Rick Steves' Guide to Cuba

>> Hi, I’m Rick Steves, and I travel a lot in Europe, but I just got back from Cuba! What an exciting, mysterious, misunderstood, and quickly changing destination that so many of us are curious about traveling in I was just there with my family We learned a lot, and I’m so glad to share with you the lessons I’ve learned along with a few hundred travelers right here in downtown Edmonds Right now, we’re going to learn about traveling in Cuba Thanks for joining us! [ ♪♪♪ ] [ ♪♪♪ ] [ cheering and applause ] >> Okay! Thank you! Thank you so much! Okay! Okay! I just got back from Cuba I’m certainly not an expert on Cuba I go to Europe; that’s my beat But I just thought this is such an opportunity for Americans now to be able to travel in Cuba, and I like to go places that are a little bit confusing, that people are kind of wondering what can we do, what’s safe, what’s legal, all this kind of thing It is such an opportunity now to go to Cuba, and I just want to share with you as a neighbor and as a fellow traveler what I learned When you go to Cuba, the big question is, how do you go legally? You can go completely legal through an educational tour from the United States, but I wanted to kind of push the limits here and really see how is the embargo being enforced when it comes to American travelers? And you can go there now with a general license And you need to get a general license, and that means you’ve got to declare one of 12 categories that qualifies you for a general license You can be a professional visitor, you can go on religious reasons, you can go for family reasons, you can go for professional research There’s all different kinds of reasons you can go I chose to go with “professional research.” You just have to decide what is your excuse to get a general license, and then stick with your story [ laughter ] That’s the key thing, stick with your story [ ♪♪♪ ] I went with my partner, Trish, and with my son, Andy, and with my daughter, Jackie And we hired Reinier, who is a guide in Havana, to meet us at the airport This is the best investment I can say It cost $100 a day for me to hire a private guide in a country where people make about $50 a month Isn’t that something? Maybe I was getting ripped off I was so happy about getting ripped off like that “Reinier, here’s 100 bucks a day, $400 for four days Have fun, don’t spend it all at once, and make sure me and my family have a great time.” He was there at breakfast and he tucked us in at night I mean, it was the whole time he was taking care of us, and after four days with Reinier, we were confident for the last six days without a local guide But I cannot imagine, frankly, anybody skipping the opportunity to let a local guide enjoy the business and have an insider to take you privately around You can take tours, or you can hire your private guide [ ♪♪♪ ] Havana is the capital and dominant city of Cuba Two million people, 500 years old, lots of fascinating neighborhoods — it’s easy to pick up local information, it’s easy to read your guidebooks, it’s easy to hop in a cab, put those sights in a row, and check them off Havana is well worth five days It just keeps you busy You’ve got this romantic Malecón, the breakwater, and waves crashing over it You’ve got the harbor channel that is a narrow spit of water that is protected with cannons from the fortress here and Havana on the other side, and this little spit of water takes you to a very easy to defend basin, which is the harbor The way I understand it, this was the great harbor of the Caribbean Twice a year, all the European trading ships would gather here in the harbor and then would go over in a safety-in-numbers convoy to be free from the pirates to go over to Europe with all their goods from the Caribbean And Havana was a big deal This is a 500-year-old city with a great history and lots to see [ ♪♪♪ ] Havana has many different neighborhoods, and frankly it’s kind of confusing It’s a big, sprawling city, and I didn’t have much bearing on anything, and after a couple of days you really get comfortable, but you need to do your studying in advance Havana Vieja is the very dolled-up, very touristy, very front-door… mmm, very relatively expensive and almost kind of garish — is that the word? — tourism In a land of such egalitarianism

and such relative poverty, here you’ve got people spending a fortune, and you’ve got all the mojitos and all the music and all the clubs and all the beautiful newly cobbled plazas and pedestrian lanes For an American traveler, for a European traveler, this is the comfortable quarter This is where most people understandably hang out I would say enjoy it, but remember, it can be mesmerizing to the point where you don’t reach out and get into reality There is lots to see and do in Cuba [ ♪♪♪ ] In Havana, apart from all your conventional sightseeing and important museums and so on, the real beauty of the city is simply getting out there and experiencing that slice of life Wander through the barrios, meet the people, enjoy the architecture, and remember, when you connect with the people in Havana, that’s what gives you the most vivid memories While you’re sightseeing in Havana, it’s sort of the center