My Travels

Cuban Homestays

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Alright, you’re probably wondering why I’m blogging about Cuba when I’m currently in Poland. I meant to blog about this earlier in the year, but life happened, and I didn’t have the time. But now I do.

As winter is on the way, it’s time to start planning vacations in the tropics. For a lot of fellow Canadians, you’ve likely got Cuba on the radar. But instead of doing the traditional route of package holidays at resorts, why not consider doing a homestay in Cuba? I’m not suggesting foregoing the resorts, but rather include a homestay before or after your resort stay.

Myself and a good friend from Spain traveled to Cuba last Christmas and we stayed in three different homestays in Havana, Viñales, and Pinar del Rio. We absolutely loved it, and we felt as if we were experiencing authentic Cuban life! We experienced authentic culture, and discovered places we wouldn’t have otherwise. For example, our family in Havana introduced us to this dive bar serving the cheapest beer in town!

Cuban homestays?

In Cuba, they are known as Casas Particulares. The idea is you stay with a family that is officially registered with the government. The family can range from a traditional family or a single, divorced or widowed home owner. They provide daily breakfast and your own room with shared or private bathroom. The Casas are typically found away from the resorts. Since they are registered with the government, their homes are labelled with the surname of the family, family members, and the services they offer. Every casa also has a logo on their homes which looks like weird anchor in either red or blue. Blue means the house allows foreign guests to stay, while red means only Cubas can stay there. Very important to be aware of this!

So you say you get breakfast?

Yes. Now, breakfast is called desayuno in Spanish. Families will serve coffee or juice. Tea and milk is available upon request. Don’t expect bacon, eggs and waffles. A Cuban breakfast usually consists of mangoes, guava, bread with butter, montaditos with ham and cheese, and pineapples. Montaditos are small sandwiches. I actually enjoyed having a selection of fruit every morning.

Do the families speak English or other languages?

This depends on the family you end up staying with, but generally no. Having said this, it is a good idea to learn a few basics in Spanish before staying with them. If the language barrier becomes an obstacle, you can always use gestures to get the message across.

Will the families socialize with me?

Again, this depends on the family. However, you should not expect this. While they will be more than happy to help make your stay pleasant, they have their own lives to attend to. I found the families I stayed with to be cautious with foreigners for fear of saying something that might land them in legal trouble. While I’m on this subject, refrain from discussing politics with Cuban families. Cubans revere the Castros, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.

Sounds great! So how I find a Casa?

This is not an easy task, simply due to the Internet situation, which is very difficult for ordinary Cubans to get. You could do a Google search, but be prepared to spend a lot of time researching. I recommend going with an organized tour to Cuba such as G Adventures. Tours such as these arrange stays in Casas, removing the labor work of finding them yourself. If tours are not your thing, I would suggest searching for a Casa in Havana since there they are plentiful there.

Cuba is truly a fascinating and beautiful country. One should go there at least once in their lifetime. And a stay in a Casa will be an experience you will never forget – in a good way!

 

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South America Here I Come!

Machu Pichu In Peru

 

 

In just over a week, I will be heading off on a month-long trip to South America – 34 days to be exact! It seems like only yesterday when I first booked the flight back in September, and now the days are numbered until I set foot on a new continent. Rather than bombard you with countless paragraphs, I thought I would give the nitty gritty through a Q&A panel:

So where are you going exactly?

Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. I fly into Lima and fly back from Buenos Aires.

Alone or with friends?

I’ll be joining up with a small tour group in Lima where we will begin our South American odyssey.

What will be the highlights of the trip?

Visiting Machu Picchu, crossing the Salt Flats of Uyuni in Bolivia by 4×4, exploring the lake districts of Chile and Argentina, and getting lost in the metropolises of Santiago and Buenos Aires.

How will you get around?

A mix of using coach buses, trains, car rentals and internal flights.

Did you have to get any shots?

Yes, five of them. Three in one day, I might add, ouch!

What are you looking forward to the most?

Obviously Machu Picchu! But I’m really looking forwarding to seeing Chile and Argentina as well, since they are both such fascinating countries rich in history.

