Havana is Amazing
"Travel is Fatal to Prejudice, Bigotry, and Narrow Mindedness, and many of our people need It sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." ~ Mark Twain
Founded In 1515, Havana boasts some of the best architecture in the world. It's known as the Paris of the Caribbean, with more color. Walking through old Havana we learned of its history, significant structures, beautiful squares, battles, the aristocracy, and even got to see some of the original infrastructure that made it such a desirable place to live.
The Old Town Center has been almost fully restored. Even during the pandemic, the restoration continued with an eye on the return of visitors and tourists from around the world. Each day that went by, we could see more visitors coming from all over Europe, Asia, and Russia.
Cuba can be visited by U.S. Citizens legally under a number of different General Licenses. Ours was "Support of the Cuban People". This means a full Itinerary learning about the history, arts, culture, and more. It also means spending money only in privately owned businesses. My XO Adventures supports and encourages U.S. Citizens to visit Cuba. Unfortunately, political reasons can get in the way of better understanding the people that call this island home. Once the television sets and news outlets are left behind, a whole new world opens up.
While Old Town has been restored for visitors and to protect the cultural heritage of Cuba, many surrounding areas are quite stunning. Vedado and Miramar are two of my favorites. Centro is an interesting place to visit, but an area that lacks restoration. Here you'll see everyday Cubans going about their business. While walking through Centro you'll witness equally amazing architecture but in a state of disrepair.
With the right perspective, you'll find beauty in the crumbling and worn buildings. The happiness of children playing marbles brings a smile to your face and a nostalgic feeling to your heart. It reminds us of what is important in life. This reminder can be humbling. It also has the ability to help us realize how fortunate we are, and if you're lucky to reevaluate what it is you think makes you happy.
The act of traveling carries with it life-changing moments and endless possibilities for your future. Friends are made In faraway places. Hearts are opened, and a greater understanding for the adventurer can occur. The simple reality is that we are not alone. By forming our own thoughts and opinions through real interactions we toss away the political agendas, governmental interference and wake to the understanding that we are all one human race.
We not only deserve the gift of travel but we are also obligated to it. Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page on travel to Cuba.
#myxoadventures #havanaheartbeat #havanacuba
Happy In Havana
International Travel during the Pandemic can prove a little tricky, but not impossible. A recent visit to Cuba under the OFAC license of "Support of the Cuban People" proved to be quite extraordinary given the circumstances of the Omicron spread. Cuba stands out as one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, due to being the only Latin American country to develop its own home-grown vaccines. Many Americans are unaware that Cuba shines in the worldwide community, coming in at 86.4% of its population vaccinated. That’s 2nd only to the UAE, which stands at 93.3%.
That’s pretty impressive and raising eyebrows with travelers as one of the safest destinations in the world. My XO Adventures owner, Daniel Milks recently traveled to Cuba from January 2-18, 2022 to prepare for a group arriving and get the lay of the land. It wasn’t going to be easy, but was it worth the trouble?
“Cuba Travel has always been a little tricky to navigate, but travelers to the country are almost always seasoned.” Entry into the country begins with securing accommodations, followed by an airline ticket into Havana. Tampa and Miami are popular points of origin, but surprisingly Iceland Air has been approved to enter the market and expand options for those who are interested.
“Travel to anywhere in the world takes a risk acceptance, and we were approaching the higher end of that limit.” Omicron was beginning to rage across Florida, with its 7-day average peak on January 10th, 2022 just before the group arrived. Already in Cuba on January 2, 2022, Daniel had a little time to prepare, reconnect with people, businesses and witness the current state of the country.
“After landing in Havana and taking a moment to look around, it didn’t appear that much had changed”, reported Daniel on January 3rd. Quite a few of the more well-known shopping districts were dotted with closed signs, but the economy officially opened in November, and this was only a month later in a country that suffers from the U.S. imposed embargo. Reportedly, Cubans were going about their business, spending time in markets, using public transportation, and enjoying outdoor games.