of town is around the capitol building, and right next to that is the Hotel Inglaterra, and from there, they have something called the Paseo de Marti, or the Prado, it’s nicknamed, and that’s just a wonderful boulevard Everybody you meet has a story to tell, everybody wants to take you in, any door that’s open, it’s kind of like you if you poke your head there, they say, “Come on in!” I just loved it It was very entertaining Now, the tourists always have a home on a main square, where you’ve got all the cafes and beautiful music going on It’s just to fit your travel dreams when you’re in Cuba There’s people dancing, it’s great weather, it’s just — this is one of the things that I think people love about going to Cuba, is that wonderful love of life in the streets One of the big sights, surprising to me, was the cemetery They’ve got the Christopher Columbus Cemetery, which is supposed to be the biggest cemetery in this hemisphere, and quite an amazing place to wander through What we did one day was we just had — all of us made a list of our favorite sights, we put them in a row, and we just kind of hired a taxi for four hours, and we had him drive us to each place and let us look around and drive us to the next place Very easy to do, and when you use the taxis, it empowers you to just get from here to there to there It’s so cheap, you’re helping a local hardworking person, and it uses your time smartly, so I would highly recommend that when you’re in Cuba There’s one touristy lane called Hammel, and when you go there you’ve got the dancers and the Cuban — Afro-Cuban culture going on A huge market hall down on the harbor front was there to sell all sorts of simple art and souvenirs for tourists that are there Very touristy, very fun, very easy; I liked it [ ♪♪♪ ] When you go to Cuba, one of the delights are these cars You’ve got these classic American cars Remember, the embargo kicked in in about 1960, so there’s no cars from the United States brought in after that It’s just a time warp, and anybody who’s got one of these cars now dolls it up and they rent it out to tourists And everywhere you go, you’ve got guys with their old 1950s-era Chevys, convertibles, wanting you to hop in I got to play the little horns that go “do-do-do-do,” and everything is just jerry-rigged so it still works, and the roads are full of potholes and none of the cars have their original engines They’re all very proud of their cars, but time and time again we would just flag down a car, hop in, and the guy in the car would say, “1955.” And I would say, “Me, too.” [ laughter ] [ ♪♪♪ ] You want to use taxis to get around It’s a big city If you get into a big American classic car, this is a more aggressive guide, and he’ll charge you $10-20 for a ride — not cheap You know, you can bargain a little bit, but he knows that we’re rich and we’ll pay for this, because we’re in Cuba for two days and we want to ride in these great cars If you want to get around without the aggressive cabbie, you just hop in one of these guys and just, when you get out of the seat, be careful the springs don’t rip your pants But, you know, we could pack four of us into this and get around very cheap And when you want to have a taxi that’s just with you for three hours, these are the guys that are not going to rip you off So if you’re getting somewhere, flag them down, and you can do pretty well We also just went on a whole montage of fun different ways to get around They have bicycle pedicabs that are just a lot of fun, they’ve got these things called coco taxis, like a coconut on wheels Local people never ride in these, because they’ve seen too many of them just all tangled up in the roadside after an accident, but it’s a hoot for a tourist for a couple of times They’re just big enough to fit three big Western travelers in the back seat, and then you go for a little putt-putt ride around town, and that’s just kind of fun When — that Malecón I told you about is the big breakwater, and whenever there’s a chop, any

kind of a surf, it’s going to be splashing over that, and all of these precious old 1950s-era cars don’t want to be near the salt spray In fact, they close the Malecón entirely routinely when there’s any kind of waves, and then people have to go congesting all the inner smaller lanes, and that must be a problem for Havana when it comes to traffic [ ♪♪♪ ] A big part of visiting Cuba is checking out its revolutionary heritage Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries came over on a little boat in 1956 By 1960, he was with a million people in the square, declaring “Cuba is free,” Cuba libre! There’s lots of sights that give you that Castro take on that exciting time I’m fascinated by the whole revolutionary story, and when you go to Havana, you’ll be able to go to the great museum that talks about the revolution, and here you get the whole thing from Fidel’s perspective Remember, it’s not a free society, it’s a dictatorship And when you go to the museum, everything is going to be twisted with that narrative And I enjoy that I mean, we have our narrative I mean, if you go to Pearl Harbor, you’re certainly going to get an American narrative, and we’ve just got to be honest about that I want