A New Adventure

I’m off to Cuba on Friday! I decided I needed some adventure and I’m not into rock climbing or horseback riding.

When I investigated a trip, I decided on Cuba because I wanted to see it before it was MacDonaldized. Cuba isn’t open to American tourists yet, but lots of companies are doing “cultural exchanges,” an authorized purpose.

I looked into RoadScholars (a cruise,) Global Volunteers, and Fathom Cruises. RoadScholar used to be Elderhostel and I knew my mother took many wonderful trips with them. The cost was at least $3600 for a week. Lynn and Al Bagley are taking this trip and I’m excited about comparing notes. Fathom Cruises, a division of Carnival, offered one for $3600 plus $500 of fees for 8 days but they didn’t start until the end of May. When I looked up the average temperature, 90 degrees, and humid, I decided that was too hot for me.

The Global Volunteers program was two weeks for $2800 but as a returning volunteer it would be $2600. To that I had to add $540 for the round trip charter flight from Miami to Havana. And of course all the trips required a round trip airfare from Phoenix to Miami. I decided to go with Global Volunteers. I’ll be teaching conversational English for a week and doing “cultural interaction” in Havana for a week.

Global Volunteers (www.globalvolunteers.org) took care of the Cuban Visa and the charter flight arrangements. The organization doesn’t allow volunteers to give personal gifts but sent a list of items the projects needed. I was surprised and excited to find one of the items, Spanish-English dictionaries, at the 99 cent store. I bought thirty of them. I scoured my house for extra pencils, pens, markers, and notebooks. I usually stock up in August when the Back to School sales are going on. I also looked through my flannel board stories and made a small flannel board to take. I put these things in a suitcase and weighed it. Thirty-eight pounds. Suitcases have to weigh fifty pounds or less or the airlines charge extra. I couldn’t take my usual airline, Southwest, with no charge for luggage, because they don’t go to Miami. So I was going to pay for any piece of luggage. My son Max suggested I take an old suitcase of only the supplies and leave it in Cuba. Brilliant! Then Global Volunteers informed me that the Cuban charter airlines charged two dollars a pound after forty-four pounds, including carry-ons! My luggage is going to be expensive but part of the cost of donating items is the cost of transporting the items. At least it’s tax deductible.

I got the packing list, Spanish language study, and itinerary. I checked the Weather Channel and it’s going to be in the mid 70’s during the day and the mid 60’s at night in Havana and the small rural place we’re going, Ciego de Avila. I’ve loaded up on mosquito repellent, sun tan lotion, and over the counter drugs like allergy and pain medicines. I also put in tea bags as I’m fussy and don’t like herbal teas. I’ll have a roommate. Hmm, do I snore? I don’t know as I live alone with my dogs and they don’t complain. Better include Breathe Right strips.

Money. Dollars cannot be used in Cuba. I went to my branch bank and the foreign currency teller happened to be there so I got $400 worth of Euros which I can then change in Cuba for the local currency. American citizens can only bring back $400 worth of stuff, and only $100 can be alcohol and tobacco products. I asked everyone close to me if they wanted cigars and I’ve already forgotten who said “yes.” Since a good cigar is ten to fifteen dollars each, I won’t be bringing back too many. (I’m a clutz and would not attempt to bring back alcohol, knowing the glass would break before I got home.) I read an article in the Sunday New York Times travel section a week ago by a journalist who did a cigar tour of Cuba. I cut out and kept the part that reported the best cigars.

I went to the library and checked out some learn Spanish Cd’s to play in my car and some guide books. They helped me review the geography and history. One suggested some fiction books and I downloaded a detective series by Leonardo Padura. I finished one, Havana Black. It was a good mystery and immersed me in modern Cuba.

Of course things on the home front got complicated. I’ll be gone for all of Hanukkah so my family will do the gift exchange the day after I get back, which meant all the presents had to be bought and wrapped before I left. Also my computer and printer died and needed to be replaced. A new computer is always a steep learning curve. I’m not going to take my computer, only my phone to take photos. Data is way too expensive to call or send photos.

I had scheduled the dogs’ dental appointments for before Thanksgiving at the gentle dentist who doesn’t use anesthetic. Unfortunately, the dogs needed more care than she could provide. So, as I type, Sparky and Louie are having extractions and cleaning under anesthetic by a surgeon, another unanticipated expense.

But I won’t’ let finances get me down. I’m determined to be carefree and embrace the adventure. I’ll write about my trip when I get back.




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