“Being able to see Cuba after two years of the Pandemic was pretty incredible. I’m always amazed at the resiliency of the people, and the magic of this gem in the Caribbean.” After meeting up with friends, a deeper look began. The restaurants that were open had limited selections each day, requiring the traveler to exercise patience and understanding. Certain places had long lines, but to the Cubans, this is something that’s become a part of life.
Walking through the streets Daniel reports major renovations and new construction. Hotels are being built all over Havana as if they have their eye on the future, and tourism is the way out of the economic challenges Cuba faces. Most notably, the former Convertible Peso (CUC) has been eliminated and replaced with the local peso (CUP). Inflation isn’t something that just exists in the U.S., it's being felt in Cuba by all the people.
During this visit, the official government exchange was $1 USD for 26 Pesos. The street rate was around $1 USD for 55-68 CUP depending on what day and person tried to hit you up. The monetary changes can be very confusing and should be left for another article. To say the least, wrapping your head around it, along with the fluctuations keeps you on your feet.
“As U.S. Citizen, and under the OFAC license Support of the Cuban People the only lodging available is from privately owned homes. To tell you the truth, this is the only way I’d visit Cuba, even if the restrictions were eliminated.” Private homes are called Casa Particulars, which are privately owned, and the family or managers live on site. Miramar, a high-end neighborhood dotted with Embassies, beautiful trees, and flowering bougainvillea makes it a great place to stay.
Before even making it to the accommodations, a meeting with some local Cuban’s at Grandma's house was the beginning of the experience. Here, we had three locals, Grandma, her grandson, and a friend. They were able to explain to the group about everyday life in the country. All this while enjoying some Cuban Rum, plantains, croquettes, and other tasty treats from Grandma's kitchen. Participants were drawn into the discussion and ready to ask questions. The most interesting was when it was Grandma’s turn. She is a Cuban that lived through the Triumph of the Revolution and had quite a few words to say about her experience. This is a behind the curtain look that any traveler to Cuba needs to experience and makes a great start to the beginning of the journey.
All the protocols are in place, wet mats with bleach, hand sanitizer, masks, and even grandma had her plastic face shield. Cuba took it seriously at the beginning of the pandemic. Lockdowns were in place, and COVID raged just like anywhere else until the vaccines began to roll out. Here you can see a drastic reduction in cases, deaths, and hospitalizations on charts found all over google. For Cubans, it wasn’t a matter of choice to get the vaccine. It was an obligation each person had to meet.
“I felt safer here than in the U.S.”, says Daniel Milks. Omicron cases in Cuba are low by comparison. The World Health Organization has Soberana, Cuba’s most effective vaccine in stage three trials. It’s already being used in Vietnam, Mexico, Iran, Venezuela, and more. Cuba boasts a 91.2% efficacy rate with three jabs being a full set.
Guests reflect back on the “Forbidden Fruit” that Cuba is for Americans. The complexities of operating a nation under an embargo. The desire of both governments to mend fences and establish relationships. Minds wander with memories as the airport nears. Soon, family and friends will be shown pictures and hear experiences. Maybe those stories are powerful enough to lead to change, one person at a time.Daniel Milks
Owner of My XO Adventures, Traveler and ocasional writer.
Domestic Travel to Boom Due to Omicron International Travel Restrictions
There’s no place like home. While we deal with new challenges, regulations, restrictions, etc., travel within the U.S.A. is going to be hot again. It's almost guaranteed. The airlines are already adjusting for this reality, and My XO Adventures is positioned extremely well. If you’re thinking about travel plans for the spring, summer, and fall of 2022 consider the places you have yet to explore.
The National Parks will be a lot like Disneyland, but fortunately, travel in the U.S.A is diverse and plentiful. In the travel business, the United States is often considered the most beautiful country in the world. For a travel planner, we consider the following (and more) when planning a destination for guests.