to stress you need to know a little bit about the sweep of the history to understand all of this in the right context, and, like any Latin American country, Cuba had a 500-year relationship with Europe in a colonial kind of way, and in the 20th century, before Castro, you had Batista and you had this dictatorship and very friendly to American interests and big corporations owning much of the economy of the country And of course that meant the peasantry was kept down, and that was the people that Fidel wanted to rile up And in 1956, Fidel came over in a boat like this — this is the famous Granma boat, and these exiles that were in Mexico — 82 of them — came over, they landed, and they kind of said, “Let’s go,” and they managed to rise the people of Cuba up and overthrow their government And by 1959, Castro was — was here talking on the Revolutionary Square to millions of people, having newly taken over the country Now, when Castro took over Cuba and his revolution took over the people, took over Cuba, however you want to say that, at first it wasn’t to be an enemy of the United States But they nationalized a lot of American-owned companies and they got an impasse on a lot of economic and political issues, and they didn’t blink, and America cut off Cuba, and Cuba, in order to survive, I think, was wooed by the Soviet Union It was Cold War politics, and you can’t just have the Soviet Union bolster you up without drinking their Kool-Aid, and I think that radicalized the revolution that really wanted to be free from American imperialism but didn’t necessarily want to be hardcore Communist enemy of the United States But when they jumped into bed with the Soviet Union, they got a lot of money and they had to play by their tune Consequently, we have the embargo and we have the impasse and we had that 50-year period that we’re just getting out of right now Now, when the Soviet Union was relatively healthy and when they were propping up the Cuban economy to be a showpiece right here in our hemisphere for Communism, life was okay for the Cuban people But when the Soviet Union fell apart, suddenly there was no more money at all, and then today they’re trying to break out of the embargo so they can prosper and still be free The question is, with all their economic misery, is it because they’re a Communist system, or is it because of the embargo? Well, it depends on who you talk to, but both contribute, I think, to their economic hardship [ ♪♪♪ ] As far as changing money goes and just your rudiments of eating and sleeping, first of all, when you go to Cuba, there are two currencies There’s the popular peso and the convertible peso Be really careful, because if somebody was unscrupulous, they could pay you with popular pesos, which are worth 1/24th of a convertible peso Now, local people live on the popular peso Tourists — I’m no — I’m not proud of the way I just completely lived on the tourist strata there I mean, a real backpacker would’ve been right there with the local pesos, but I didn’t have any occasion to use local pesos on our trip, you know, and we just — the convertible peso is about 1:1 Here you’d have the cover charge, and it’s 15 CUP, popular pesos — Cuban pesos — and 1 CUC for the tourists, you see? And remember, there’s 24 popular pesos in 1 CUC, so they’re actually charging double the tourists there, aren’t they, which is — it’s a dollar, so you don’t worry about it, but it’s just an interesting kind of thing You’ve got these two levels of economy and two different strata of population Don’t try to spend your dollars

Nobody wants your dollars It’s not good for anybody to have dollars there They’d just have to change it anyways You should change your dollars into local pesos You do that at any fancy restaurant — or any fancy hotel or at any exchange desk, and it’s very straightforward I would remind you that because of the embargo, up until now, our credit cards don’t work Bring crisp new bills if you can, 20s and 50s And bring more than you think you’ll need, because I don’t know how it costs so much, but it just adds up Everybody knows you’re wealthy, and you’re over there having a great time, and it’s just — it’s not $2 mojitos Somehow you’re spending thousands of dollars, okay? [ laughter ] [ ♪♪♪ ] Traveling in Cuba presents some unique challenges They’ve got their Communist system and they’re dealing with the American embargo, and that makes changing money, finding a good meal, and getting a roof over your head a little bit of a challenge I want to remind you, they’ve got nowhere near the infrastructure to handle the demand of all the people that are going to Cuba right now, and I’d say don’t even try to find a hotel — stay in a private home, Casa Particular We stayed in four bed-and-breakfasts over the course of our trip Each one was wonderful This is the funny thing about Cuba: you don’t really know what is the reality until you go there, but you hear a vibe or a buzz from different people “Oh, don’t even bother with hotels.” That’s absolutely right The hotels are booked up, they’re charging too much, and I don’t know why you’d stay in a hotel You’ve got these wonderful opportunities to help a local family by paying their price, which is probably