I was slightly unprepared for Cuba. I mean, I wasn't entirely caught off guard by some of the inconveniences but I could've been better prepared. Let's face it though: There are MANY guides, articles, and webinars about Cuba out there right now. In typical ME fashion, I didn't do too much research before I left. It is too easy to become inundated with information overload (not to mention conflicting information as well!). I took the little bit I already knew and learned along the way.
I chose to learn by experience.
Lesson #1: Patience. I worry a lot. It's part of my genetic makeup. I can't help it most of the time. I was worried about exchanging my money once I got to Cuba. Was there going to be a line at the airport? If I can't do it at the airport where will I go? What if my taxi won't accept my American dollars? I realized I didn't have to exchange my money at the airport (or even ALL of it, for that matter).
Cuba is so laid back that you can ask your taxi driver to stop at "el banco" (the bank) or a hotel to exchange your change. Don't convert all of your money at one time, do it in increments. If the bank is closed you can always hit up a hotel. If you're in Havana, Habana Libre is a good one to go to.
Lesson #2: Expect the Unexpected. After picking up our bus tickets to Varadero, I had asked about the Malecon (a seawall along the exterior of Havana). Our Airbnb hostess, Marta, immediately gave us change to board an arriving city bus. My friend and I hopped on not knowing where the hell we were going! On the ride downtown, I saw a lady holding a rabbit, a very young girl holding hands with a much older grown man and people of all colors, shapes and sizes. Through the little bit of Spanish that I knew, my friend and I were able to patch words together and communicate with a woman who had got on with her 3 little boys. She told us the best place to get off in Centro Habana. God bless her heart.
Lesson #3: Don't let color fool you! It can be slightly overwhelming being in a city where you don't speak the language (thank God for my junior high school and college Spanish classes!). I made the mistake of looking at "color" to gauge who I thought might speak English. In the airport I asked a gentleman (whom I thought was Caucasian) about baggage claim. He didn't speak English. Another time, I thought I had spotted an American black couple. They too, didn't speak English. I really learned to keep my preconceived American-observations to myself and assume that EVERYONE speaks Spanish. I should've done this beforehand but GET THE APP: SpanishDict, this will help immensely.
Lesson #4: Keep a "Paper Kit". Many of the things we take for granted in the States are hard to come by in Cuba. Paper sources being one of them. Keep a kit filled with tissues, napkins, wipes and toilet paper if possible. Many of the public restrooms do not have toilet paper in the stalls. I almost got caught out there.
Lesson #5: The internet can wait (but it IS there if you absolutely need it). Most of us are dependent on our phones and social media. I'll admit there were times I wanted to see what was going on with Instagram (Snapchat doesn't work and Facebook rarely worked). I wanted to check-in back home by sending texts to my loved ones too. If you must, you can get a wifi card. Wifi cards will run you anywhere from $1.50 to $5 (CUC) for an hour of data. These cards can be purchased at the airport, tourist shops or hotels (Habana Libre sells them for $5 p/hour, Blau Varadero sold them for $1.50 p/hour).
I had an amazing time in Cuba and will definitely be returning. I love the culture, the food, the music and the people. My Airbnb hostess and her husband are now considered mi familia en Cuba.
Planning a trip can be a lot, especially to Cuba. With the abundance of information on the 'net you might still have specific questions needing answers. C+C is offering readers the chance to have 5 questions about Cuba answered for only $5 (plus a little gift thrown in). Click here to learn more.