Believe it or not, we are more than Red and Blue. While the U.S. may not be considered the safest place on the planet, travelers generally don’t worry about where to visit. Take for instance Louisiana, and the French cultural roots we have there. Allons A Lafayette is an excellent choice when visiting the state. They can show you the true places of Cajun and Zydeco music. You can also get great food all over the place, including gas stations. French culture is heard in the language, seen in the architecture, and wafts through the air. It is simply amazing.
Arizona, Utah, New Mexico are all in the Southwest with their roots firmly grounded in Hispanic and indigenous cultures. The landscape is breathtaking, and the food is amazing. If you haven’t had a Hatch Chile, you haven’t experienced good Southwest Cuisine. A good outfitter in the area is Epic One Adventures, which can take you through Arizona, Utah, and some of the most beautiful landscapes you'll ever see.
Of course, My XO Adventures operates in an area that is overlooked by many, and thoroughly enjoyed by those who come. The Black Hills of South Dakota. Very little traffic, open roads, stunning mountains, and the Badlands. Southwestern South Dakota is the place to be. You might be thinking, South Dakota? Yeah well, it’s been kept a secret for some time now, and for good reason. It’s great being able to explore this part of the country in peace and tranquility.
Most people think of Mount Rushmore and nothing else. While this is quite an engineering accomplishment, the Black Hills themselves are the real star of the show. Ancient granite monoliths rise from the earth and sparkle in the sun. Filled with minerals like quartz, mica, feldspar, agates, and yes, gold. These towering spires are the Heart of All That Is for the Lakota, Cheyenne, Crow, and more. The mighty American Bison roams Custer State Park, the second-largest in the nation.
Elk, deer, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and more call these places home. Babbling brooks and streams flow out of the mountains and towards the mighty Missouri River. Ponderosa Pines mixed with bright wildflower-filled meadows abound. Spearfish Canyon awes as you drive through the 1000-foot towering limestone cliffs. Further out you can visit Badlands National Park, one of the weirdest places on earth. Frank Lloyd Wright said it was nature's architecture, and it happens to be one of the largest depositories of fossils in the world.
Not to forget, The Black Hills sport some of the most amazing roads in the country. Iron Mountain Road and the Needles Highway are the most prominent. All of this is within an hour of Rapid City. Traveling internationally can be exciting and quite a bit of fun, but traveling throughout the U.S. makes one realize how fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful country.
The next several months at least are going to be problematic with international destinations. Not until Omicron spreads through and well into the spring will we see infection rates come back to normal. This means international travel might as well be dead for the moment. If you’re hell-bent on it, consider looking at that specific nation's vaccination rate. Country by county listings of COVID vaccinations. Ahem, look at second place.
If you don’t want to be so concerned with your personal vacation time, then get out and play. As the famous folk song is titled, This Land is Your Land. It overflows with natural wonders, places of healing like the Black Hills, and surely you haven’t seen it all. Fair warning though, start making your plans. Hotels will fill up, Airbnb’s will become scarce, and Private Tours will begin to become hard to find. Domestic travel also supports our economy and is made right here in the good ole U.S.A.
We are natural explorers and live in a part of the world where we're surrounded by magnificence. Try not to let fear keep you from getting out and experiencing new places, it might be just what you need.
South Dakota Great Places Designee My XO Adventures
I was truly honored and pleasantly surprised to become an official South Dakota Great Place Designee for Rapid City. South Dakota is an incredible place, and I've spent quite some time reading all kinds of books, listening to people, visiting special places, and doing the best I can to make sure each visitor to the Black Hills gets not a tour, but a great experience.
South Dakota Department of Tourism recently released their "South Dakota GREAT PLACE" designees.
From South Dakota Tourism Association:
"Great service is extremely important to the South Dakota Department of Tourism. That’s why we want to put a spotlight on the businesses that exemplify great service around the state.
We value and appreciate the businesses that consistently put people first, continuously go above and beyond, and help strangers at every opportunity. The South Dakota Great Place program recognizes these businesses each year."