a huge price, but it’s half of what you’d pay in a hotel And it’s a better experience, a far better experience And you book it on Airbnb or something like that We’d spend $150 for the four of us and get the whole top floor of a mansion with a rooftop garden in the embassy neighborhood, Miramar Miramar is where I stayed I really liked that So that’s the view from our rooftop, and this was part of our digs when we were in Havana Each morning a maid would come in and cook us breakfast, and every night we’d hang out on the rooftop with our host and have a mojito and talk politics I mean, it was just a great experience, and it was 40 bucks per person and it was very comfortable, very safe [ laughter ] Small beds But this is our host, and just a beautiful couple And they were thrilled to have us there, and we became friends And you wouldn’t get that otherwise, so this is a blessing when it comes to accommodations, that you probably won’t be staying in hotels, you’ll be staying in people’s home [ ♪♪♪ ] When you travel to a country like Cuba, you can just go there and have a good time, but when I’m in Latin America, I like to make an education out of it also, and that’s what I call reality travel I partner with some organization that’s expert at connecting you with different dimensions of that society I like to use the Center for Global Education and Experience That’s what we did on this trip, and with their help we visited a health care clinic, we learned about the Afro-Cuban religions, and we checked out an organic farm Every time I go to Central America, I like to do it with an organization called the Center for Global Education and Experience This is a reality tour company working out of Augsburg College in St. Paul, Minnesota If you are going to Central America, you get a lot out of it when you take one of these reality tour programs I really like this organization, but there’s a lot of good organizations We went with the Center for Global Education and Experience, and Reinier was one of their guides, so he took me to where they would take all of their programs All of their tours would go to this clinic and meet this doctor and learn how they take care of their community, how they are into wellness, how they want to teach the kids good hygiene, how they visit people’s homes who are not well-educated enough to take care of their own kids’ health care, and this kind of thing So they have a very aggressive approach to health care in Cuba, and for us to be able to talk to a doctor who happily earns 30 or 40 or 50 dollars a month and is part of the system and loves it, you know, it was quite interesting to hear her talking about this esprit de corps that they have in their revolutionary society And as a dad, it was really fun for me to be able to let my kids have that intensely educational bit of reality travel I just really love this reality travel I talk about that in my book, “Travel as a Political Act,” by the way, a lot, my reality tour experiences that I’ve had in the past in Central America We also went with our guide to see a Santería priest Now, when you go to Cuba, remember, there’s a huge slave heritage there, and you have the indigenous population, you have the European conquistador kind of population, you’ve got the American, and you’ve got the slave all mixed together The slave culture is huge, and when the slaves come over, they bring with them their indigenous religions from Africa, and then they’ve got the imposed Christianity on them, and in good style, like many societies do, they mix it all together And what you’ve got today is

Santería, that’s just one of many Afro-Cuban religions that have dimensions of Christianity and lots of their African slave culture religion And with our guide, we met this priest, and they tried to explain to us all this voodoo animistic whatever kind of stuff that was really pretty far-out to me And then he had spliced in a few crucifixes [ laughter ] And you have a, you know, a couple of revolutionaries and a Great Emancipator [ laughter ] Now, why would you have Abe Lincoln here? Well, Abe Lincoln was the Great Emancipator, and this is a slave society, so Lincoln would be a huge figure in this Afro-Cuban community The rum was like $3 for a good bottle and $5 for a great bottle, you know? And I’m interested in drug policy reform and how are you guys dealing with marijuana and all this kind of stuff, and I was talking to my friends in Cuba about this, and they said, “We don’t really mess with marijuana.” They didn’t know anybody that smoked marijuana really, and it was just not an issue And first of all, they live in a police state and it’s illegal, so it’s really pretty serious if you’re going to do something flat-out illegal like that Secondly, they think of marijuana as a solitary thing that people do just to, like, get in their own zone, and they’re much more “mi casa su casa” communal, let’s get together and drink some rum They see rum as a social mixer and the marijuana as something that keeps you apart, and they said, “We’ve got the best rum in the world and it’s dirt cheap, so why would we mess with pot?” So that’s just — everybody I talked to, that was their drug of choice is rum And any time you saw a