Cuba: Warm sun, cool sounds…and lobsters
HAVING worked in at least three communist countries, I can honestly say they left a lot to be desired. Having just holidayed in another, I can be equally open in saying it was the most exhilarating vacation in years.
Like most people, I was not sure what to expect from Cuba – I knew a little of its history, something of its culture. I also knew it was famed for cigars, sugar production and rum. I had read of Castros struggle to successfully bring about the peoples revolution in 1959, of Che Guevara, the countrys former minister of agriculture, who was later killed while exporting the revolution to Bolivia. But this was surface knowledge and no substitute for the real thing – being there.
At 800 miles long and nearly 200 miles wide, Cuba is the largest of the Caribbean islands, with mountains, forests and plains. Despite being only 90 miles off the Florida coast, it has stoically retained its independence against seemingly overwhelming odds.
When the Russian economy collapsed, Cuba lost the financial backing of its main supporter and astutely turned to tourism to fill the gap. Drawing on the natural resources of warm sun, hot sea, balmy breezes and beautiful beaches they have built up the tourist trade to above 1m visitors a year – and still rising. But unlike the hot spots of Europe, what you notice is the lack of people. With over 11 miles of alluring white sand on the northern Varadero peninsula, there is ample room for all. But Cuba is not just about beaches, delightful though they are.
This is also a country steeped in music, the Afro-Caribbean rhythm is everywhere, hotel dining rooms, terraces, bars, cafes and on the streets. El Son (The Sound) must be one of the best black market dollar earners around, with each group offering simply – produced tapes of their haunting music.
The island also seems to be knee deep in lobsters. I lost count of the under-the-counter invitations we had to sample the shellfish delicacy within Cuban households, for the bargain price of $10 US.
Its also about atmosphere and architecture – to visit Cuba and not experience Havana is almost unforgivable. Dilapidated art deco properties vie with others in the throes of major restoration work, a myriad of Spanish colonial buildings to die for. The antiquities are not just reserved to the architecture; its on the streets in the shape of splendid time-warp 1940s American vehicles, still functioning since the gangster days of Mafia management and Batista dictatorship. To be sure, it will not unfortunately remain the Cuba of today forever, so pack your bags and discover this unique corner of the Caribbean before its too late.
• We travelled with Cuban specialists Panorama Holidays, Vale House, Vale Road, Portslade, Sussex BN41 1HP. 01273-427123.
Four days B&B in May at the Internacional Hotel, Varadero, and three days half board at the Nacional Hotel, Havana, including all transfers, costs about £650 a person.
Havana good time…buena vista in St Ignacio Square, Havana.