While a lot of hard work and genuine passion goes into each and every tour, I want to say that I didn't do this alone. I'd like to recognize a few that have helped me along the way, and were integral to a successful season.
Black Hills Visit Rapid City Black Hills Tour Company (Kevin and Melina), Black Hills Recreational Therapy (Angie), God, my family, and friends who believed that I could accomplish anything I set my mind and heart to. This list is not exactly in order, but I want to give thanks to those who trusted me, welcomed me, and were willing to help when it was needed.
Our goals for 2022 are to contribute to a local 501c3 making significant impacts in our community, providing the highest level of education for those who love guiding in the Black Hills and Badlands, as well as setting a new standard of benefits to those I'm fortunate to employ.
Our intention is to make a positive impact on visitors to South Dakota, the economy as a whole, as well as the employees of My XO Adventures. Rapid City is now my home, and I truly love the Black Hills and Badlands. Next season is going to be even better, with the addition of an incredible guide, Ashley, and a new vehicle to accommodate more guests.
#myxoadventures #blackhillstours #hifromsd #supergrateful
Traveler, Adventurer, owner of My XO Adventures and occasional writer.
The Pasqueflower (Prairie Crocus)
I'm going to have to admit, I am learning about the wild flowers throughout the Black Hills, and yes I'm getting a head start. Before we have signs of life breaking through the snow covered ground of the Black Hills and with any luck, I'll have studied the most common wildflowers of Southwestern South Dakota.
A good start is to begin this journey with the first bloomers, and follow them in order to their appearance throughout the season. I've seen this delicate beauty, but never understood how highly regarded it is. The Pasqueflower, or Prairie Crocus. This is the state flower of South Dakota. It was the first flower settlers would see in spring, with many songs associated with it.
The Pasqueflower can be white and yellow, purple and yellow, lavender, maroon, and white with a few other variations in between. Low to the ground like the crocus I recognize as a child, if not careful you can easily step on these first signs of life. I can only imagine how wonderful it was to see, bringing with it the warming of the sun and a promise of more pleasant weather ahead. The pasqueflower is delicate, with 5-8 petals and can be found on the limestone glades or meadows of the Black Hills. These areas are wet in the spring and dry during the summer due to the underlying rock, and are an important part of the geological uplift of the Black Hills.
According to Mother Earth Living, in an article by Betsy Strauch, the Pasque in pasqueflower refers to to Easter or Passover, and the juices that come out of the stem are naturally green, at one time used to color Easter eggs. This plant, this tiny early blooming flower has been used in arthritis, and the tea given to an expecting mother which in turn slows hear heartbeat and aids the birth. On the other hand the same tea can be given to a mother whose birth is induced.
This little Easter Plant of South Dakota is downright fascinating. Toxins within the plant that were used to heal different ailments. One such treatment is prepared and applied to an irritation on the skin, resulting in blistering and thus aids in the healing process. Nerdy but WOW!
Seriously, I could and probably have gone down a rabbit hole with this topic, and I'll spare you. If you're out in South Dakota near the limestone glades (Prairies) keep an eye out. Even the smallest of them are intricate and play big roles in the life of Indigenous Peoples. I'll be using the seasons to study, but my primary source is Plants of the Black Hills and Bear Lodge Mountains. One of my very favorite places in downtown Rapid City is Prairie Edge, where you can pick it up in person or order online. The book is broad in subject matter, which is why I chose wildflowers and ordered them by seasons.
Each moment of time throughout the Black Hills brings forth another surprise, a different color, a new smell or sound. This season I hope to open another whole new world. The Plants and Wildlife of South Dakota are simply amazing.
Next season beginning in May, we offer our Tour of the Southern Black Hills, with a special option to take the Wildflower Tour. It adds maybe an hour or two, but if you like to learn about plants like I do its worth every penny.
Explorer, guide, adventure enthusiast and occasional writer.