party, there was just a bottle of rum It’s a $3 bottle of rum, and that’s what passes around, and that makes a party The Cuba Libre, the rum with the Coca-Cola, I’ve had a lot of Cuba Libres — I’ve never had such a good Cuba Libre as when I was in Cuba [ laughter ] Great rum and — I’m not a chemist about this, but the Coca-Cola apparently is made in Mexico, which uses cane sugar instead of our kind of sugar, and there is quite a striking difference So when you go to Cuba — it’ll cost you 2 bucks, but you can get a great Cuba Libre So you can mix it up between your mojitos and your Cuba Libres We went from Havana over to Viñales — again, that was a three-hour bus ride — and then we went from Havana in a private car to Trinidad with a stop in Cienfuegos, and that was with a private car This cost $150 and takes three or four hours with a private car $150 — I don’t know what the best price is, but, I mean, that seemed fair to me The guy had to drive all the way there and all the way back — eight hours of driving — and, you know, wear and tear on his car and the gas and so on It cost us about probably $60 for the four of us to take the bus from Havana to Viñales When you consider the headaches of going to the bus station, getting a taxi from your hotel to your bus station, all that rigmarole, it’s just practical to hire a car if you’ve got four people to split the price When you go to the bus station in Havana, I found it was a real complicated mess if you don’t know the language and if you don’t know the system, and the people that work behind the desk aren’t going to give you the time of day, and you’ve got all sorts of frustrated tourists there, and you’ve got taxis waiting outside to pick up the wounded who are still walking I mean, that’s just what it was And I know the scene from all over my travels — it’s just frustrated tourists, “Sorry, you’re never going to get on this bus — it just left, come back tomorrow,” and you’re dejected, you step out front, and here’s a cabbie “Trinidad?” you know [ laughter ] “How much?” And, “$200.” “Okay,” you know? So I would, rather than fall victim to those people, let my bed and breakfast host find me a driver she knows and help that guy out and have a reliable ride, because he’s got to stay good with her, you see [ ♪♪♪ ] Of course you could spend months exploring Cuba, but I had 10 days, and I’m happy with the way we spent them, half of that time in Havana, the big capital city, and the rest of that time in the countryside, going over to Viñales to ride a horse through tobacco country, and then checking out Trinidad, the most delightful little 500-year-old colonial town When we got into Viñales, this is the bus coming in with all the people with their B&Bs meeting people who have reservations or snaring people that don’t have reservations Almost every building in town is hired out to travelers It’s just sort of a beautiful backpacker scene, and a cool thing about these B&Bs is you get to know the host family They’re just all ready for you I mean, it raises the stakes on how you’re going to make your bed when you get home, I’ll tell you [ laughter ] You got your swimming pool — they’re thrilled to have you

there, and they’re even more thrilled if you’ll have dinner with them So they say, you know, “For $6 each, we’ll make you a nice dinner.” “Sure.” And they’re going to just go bend over backwards to make you a real feast, and you’re up on their rooftop having a great home-cooked meal And if you’re lucky, you’ll get a little frog that jumps into your soup bowl [ laughter ] A reminder that we were indeed out in the wilderness, and this is a national park This has a tourist industry It’s a very humble, you know, funky little artisan kind of tourist trade Here you’ve got the main street that is lined with all sorts of fun little knick-knacks You can buy a Cuban baseball for $2, you can buy your maracas and your little percussion things and your fancy boxes with hidden compartments Everything costs 1 or 2 or 3 dollars Our Christmas tree’s going to have all sorts of cool little carved Cuban trinkets on it next year — I enjoyed doing my shopping there, as did Trish and my kids You can get your revolutionary garb if you want [ laughter ] My son is much more clever with his souvenir shopping He gets experiences And he wanted to get a haircut, so went onto a back street and found a guy who has a barber shop, which is just one chair on the sidewalk, and we all gathered around and watched him And the guy said, “What kind of haircut do you want?” And Andy said, “Cuban.” And the guy said, “Okay.” So he got Cuban It took his sister half an hour to get it fixed up back at the bed and breakfast after he was done [ laughter ] So the big deal in Viñales, the big deal is to watch the sunset And everybody gets in a classic car, and they go up to this Batista-era resort on the ridge, and it was interesting to me, because I’m accustomed to watching the sun go down, but here I didn’t even see the sun go down — everybody looks at the valley and watches the light change on the valley, which was quite nice And most tourists like us were going to be heading out on a horse ride through the valley the next day This is a wonderful place to have a