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Cuba in May

Posted By Lincoln Vander Veen, Tuesday, August 18, 2015

In May, the Bellevue Chamber led a group of Bellevue business people, along with a handful of other travelers, to Cuba. It must be immediately said that if you ever get the chance to visit Cuba do not pass it up! Cuba is a devastatingly beautiful island country with a romantic mystique to match. Whether in Havana or Camaguey or anywhere in between, the natural and architectural beauty of Cuba is on display in astounding diversity. It’s almost mythical, honestly.

We landed in Camaguey, travelled to Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and finished our trip in Havana.

Camaguey (prounounced CAMA-way – at least that’s how this American pronounces it!) is a city in Cuba that serves as the capital of Camaguey Province. Of course it’s beautiful, unique, and seemingly full of life. We travelled outside of Camaguey to King Ranch one day and spent time at a family pottery-making business, too. We ate great food (must eat the pork!), enjoyed great music, great people, and at least a few mojitos. Cienfuegos is wonderful, too (and the home of Yasiel Puig!). The city’s cobblestone streets and gathering places made strolling around uniquely serene. We took in cultural attractions, sampled all the wares Cienfuegos had to offer and, of course, enjoyed the food and drink! Trinidad is a gem. There is no other way to put it. A UNESCO world heritage site with incredible scenery, Trinidad offers amazing views, labyrinth walkable streets, and an “I’m in a different world” sense of reality. It’s beyond gorgeous. Finally, Havana. Oh, Havana. Exceptionally mystical. My hotel room looked down at the Gulf of Mexico beyond the Malecon and Meyer Lansky’s Rivieria which, in terms of historical relevance, is a symbol of the reasons behind Fidel Castro’s revolution. We ate, we strolled, we laughed, we played. We went to a show at the Buena Vista Social Club, visited Ernest Hemingway’s place outside the city, and visited Museo de la Revolucion.

The first thing people ask when they find out I’ve been to Cuba: “what about the cars?” The old American cars are ubiquitous, in Havana especially. We were chauffeured on a couple occasions in cars I never thought I’d sit down in. I’m not a car guy, but sitting shotgun in an original 1948 Bel-Air while driving along the Malecon talking to the driver in broken-Spanish is ten minutes I’ll never forget. A new television show on Discovery, “Cuban Chrome,” does a good job of depicting the reality of old cars and the old car market in Cuba.     

If you have questions about Cuba, call your friends at the Chamber! We had a blast, you will too!

Tags:  Bay of Pigs  Cienfuegos  Cuba  Havana  Pasiel Puig  Trinidad 

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Is it time for Cuba to ease travel restrictions?

Posted By Lincoln Vander Veen, Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Administration of President Barack Obama is pushing hard for the normalization of economic and cultural ties with Cuba, a long-time official adversary of the United States since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. The latest news, reported in the Wall Street Journal, easing restrictions on air travel to Cuba for Americans, is, in many ways, more impactful than the opening of a new U.S. embassy in Havana. But an important question remains: what happens after they land?

Presently, an American travelling to Cuba is largely restricted to the whims of an official government-approved guide, with reasonable exceptions. In practical terms, an official guide makes sense. For instance, Cuba has two currencies: the Cuban peso (CUP) for Cubans and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) for tourists. An official guide can help an American traveler quickly understand the distinction, along with other practical reasons, like currency exchange rates and locations, taxi services, etc. However, travelling freely in Cuba, an American could stop and ask a rural farmer why he’s spreading rice on a country road to dry, instead of selling his crop. He could freely ask why Cuban baseball players continue to risk life-and-limb to flee Cuba, or he could more freely ask his waiter at a paladar what type of free enterprise restrictions are cumbersome to business expansion and private enterprise. It would certainly expand American cultural awareness if travel guides within Cuba didn’t have to go through rigorous government processes.

Allowing Americans to travel freely within Cuba will definitely lead to positive change, there is no doubt. Freedom of ideas and freedom of commerce will change Cuba and, in the process, change the United States.   

Tags:  Cuba  CUC  CUP  Havana  Wall Street Journal 

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