Travel to Cuba Legally
As of November 15th, travel to Cuba Is open. The airlines such as Southwest have made flights available from Miami and Tampa. The cost is up substantially from pre-pandemic pricing. In previous years, the cost of a flight to Cuba was in the range of $300, but now that has risen to about $570 per person. Quite an increase, but I expected that to happen given the situation and conditions with the airlines.
The price does include the medical insurance Cuba requires for those entering the country but does not include the Cuban Travel Visa which is hovering around $100. This is essentially a piece of paper that you fill out and present upon arrival. Cuba is allowing those that have been tested via PCR within 72 hours to enter the country, but my feeling is don't do that, just get the vaccine. It's safer for you and for them, and for God's sake, it's overdue.
You should also have travel insurance that covers anything related to cancellation, trip interruption, and COVID-related expenses through a carrier like AIG/Travel Guard that will handle Cuba Travel.
Here is what you need to enter Cuba:
1.) A flight that includes medical insurance.
2.) A valid passport that is good for at least 6 months after the scheduled date of return.
3.) Travel Insurance
4.) A Travel Visa
5.) Vaccination Card
6.) Cash for your entire stay plus some.
Cuba Travel tips about money. The monetary situation has changed dramatically since 2020. The CUC has been eliminated altogether. This is the currency you could use as a visitor in Cuba. It's gone, and the government has returned Cuba to a single currency economy. Why does the single currency matter? It's because that combined with a pandemic has created inflation, massive inflation. Recently, the government has announced that the USD is not to be used in Cuba, only the CUP, Euros or Canadian Dollars. If you're going to travel to Cuba, it's currently best to bring Euros, which have the most favorable exchange rate in Cuba as of this writing.
Cuban food is definitely more expensive, with seafood being the most available. Government-owned institutions are only accepting CUP at this point, and being government-owned in Cuba means off-limits for Americans. This doesn't mean that you'll miss out, as there are alternatives to spending money in these places. Americans must only spend money on privately owned businesses. This is a regulatory rule by the U.S. Government for Americans visiting Cuba.
Airbnb has a special license to operate in Cuba, so lodging is generally not a problem. There are quite a few entrepreneurs in Cuba, just be sure to read the reviews carefully. It's always best to get a recommendation from someone who knows, or joining a small tour group to ensure quality. We stay at a 5 bedroom, 5 bathroom home in a suburb of Havana to enjoy a high quality, family-run and quiet location. The downtown area can be noisy, but some people like the convenience of not having to take a cab into town.
Some people wonder, Is it safe to travel in Cuba? I always say yes. I feel safer in Cuba than I do in my own hometown. For certain there is less crime, with the highest activity related to tourists being pick pocketing. It's never happened to me, but you should always bring a money belt no matter where you go.
You've got to jump through some hoops to go to Cuba, but there are professionals out there than can make Cuba Travel now a possibility. Successful travel to any place in the world is dependent on the relationships between the seller and those in the places they visit. I believe Cuba is a World Class destination offering the most unique travel environment in the world, and one that should be experienced. The best way to bring people together is by understanding them, and through that friendships are made.
It's my personal and professional opinion that the people of Cuba should no longer suffer from the embargo. It should be lifted immediately and unconditionally. We treat no other country the way we treat Cuba, and the result Is moral bankruptcy. We the people can help, and benefit from trashing the embargo and working toward mending our ties with one of our closest neighbors.
I absolutely love travel, experiences, am a bit of a daredevil, and an occasional writer. My favorite place is the place I've never been.
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My XO Adventures is Growing!
It's been one great year at My XO Adventures! With that said, next year is going to be even better. Ashley Kelican has been hired as an Adventure Guide for the upcoming season in the Black Hills. Over 100 candidates applied, and Ashley really stood out due to her dedication, curiosity, knowledge, skills, personality and desire to explore as much of the Black Hills and Badlands as possible.