What will be the most challenging?

I would say when we journey through the Salt Flats, where I have been told can get really cold. We’ll also be camping there for three nights, and I’ve never camped before! That, and adjusting to the altitude when we get to Cusco; it’s 12,000 feet above sea level, which is four thousand feet higher than Machu Picchu! I’m hoping I don’t get Altitude Sickness.

What about the language barrier?

That’s the beauty part, there won’t be any! I speak almost fluent Spanish as I hold a degree in it, and I lived in Spain for over a year.

Will you get any writing done while you’re there?

Unfortunately not, unless one counts writing in a journal. I’ll be constantly on the move, and any free time will be spent relaxing, doing laundry and keeping friends and family back home posted.

What souvenirs do you hope to bring back?

Lots of photos and memories of course! I do collect fridge magnets, so I’m hoping to bring one back from each country I visit.

Why South America?

It was a toss up between this, Japan, or Australia and New Zealand. I made my choice and I stick with it! I’ve always wanted to go, and I figure it’s now or never. I wanted to visit other Spanish-speaking countries. I’m fortunate enough where I will have a month off work as it is a slow time at the school where I teach English. When will I ever have this opportunity before retirement?

 

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How to Save Money While Traveling in Europe

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(Canal district, Amsterdam)

 

 

 

It’s that time of year when many European cities are teeming with tourists. Savoring the countless sights is rewarding, but the costs involved, not so. The plane ticket and hotels can pack a punch on your wallet alone. As well, the exchange rate with the euro is enough to make your head spin. How do you spend two weeks or more in this lovely continent without breaking the bank? It’s possible, believe me. I manage to save quite a bit every time I go there. Even the little things can save you big bucks.

Here are some tips to help you save money while traveling around Europe:

  1. Buy a tourist card. These cards, which can be purchased at European airports or official tourist offices, allow you to visit all the main attractions for free. When you buy them, they can be used for one, two or even three days. These cards start at 30 euro for one day and run up to 60 euro for three days (more or less). If you plan on visiting four major attractions, say London or Paris, it’s worth it to buy the card because you’ll pay one price for the card and be able to visit all the major attractions for free. I recently went to Dublin for three days and purchased a tourist card for one day’s use. As a result, I visited the Guinness Brewery, Dublin Writer’s Museum and the Jameson Distillery for one price. I would’ve spent more if I had paid separate admission to these places! Additionally, these cards entitle you to discounts at restaurants, bars/pubs and even free public transportation.
  2. Avoid eating lunches in restaurants. An alternative is buying food in local supermarkets. I usually eat a light meal at lunch, so a few rolls, an apple and a can of juice is all I need. And I usually never pay more than six euro. Many European supermarkets have hot counters, so you can buy a sausage roll or hot sandwich for half the price you would pay in a restaurant. However, if you happen to be going to Madrid, I would recommend a restaurant called, Museo del Jamón. You can get what is called a ‘Picnic Para Llevar’, which includes a sandwich, an apple/banana and a can of soda or beer all for 2 euro – you won’t do better than that for lunch in Madrid!
  3. Use public transport from the airport to the city center. Let’s take Madrid for example. A cab ride to the city center from the airport can cost up to 30 euro (cabs charge supplements for airport rides and luggage). If you took the metro or train, you would only pay up to 6 euro for that same journey. If you don’t have a lot of luggage, this is a better option and will save you a lot of money.
  4. Avoid restaurants and cafes in the touristy zones. You’ve heard about them from friends/family and read about them in tour books and websites. They are great for sightseeing, but best avoided for eating/drinking. Not only are they expensive, but they are catered to the tourists, which means you don’t get the authentic cuisine of the city you are in. Furthermore, you are more likely to get robbed because these zones are full of pickpockets and other thieves. The lesser known zones often have cheaper, and more authentic restaurants. Ask someone at your hotel or drop by the local tourist office for suggestions.

 

Hopefully this helps you better plan your trip, so you can enjoy Europe while saving money at the same time. Take it from someone who has spent more than a year living there.

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