As it turns out, it is. There are direct flights daily to Cuba from Charlotte Douglas. In about two and a half hours you can be a world away and a few years back in time.
I have wanted to go to Cuba since I was in elementary school living in Hialeah Florida. About half of the kids on my street and at my elementary school were Cuban. I remember wondering why their houses smelled “funny”. Now that I know and love Cuban food, I realize it was the spices they cook with!
Technically, tourist travel to Cuba is illegal, but prior approval by the State Department is not necessary if you go for one of twelve reasons…humanitarian, educational, religious, etc. I checked the journalistic box and no one asked for a business card or any supporting documents. Just check the box. You do have to have a Cuba Ready card, or Visa, which you can get at the American Airlines counter for $100. That and a passport are all that is required as far as documentation.
I also converted some cash to Euros. You can convert American dollars in Cuba, but the Cuban government charges a ten per cent surcharge, on top of the exchange fees. Right now there are two currencies in Cuba, the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). The CUC is pegged to the dollar and is worth about twenty five times what the CUP is worth. As far as I could tell, everything is priced in CUC’s.
The flight was uneventful. I was one of about eight people in a plane that seats a hundred and something. Flying in from the ocean inland in Cuba we flew over farms and countryside. I saw a few tractors and work truck in the fields, but for the most part, the countryside was pastoral, but
almost no people or cars on the roads. In North Carolina at least, it would be unusual to see a road without any cars for miles and miles.
The airport in Havana is small (think Greenville-Spartanburg). After going through customs in Havana and converting some money, I took a cab to my B&B. The first thing I noticed was the old cars and the horse drawn carts. As I hurriedly tried to snap pictures of the old cars, I soon realized they are everywhere, and that there were going to be plenty of opportunities for photos.
My receipt from Air BnB evidently had an incomplete address for my B&B, and my cab driver didn’t speak English, and I speak almost no Spanish. So we ended up stopping every few feet on this back alley while my cabbie and his partner asked for directions to the Leon Azul (blue lion). After about twenty minutes I realized I had taken a picture of the proprietors’ business card online, and this provided a more complete address.
There are hotels in Cuba, but I chose a room on Air BnB. In general, prices range from $20-$100, with many under $50. The accommodations are not what many Americans are used to, but they are similar to how many Cubans live.
As I was only there about twenty four hours, I didn’t see all of Cuba, mostly just Old Havana. I did take a ninety minute tour on the Hop On Hop Off double decker bus, and walked a lot. Right in front of my B&B was a city square where people gathered at all hours of the day and night.
Havana, is beautiful, but crumbling. Almost all of the houses and buildings need at least paint, if not major repair. The roads were paved and decent, at least from the airport and in old Havana. Cuba is one of the few remaining Marxist-Leninist socialist states, and as such they have traded education and health care for most of what we consider modern conveniences. Most government jobs pay about $20 per month, with doctors making about $67 per month, but this is augmented by a range of free services and subsidies.
This was just a “trial run”, to see how difficult it was to get in and out of Cuba (it wasn’t) and to see how welcoming the Cuban people were (they were). So if you have an interest in Castro, Hemingway and the home of the daiquiri, consider Cuba!
To see more photos from David Hamrick’s “Day Trip To Cuba”, click here.