Ashley grew up in Colorado and now resides in Deadwood, SD. She earned her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 2016. After graduation, she commissioned as a Captain in the United States Air Force. While in the service she earned her certification in Veterinary Acupuncture and now owns a small holistic veterinary practice servicing the amazing communities of the Black Hills.
Currently Ashley is expanding her studies and earning an Outdoor Education degree from Black Hills State University. In her free time she enjoys brewing beer, adventuring with her three dogs, and exploring all the wonders and wildlife of Western South Dakota.
Daniel Milks is the owner of My XO Adventures, guide, tour manager, explorer, daredevil, and occasional writer.
Spokane Ghost Town in the Black Hills
It’s my last day of the year to visit Custer State Park. I’m on my own and decided to take Iron Mountain Road to pay a visit to the old ghost town of Spokane, South Dakota. I came here after reading a book called the Spokane Kid, a story about a boy becoming a man as he learned the ways of the Black Hills. Living in Keystone, he initially helped out on several campgrounds before becoming a guide in the Black Hills.
It’s a story I can relate to. There’s so much to learn here, and so much to respect. His Black Hills Adventures take him around the entire mountain range with his father. It took them days, running across old timer miners, camping along the shores of Center Lake, Sylvan Lake and throughout what is now Custer State Park.
Back at this time there were quite a few little towns through Custer, which no longer exist because of the formation of the park. These lands were purchased, added to the park and flattened to let nature take over. The story speaks of the town of Spokane, which like most mountain towns was mined for gold, but they soon found the area was much richer in silver, mica and zinc.
I pulled over to Spokane Creek Campground, parked the car and followed the little sign that said “Ghost Town” on it. The colors of the forest were still golds and browns, with the Ponderosa Pine bursting with green needles. Spokane Creek ran along the trail, making it a little wet and muddy, but I was on a mission.
Soon I begin to find evidence of miners at work. Mostly consisting of rusted sheets of metal, cans, bottles and the like. The best park along the way are tailings. Tailings are the small to medium size rocks taken from the ground and piled up nearby. I can see quartz, mica, feldspar and granite. The ground appears to be littered with the jewels of the Black Hills.
Still searching for the old town of Spokane, I wandered on not seeing a trace of buildings until I come across a cut in the forest where electrical lines run. Here I see the foundation of a building. Whenever you’re in the Black Hills, it’s important to stop, look and listen. I imagine what it was like in 1893, when the story was written.
As I look around, I see large gaps between the older trees with younger growth in between. These are the trails and roads that used to exist and a road leads to more buildings. I follow it, and come across a home, with an outbuilding, classic cars and all kinds of mining artifacts. There are mining depressions in the ground dotted everywhere. Storage tanks are built into the ground holding who knows what.
I’m in the past, walking through areas that first indigenous people occupied and more recently settlers from the east. It’s incredibly beautiful. I feel a sadness come over me as I realize my time here is coming to a close, albeit temporarily.
Facts about Spokane South Dakota:
This makes for a great trail hike before entering the Eastern Side of Custer State Park. Pick up the book “Spokane Kid” at the Iron Mountain Road gift shop at Spokane Creek Campground. Maybe soon, I’ll be leading hikes through the hills and telling tall tales of the Black Hills National Forest.
Visitors have been coming to this area as tourists for a variety of reasons since the late 1800’s. It wasn’t all about mining back then, just mostly. Here’s a map of Custer State Park. The roads through the park such as the Wildlife Loop Road, Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road can get you turned around, so I suggest hiring a guide for a Black Hills Tour.
I hope to see you starting in April of 2022 for another season in the Sacred Black Hills of South Dakota!
Daniel Milks, Owner of My XO Adventures
Traveler, Adventurer, Daredevil and occasional writer.
Where Does a US Passport Get You?
Most people think mistakenly that you can’t travel to Cuba as an American Citizen. That’s bananas. You can travel to Cuba from the US so long as you follow the rules. For some time now, missionaries, educators, photographers, medical professionals and journalists have been visiting the island, but you too can go.
