.
Here at Varadero, we’ve spend a lot of time at the beach and in the beautiful, warm ocean. Although we are staying at a resort, we have had a chance to go to town and see interesting sights such as Al Capone’s beachside home and the DuPont family mansion. While we were in town, I visited two beachfront bed-and-breakfast inns. Both had five rooms and were full. The owners told me that there were slightly more US Americans now, but Canadians still tend to be the most common visitors by far.
On this trip I have continued to notice the effects of changes in relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Regardless of your political beliefs, if you maintain that there have been no significant changes in Cuba during the past year, you just haven’t been paying attention. While we’ve been here, conservative Texas Governor Greg Abbot has been visiting on a trade mission. During the past year I have been concerned that a new US President might try to reverse the normalization of relations process started by President Obama about a year ago. Now I feel more comfortable that it would be impossible for any new president to do this.
One of the biggest changes recently has been the attitude of Cuban-Americans in Miami. Most of the older radical exiles have died, given up, or changed their minds. Today there is overwhelming support from them to engage with Cuba and help re-build the country. Polls have shown that 80% of those Cuban-Americans under 30 years old favor rapid normalization. Perhaps somebody should tell this to candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who have never been to Cuba. They only know the Cuba of the 1950’s described by their parents. I believe both to be very smart Senators, but they sound so hopelessly uninformed when talking about Cuba and events there. I’ve told my group that they now know far more about Cuba than 95% of US travel agents, 99% of Americans in general, and 100% of our presidential candidates.
A few months ago I wrote that I was going to discontinue these expeditions after my May 2015 trip. I changed my mind and brought a group this past November and our December trip is just about finished up. My February trip is full, but there are still spaces available for the April 16-23 expedition. I am seriously considering another one in June—they are just SO much fun and interesting. The quality of travelers on these trips has always been exceptional. They have been very informed, yet open-minded.
I would also like to promote individual groups traveling to Cuba on their own (without me). In early November I arranged for a 10-person group of (mostly) physicians traveling around for a week. They used my favorite guide and were able to talk with some local professionals who would not have been available to casual travelers. They reported having a wonderful time and really enjoyed their expedition. If you know anybody interested in traveling to Cuba in a small group (or even by yourself or as a couple), please contact me and we can talk about it. For about 60% of the cost of larger companies, you can stay in the same hotels, use the same bus, visit the same attractions (actually more), and have one of the BEST guides in Cuba. Now that there are non-stop afternoon flights from LAX to Havana on Saturdays, west coast travelers won’t have to spend an extra day or two in Miami.