Last year I went to Cuba by myself. I went to an adults-only resort and spent a week doing whatever the hell I felt like doing. It was excellent and I needed it.
This year we all needed it.
So we booked a trip to Cuba – a week over the Family Day holiday weekend. We missed a little bit of work and a little bit of school, but we all came back refreshed and ready.
And I think my daughter and husband are now as enamoured with Cuba as I am.
I learned some things last year and I learning some things this year and I want to get them all down.
- Swim shoes are a must. It made walking on hot sand much easier and saved our feet on the rockier parts of the beach. (We did, however, bring quite a bit of beach home with us in our shoes).
- I need to pack more sunscreen than I think we’ll need. I remembered my mineral sunscreen this year – after forgetting last time and spending a week with an itchy red rash – but I only packed two tubes of that and one spray can. The spray ran out on day three.
- Rash guards are great. I got one for each of us before we left. My daughter didn’t wear hers because it didn’t fit properly, but my husband wore his poolside and I finally put mine on near the end of our stay and found it very comfortable and I worried less about sunburn. (I always burn).
- On that note, I need a better cover up for myself. The sun is not my friend and I failed to take anything that was cool but still protective. I really could have used it on our day in Havana
- On Havana, when we went on our tour we stopped for daiquiris at La Floridita and ate lunch at La Guarida. The kid says the fresh past from La Guarida was her favourite part of Havana, and we’ve agreed we will attempt to make our own pasta sometime.
- Pack painkillers. I found myself with a bad headache one night and nothing I could do about it. In Cuba they only have what they have, and I should have thought to take some with me.
- Take more books. Our number one activity besides swimming was reading, but my husband and my daughter ran out of reading material before we left. I finished all but one of my physical books, but also had a bunch of ebooks loaded onto my iPad. (Actually, one of the books I took and read my daughter is now reading and I’m thrilled.
- Pack snacks. Like I said, in Cuba they have what they have, and they don’t have American brands, so if you have picky kids take some of their favourite snacks. We prepared the kid for the different food she was going to see, and she tried new things – including guava, which she is not a fan of – some she liked, some she didn’t, but we had a few snacks to fall back on. We failed, however, to pack snacks for the plane.
- Learn more Spanish. One of my favourite things about Cuba is the people, and while most speak English, all of them speak Spanish and I’d like to be able to say more than gracias.
On that note: The people of Cuba.
This is a country that runs on its tourism industry. The people there don’t have much. But I have yet to meet a Cuban who wasn’t proud to be Cuban. Every tour guide I have had has been well versed in layers of history. Every one mentions and recognizes the slaves that were brought to the country, every one of them knows about the revolutions.
And Cubans like Canadians. We don’t understand how they can live there in the summer, they don’t understand how we could survive the cold winters. Our guide on the bus back to the airport told us – a bus full of Canadians – that he finds 20 C cold. He could not comprehend that we were on our way back to a place that was -18 C.
Tip them well. Many of them earn most of their living on tips, and they are great at service. Every day our maid would create a sculpture out of towels and sometimes she included the kid’s stuffed animals and it made her laugh every time. When she asked us where we got the plastic containers we had snacks in, we gave them to her, because they are easy for us to replace but hard for her to find.
I’m hoping that my daughter saw and understands that the world is a strange place and there are people who have a lot less than us. I think our day trip to Havana showed her that more than anything.
On the bus to our resort from the airport there were two men who were louder than everyone else. Obnoxious, one might say. And they got more obnoxious as we drove along. They treated the guide and bus driver rudely, commanding them to say or do things as though they were performing monkeys there for our amusement.
These men were the type of tourist who treats the local as if they’re stupid because they don’t speak English like we do and they aren’t as well off as we are. At one point they demanded the bus driver sing. At another point one of them cracked a joke about Fidel Castro – the national hero.
Don’t ever be this type of tourist.
Once we got off the bus we talked to our daughter about exactly this. These people live different lives than we do, that is all. Show respect for their country, their language, their culture and the work that they do.
My last two lessons from Cuba:
- Don’t be surprised if you want to know more about Cuban history when you leave.
- Don’t be surprised when you find yourself booking another trip.