I truly believe that the thought of travel to Cuba being banned originates from two sources. One is the U.S. Embargo on Cuba. The other is propaganda from our media outlets. For far to long we’ve positioned ourselves as an enemy of the Cuban government, a powerful neighbor to the north that punishes, contains, strong arms and twists the truth. To be fair, Cuba does plenty of its own manipulation but that’s what governments do. We know that. Part of my job is to take people to Cuba to experience the culture of the Cuban people. It’s wonderful when you look closely.
I’m not saying I’d like to be a full-time resident of Cuba, but I know some Americans who do just that. They get hooked, and unless you visit you won’t know what I’m talking about. Imagine, you’re in what was the richest city in the hemisphere. All trade went through Cuba and much of that was gold from South and Central America. Havana was an excellent defended port, and one to restock before taking the journey across the Atlantic to Europe. Money poured into Havana, and all you have to do is look around to see. Yes, you’ll see crumbling buildings with faded and flaking paint, but that’s the makeup of one of the most amazing places in the world.
In the morning vendors sell their fresh fruits, bakery items and other clever treats. Children play marbles. Someone is smoking a cigar watching the city come alive. The sun shines through the many park trees throughout the city. Monuments come to life. The Capitol Building towers mightily and shines after its recent restoration. Three wheeled bikes and coco cars await to take passengers to their destination. Cars from the 1950’s are everywhere. Not rare sightings, but everywhere. Each in its own condition with some fully restored and others it’s a wonder their holding together. Some of the soviet era cars dot the streets like the infamously terrible “Lada”, that was copied from the French Groupe Renault.
Drivers of the nicer cars have had this resource handed won to them from their parents, or outright bought it after saving for a long time. Much pride is taken in these cars, and the drivers are happy to take guests all over town. There are beautiful avenues mixed with streets of gordian knot electrical wires. Colorful clothes hang from the balcony drying in the bright sun.
Songs boasting from the squares come from ladies selling delicious roasted Spanish peanuts. They’re more than happy to come sing a song and give you some tropical flirt to get you to buy, and you should. Fortune tellers smoking cigars the size of a paper towel roll is there to read your cards. Cuba is primarily a culture with a mix of Christianity, Santeria and Atheism. Without an open mind this can feel uncomfortable, but it’s part of what makes Cuba so unique.
Step inside the many galleries of Cuba. The Artist Community is growing every day, and despite the protests and crackdowns they’ll continue to produce some of the finest art in the world. A representation of their dreams, thoughts and the life they know.
You’ll also see memorials and museums honoring not only the recent revolutionary heroes, but those of the past. Jose Marti, Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Riders and those adventurers of long ago. Paladars, or privately owned restaurants can be large establishments, or the living room of an entrepreneur are ready to serve you. Tables with checkerboards and those playing are common in the city. Havana is robust, and vibrant. Music is part of its heartbeat and can be heard in a variety of locations.
I’m asked how to get in Cuba quite often. Almost like a clandestine operation. You can travel to Cuba in 2022. It requires a plane ticket, accommodations through My XO Adventures, private transportation, a Cuban Visa, insurance and cash. These are the requirements to travel to Cuba. Which airlines are flying to Cuba? Currently only Southwest Airlines offers a rather robust schedule of one flight per day out of Tampa. Finally, you’ll need cash to travel to Cuba. Is Cuba expensive to visit? Not really, but it all depends if you fall into the tourist traps. Expect to pay high prices for dinner and a show, but if you’re budgeting there are plenty of places to stay and eat that fit each budget.
The face of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara have recently been made popular in the US, but for too long they were painted as the enemy. Not because they did anything worse than the U.S. did, but because they did what they wanted. The U.S. doesn’t generally like that, and points fingers while the same kind of things are happening back at home.
It’s not very complicated. The U.S. used Cuba to its benefit, the people of Cuba got the shaft and a revolution started. The Soviets took advantage and, in the end, played Cuba like a pawn. It’s all very sad, and we have a wonderful opportunity to make a new friend, mend relationships and thrive together. Maybe someday this will happen, but it’ll take brave politicians to do the right thing so don’t hold your breath.