mojito and just enjoy the cool of the evening and imagine how fun it’s going to be to explore that valley the next day where the very best cigars in the world are made — this is the tobacco country in Cuba The next morning, we headed out to — this was something that all the tourists do, and they act like it’s some big Stonehenge kind of thing It’s called the Dinosaur Wall And I thought like it’s going to be prehistoric No, it’s just some guy painted dinosaurs on the wall [ laughter ] So we saw that — very nice And then we went on our horse ride, and this was a highlight You’ve got to do it Almost every tourist in Viñales is going on a horse ride, and you get your — you know, you get to know your horse and you’ve always got a nice local guy that knows horses to make sure you’re safe, and you’re on your way clip-clopping through the back lanes And for me, what was interesting here — and I remember this, kind of a déjà vu from my time in Nicaragua and El Salvador, you’ve got a whole economy going on off of the paved roads, off of the grid, where you’ve got farm communities and hamlets and little clinics and schools and shops and everything where you can’t get a car It’s just horses and rutted dirt roads I thought it was fascinating Very peaceful and laid back, and a wonderful look at beautiful Cuban society, and the economy there is big-time into the tobacco And you visit a tobacco farm, and they take you into the house and show you why the leaves are so good and how it compares to others and how they maintain the quality, and then a highlight for me was they took us into this little pavilion, and this guy took the raw leaves and rolled the most beautiful, perfect cigar right before our very eyes that I had ever seen, and here’s where I really thought, “I wish I had my public television crew with me, because this could be great TV, this little moment alone would almost get me back to Cuba to make a show.” But he rolled it, he sealed it with honey, and then he showed us how they put it in these organic little 20-packs, just like cigarettes — 20 in a bundle And then we got to smoke it [ laughter ] [ ♪♪♪ ] In the other direction, we hired a car, and we went across country to Trinidad We got to Trinidad — it’s a 500-year-old town with a great beautiful colonial heritage, a lot of history, a humble town, two-story town with a big church on the main square, and that’s about the town right there It was very hot while we were there, even in the middle of winter It was, you know, deep into the 80s and also muggy I remember going to the bus station and just marvel– or just interested in the whole tourism thing opening up You know, they had a rope actually here to keep the hustlers away from the people that they’re getting off their bus so you could at least get off the bus and get situated, and then you walk out there and everybody’s trying to take you somewhere or sell you something or get you on a horse ride or whatever Charming, tourist-oriented cafes and restaurants in this town

Every house seemed to have a big living room like this with a “room available” sign on it “Casa Particular,” “renting rooms.” And we stayed in this place, got to know the family — a wonderful place Beautiful food, wonderful fresh-squeezed juice all the time, friendly welcome every time we came in And upstairs they had built it where everybody had their own beautiful little room with a rooftop view Again, we got to know the family and their dog, and it just was a beautiful, intimate experience that you wouldn’t get when you stay in a hotel You pay $100 to go to the Tropicana — this is free You buy a $2 mojito from any bar, and you just enjoy the music right on that square Every night, live music on the square in Trinidad [ ♪♪♪ ] The people of Cuba know how to party, and any time of year, you can find yourself in the middle of a great festival We happened to be there on New Year’s Eve, and whatever time you’re there, you can go to the top of the hotel and party with people from the First World or you can get out in the barrio, meet the people, party with the people, and come home with a lifelong memory When I’m in Latin America on New Year’s, which I’ve done a number of times, I know I’ve always got a choice I can spend a lot of money to get the party favors and be on the rooftop of a hotel with a bunch of First World travelers — that’s your ace in the hole You can always do that Or you can wander around the streets and make friends with somebody and get invited into a family party It’s so easy to get invited into a family party So I was wandering around, just kind of making friends, and this guy just really was fun And he just after a few minutes said, “Would you like to come into our party?” And just perfect! And we walked in, and there’s a multigenerational fiesta going on, and this was just a beautiful experience for all of us Completely impromptu, and I’ve got to say, we brought a lot of joy and fun to the party It was just great when you get cultures together You’ve got to remind yourself when you’re traveling that you are a potential boost of joy when you get into somebody’s house if you’re a good guest, and, you know, they taught us to dance and we taught them some English, and they