I am on my way to Cuba!!!
I will be sharing my adventures over the next few days and advising how you can experience this amazing destination for yourself, but I feel there is something I need to address as a preface…
I’ve received over the past few months comments from some of my non-US friends & customers about the “big deal” going to Cuba & that’s it not the unknown. As a Brit, I have family that have been to Cuba and as a travel pro I’m very much aware that it has a huge tourism infrastructure already in place & has been happily hosting the rest of the world for years.
My references to the “unknown” and to “testing the waters” with this trip & my “brave guinea pig” co-travelers is not because we think Cuba is scary or undeveloped. It’s actually from the U.S. government side.
In January 2015 President Obama announced a relaxation on the ban for U.S. Citizens & Permanent Residents to visit Cuba by establishing 12 categories that if they traveled under it would now be legal for them to go. The list sounded simple in his speech, but the red tape, paperwork & itineraries that legitimately meet these requirements has actually been quite a bit to navigate. In the meantime, the government has been actively cracking down on those Americans going in under the radar with huge fines and much more in a way they have not done before.
I have done a huge amount of research on this for months now, and and am confident I have put together an itinerary, and our booking methods are such that we meet all of the stipulations. But for something like this where the repercussions can be huge (I know of US Citizens recently stopped & fined thousands of dollars for circumventing these rules and that it is not just here-say), I won’t put together itineraries & sell them to my clients without having tested it successfully myself first.
Additionally, we are diving the Jardines de la Reina (Garden of the Queens). Even though other nationalities have been diving this for a number of years, not many Americans have and the limited number of divers permitted each year into the special, highly protected area means we know very few who have personally dived it and what we can expect.
Therefore this is indeed an exploratory trip for myself and my fellow travel companions, to see for ourselves if all that we have read and heard is true so that we can represent it from a first-hand perspective to our clients and friends.
Navigating what we have so far to be able to do this the right way, making plans to immerse ourselves with the people of Cuba to satisfy the U.S. requirements and visiting a country where at least for now our currency isn’t the easiest to work with and our credit and ATM cards won’t work at all. So for us, it is an adventure into the unknown and is somewhat experimental.
I don’t know all of the challenges this week may bring. I don’t know how things will go when we enter back into the USA, because right now none of us even knows someone that knows someone that has done it this way. So bear with me on the “exploratory” comments. Because for our situation, it did take a little bravery & a lot of trust on the part of my traveling companions to go with me this week as I put to the test all I have learned.
As I write this, I will be landing shortly in Havana. I’m highly excited about all the coming days will bring. I’m happy for the company that will share this with me first-hand, and I’m looking forward to then sharing with you what promises to be a combination of deep cultural experiences in the land of music, color and history with diving on pristine reefs only a few (relatively speaking) get to see.
I can see the city out of my window and we are preparing to land. The gentleman seated next to me who has been asking questions about my impending visit and has gathered from our exchange of his broken English and my poor excuse for attempts at Spanish that this is my first visit and I am ready for it in a variety of ways. As we are touching down, he has literally just looked over at me and said “Welcome to my home”. If it hadn’t been before my heart is racing and I am fighting tearing up. I am thinking this may just be one extraordinary week ahead.