In the meantime, enjoy Cuba for where it is now. You’ll never see another place like it and you can travel there. My XO Adventures is expanding its presence in Cuba in the hopes of lifting people up and providing a greater understanding of an amazing people.
Traveler, adventurer, daredevil, part time writer and owner of My XO Adventures.
Cuban Healthcare And a New Vaccine
Cuba is expected to be over 90% vaccinated by November 15the 2022. How did this happen when the U.S. has been desperately trying to reach the same level for months? Many in the U.S. don’t realize the resiliency of the Cuban people.
What most people don’t know is that Cuba’s State-owned biotech sector has been developing successful vaccines since the 1980’s. The vaccines developed so far are for polio, rubella, whooping cough, measles, meningitis and hepatitis. All of these vaccines have been distributed and successfully used in countries all over the world. All this in opposition from the U.S.
I’ve been to Cuba a number of times, and after a while you start to understand the bigger picture. Propaganda has been rampant on both sides. The largest and most horrific humanitarian poison is administered by the U.S. Government through the embargo. Make no mistake about the it, this is a political tool being used by both Democrats and Republicans.
The embargo exists in large part because of the purple State of Florida. The Florida Cuban population represents almost 30% if the Latino vote. The total Cuban population in the state is 1,528,000. It’s a greater population than Maine, Montana, Rhode Island, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming. That’s powerful to say the least.
It’s no wonder why politicians around election time pander to the Cuban American vote. Many Cuban Americans today are brought up in a household where someone was affected by the Revolution. Stories passed down are absorbed as if gospel, and their thoughts reflect in their vote. There are some ugly stories, but there’s a bigger picture here. Unfortunately, the people of Cuba are the pawns in this game. They are the ones that suffer, not the government.
Recent unrest in Cuba was a result of food, medical and a plethora of supply problems. The Cubans cried out with pain during the pandemic, and at a time we were able to help, but didn’t. Instead, the U.S. government turned a blind eye, and President Biden with his promises of opening relations with Cuba, lied. No surprise there, as most if not all presidents do.
Obama had it right. Relax the sanctions, ease travel, create business opportunities, visit Cuba. The political affiliation plays no role here, it’s the intent and attempt. Cuba began to thrive, and the lives of everyday Cubans improved, then came Trump. Restricting cruise ships from docking in Havana and tightening sanctions. In his last gasp, he directs Mike Pompeo to designate Cuba a State Sponsor of Terrorism. My God. Why? To gain the Cuban American vote and win Florida. It’s that simple folks.
Biden gets elected and promises to reverse the Trump Administration policies. The protests in Cuba change his mind, and instead tightens them and imposes more sanctions. Again, the Florida vote. Don’t forget that the understandable protests are occurring during an important mid-term that could shape the Senate and the House. Good for you Biden. The embargo and policies towards Cuba are the reason for the protests, and you come out looking like the hero. It’s villainous and just about everyone in Congress is guilty. It’s better to do the right thing and lose. You aren’t supposed to be there with a goal of retaining power, despite what Mitch McConnell says.
Want change in Cuba? End the embargo. Rid the Cuban government of the American “boogie man”. They’d no longer have the embargo to blame and would have to work harder to improve the lives of Cubans. Not only that, a Cuban middle class would be born, businesses would thrive, jobs would be created on both sides, and investments made.
The U.S. Government has been using the method of might and punishment as a way to get what it wants. Cuba is still standing. We can be friends and work together. Because we’re not, China, Russia, Venezuela, North Korea and the like are filling that gap. Is that what we want
I’ll continue to visit Cuba because I love it. It’s the best place in the Caribbean, and programs like Havana Heartbeat will engage, support and encourage the Cuban People.
I'm an adventurer, traveler, daredevil and part time writer!