showed us their favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes on their broken cell phones, and it was all — everything was just a cool — a cool moment together [ laughter ] I couldn’t believe I was hanging out with a little kid in Havana and he was reading me in Spanish his Abraham Lincoln quotes [ laughter ] But there was just this beautiful multigenerational pride and joy and spirit as we welcomed the new year And the dad was so proud to have Americans in his place, and not any sort of negativity, not any sort of “you’re rich and we’re poor.” It just was a celebration of the new year What were they serving? They said, “Would you like a drink?” I said, “Yeah, do you have a beer?” They said, “Nope, rum.” [ laughter ] That’s all it was Not rum and Coke, not rum and anything — just rum And that’s what it is You’ve got 3 bucks, you’ve got a party — here’s the bottle All right, turn on the music Of course, two blocks away was the rooftop hotel in front of the capitol building The contrast to me was just amazing I mean, here we were having the highlight of our trip for free, and these people were paying $100 each — literally — for the dinner with the party favors and the band at the poolside in a land where people make $50 a month if they’re lucky That just is — the juxtaposition of that to me is fascinating, and to see what a wonderful time everybody was having [ laughter ] It just — it just was really a fascinating New Year’s Eve for me on the top of that hotel, creating memories that we will never forget And I think it’s just — if you’ve got a chance to go down there and check it out, it’s really fun The guidebooks are really important There are good guidebooks We had right up-to-date Moon and right up-to-date Lonely Planet, and I’ll tell you, even the most up-to-date guidebook doesn’t know what’s going on, because it’s changing so fast You need it, but you’ve got to cut it some slack, because it’s always changing And I would not want to be a guidebook writer in Cuba, because I like to be able to put something in a guidebook and know that it’s going to work for my traveler the next year In Cuba, it’s just — you know, it might work and it might not It’s just that way You’ve just got to be loose In Trinidad, I needed to change money He said, “There’s four places where you can change money.” I thought, “Good, I’ve got a reasonable chance that one of them will be open today with money.” I mean, they may be open without money, they may be closed today, they may, you know, be open tomorrow or yesterday, but there was one out of the four that I could actually change money So remember, don’t — you can’t rely on a place If it says in the guidebook it’s open until 6:00 and it’s just one of them, forget it, it’s dangerous You’ve got to get there right now, because you need a backup Always be thinking in advance that way, because things are not going to go as reliably as you might be used to [ ♪♪♪ ] Of course when you’re traveling in a country like Cuba, there’s two sides of the experience You can get down and dirty in the streets with the locals and you can do the top-end touristic things

I think you’ve got to do a little bit of both while you’re in Cuba And while in Havana, you’ve got a chance to go to the greatest cabaret anywhere in the Caribbean, the Tropicana We did want to go to the big Tropicana Tropicana is the greatest cabaret in the Caribbean, and it’s super touristy, it’s obscenely expensive on the local scale — it’s $100 per person for the show You get a bottle of rum and plenty of Coke, and you get this amazing show under the stars, Tropicana So it’s got all your variety stuff and all of your contortionists and all of your dancers, and I thought this would be a good way to expose my son to some of the wonders of the real world [ laughter ] And it was just fun So the Tropicana, again, it’s expensive, it’s — I enjoyed it, but it’s the front-door dimension of that city You know, when you travel around, I like to see what is the billboards, what are the advertising and so on? No advertising, really, because you don’t advertise in a Communist society You’ve just got a shingle out for each business that identifies it, but no billboards that advertise something The billboards are political slogans And the political slogans were not anti-America, death to America stuff by any stretch They were just “we have our independence, and we’re not going to give it up,” “the revolution gives us the dignity of not being owned by a foreign corporation.” So it was that kind of message that I felt in the billboards, and it was billboards that made the Castros look chummy with Nelson Mandela and these kind of alternative world leaders The one anti-American billboard I saw would always be about the embargo [ ♪♪♪ ] When I was in Cuba, I felt no animosity as an American The only thing that was a bone of contention for the Cubans I met was the embargo And they just said the embargo’s — it’s just crushing us, it’s causing our poverty One thing I felt very, very clear was safe in the street We were in desperately poor neighborhoods at midnight where you’d never go in other capitals in Latin America and felt completely safe Absolutely safe It was like strangely safe As