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Wednesday 6 March 2013

Islands Made for Cruising: Cuba

A street in Trinidad, Cuba. Trinidad has been one of
UNESCO's World Heritage sites since 1988. (Wikimedia)

Cuba for Romance and Music

By Roderick Eime

The incurably romantic Caribbean island of Cuba is one of the last true Communist redoubts of the 21st Century and has captured the imaginations of artists, poets and musicians for as long as we can remember.

Cuba is almost always in the news. The legendary revolutionary, Fidel Castro Ruz, who turned 86 this year, is clearly on a short countdown until his ultimate term expires. Even with his poor health and advancing years, the old revolutionary still wields surprising power.

The resilience of the Cuban revolutionary Government has created a nation that almost stands still in cold war time. With his imminent passing, and especially since the withdrawal of Soviet aid, Cuba will inevitably be drawn into the broader world economic community.

Cuba's attraction as a tourist destination is due in part because of the world’s curiosity with this stubborn regime. But Cuba, in its own right, is a vibrant and exciting destination blessed with idyllic beaches and fascinating early Spanish history dating back to Columbus. More recent figures like Ernest Hemingway, Desi Arnaz, Celia Cruz and Gloria Estefan reinforce the romance and passion of the island. Cuba's rich musical heritage has reached world popularity with musicians such as the Buena Vista Social Club and the Afro-Cuban Allstars.

Glenn A Baker, popular music historian and social commentator says, “There is a constant, inescapable sensuality to the entire Cuban experience. For all the crumbling decay, the tarnished and faded glamour, and the shortages and sacrifices of a country whose economy virtually collapsed when the Soviets cut off the drip-feed more than a decade ago, there is nothing dormant or moribund about the place.

“Take Latin vibrancy and pride, wind it up a few notches with classic Cuban machismo, stir well with history, intrigue and uncertainty, garnish with a siege mentality, serve warm with Spanish style and you have the very core of the Caribbean, its only truly essential destination.”

The best place to relive the Cuban music made famous by the original Buena Vista Social Club, is Salón 1930 ‘Compay Segundo’ at the Hotel Nacional.

Fancy a toast to old Ernest? Saunter down to La Bodegita del Medio in Empedrado Street, in the old Havana district for a mojito made to Hemmingway’s own recipe. How do you know this? It’s written on the wall in his handwriting.

While it’s still tough for Americans to visit, all that will change eventually, even though Cuban ports lack the infrastructure to accommodate cruise vessels of the size Americans like to cruise on. Instead, small and medium ships from lines such as Fred.Olsen, Hapag Lloyd, Variety and Voyages of Discovery are among the lines that visit Cuba from non-US ports. Australians have no such problem visiting Cuba except when accessing funds, so taking cash is the way to go. American Express? Forget it.

Most cruise ships will visit Havana, but Variety’s 8-day “Sights and Sounds of Cuba“ will also visit Casilda/Trinidad, Cienfuegos (a World Heritage site since 1988), Playa Giron, Juventud Island or Cayo Largo and Bahia de Corrientes, ports that occupy most of the western half of the island. The romance of this forbidden fruit is further enhanced with the use of their 49-pax, 3-masted schooner, “Panorama”.

Interested? Try this itinerary from APT

Spirit of the Spanish Main
(15 days) Embark on a Caribbean adventure from the Bahamas to Belize. Step back in time as you roam the streets of Cuba, unwind on the powder-white beaches of far-flung islands, and explore ancient ruins of a lost empire.

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