far as women, my daughter and Trish, I’ve talked to them about this, and their take was there is part of the tenets of the revolution is that women are treated equally and with respect I felt that way back in Sandinista and Nicaraguan times, is that women are treated differently in a Communist society So were the women safe, did they feel safe on the streets, did they feel respected in the streets? From our experience, yes We came back to our bed and breakfast at midnight almost every night, and we felt safe on the streets It’s interesting when you think about the Cuban economy They say people make about $30 or $40 or $50 a month who are in the normal system That sounds horrible, but remember, they’ve got government subsidies that are paying for or making very, very cheap their food, their utilities, their housing, their medicine, their education, and their retirement It’s kind of like pocket money The government takes care of you, and here’s some pocket money You’ve all got enough money to have your rice and beans This is shared poverty — not many people get meat And if you’ve got a little extra money, you can buy it as you like And a lot of Americans are very quick to put down Cuba and their system because they’re so poor compared to us I don’t think that’s a fair comparison If you want to compare Cuba and how their system’s doing, I think it’s more fair to compare it across the Latin American spectrum Compare it to Honduras, compare it to El Salvador, compare it to Nicaragua I found the rank and file worker in Cuba to be no more poverty-stricken — and no wealthier — than their equivalent in any other country in Latin America, you see What’s the difference? There is a difference There’s no edge to their poverty that I felt I’m just reporting as an American tourist that doesn’t speak the language I was just there for 10 days for my first time, but I felt that there was a dignity and a pride among the poor people on the streets of Havana They were educated, they’ve got medicine, and there’s no crime on the streets There’s structural poverty in those other countries designed in that keeps this masses of people down, and that’s what angers me when I go look at these systems and the struggles of people down in Central America And in Cuba, they’ve got their corruption and their problems because it’s a Communist system and there’s no incentive to work and all that kind of thing, but you don’t have that structural poverty that gives people the Sophie’s choice of are you going to live where it’s safe and pay half of your wages to take the bus to the plantation, or are you going to live in the uninhabitable ravine that is polluted and you’re going to all get a disease so you can not pay half of your wage to get to work? The consequence is peasants can’t get their kids educated in

Latin America In Cuba, there’s education So I don’t know It’s an interesting thing, but don’t compare poor Cubans to Americans and say look at their system, it’s terrible Compare them to Hondurans or Nicaraguans, and then you can make your decision [ ♪♪♪ ] How do you wrap up an experience like traveling to Cuba? It’s confusing, it’s engaging, it’s endearing There’s no clear answers, but one thing: you come home so thankful you had a chance to meet those people and to humanize that island Our greatest memories were simply on the rooftop with our hosts in our B&Bs and connecting with the people And there’s more and more Americans going down there to meet people Thankfully one avenue of tourism that our government is very okay with is people-to-people missions and educational tours And Road Scholar and organizations like this have busy tour programs, and it is really trendy to go to Cuba You’ve got a chance to go to Cuba, and I think in 20 years from now, there’ll be two kinds of travelers in our community There will be travelers who went to Cuba before Castro was gone and travelers who went to Cuba after Castro was gone And you’ve still got a little time, but it’s a country that, as we talked about, is in for a tsunami of change We don’t know if that change is going to be all good or all bad or somewhere in the middle, but when you get to know the people in Cuba, you just hope the very best for them You really do Leaving the country, it was — I’m always a little antsy when I’m leaving a country that’s a little bit unusual, and for some reason our planes were very early in the morning, and it was just like we had to get up at 4:00 to go out to the airport And we got there, and everything was very smooth Got to the customs man in Houston, and I was like, okay, what’s going to happen now? And he just was passing me through, and I said, “But wait a minute, I’ve been in Cuba.” And he didn’t care, and I said, “And I’ve got cigars.” [ laughter ] And he just said, “Welcome home.” [ laughter ] So, you know, I guess that’s kind of the bottom line You can go there, you can meet the people, and you can come back, and I think it’s okay And it’s only going to get more okay So it’s a good time, and it’s a fun place to travel, and I hope that you have enjoyed this talk, and I hope you get a little chance to see Cuba on your own, okay? Thank you very much and happy travels! [ applause ] Thank you [ ♪♪♪ ]