Cuba's digital destination
This may seem like a scary essay on bad things in Cuba, but I assure you, it is every bit just as positive. You see, any one of these challenges can arise during a stay, but with a little foresight and smart packing, you can evade the bad stuff like Neo dodged the Agents in Matrix. Every country has its own version of things to watch out for. In Havana, at least, there is no need to double check your shoes for hidden scorpions nestled in your socks like Costa Rica; however, if you travel deep into the countryside in eastern Cuba, you may have several creepy crawlies to protect against. So here it is, we present you with the good, the bad, and the ugly. Cuba is not one of those places with a drugstore around the corner, nor is there is Best Buy nearby for techy needs. Heed the following, and be a hero on your Cuban holiday.
- Sunstroke – You would think most people know this by now, but there’s always a few cocky travelers who wish to challenge the sun. This summer, temperatures are easily reaching up to 90 °F 32 °C (and more), so pack those SPF’s in your beach bag. Waterproof is even better. If you do happen to fall asleep in the sun, or carelessly got get caught up drinking daiquiris outdoors unbeknownst to your sunburn, fear not, a few home remedies by a local Cuban can make all the difference. First off, Vinegar is a healer to dab on a sunburn. An aloe plant is master remedy for sunburns, and can sometimes be found where vegetables are sold. To avoid the whole mess on long walks, hold up an umbrella while walking the hot streets of Havana. It is good to know that parasol culture is still alive in Cuba. Another common Cuban accessory is the hand held fan, à la Karl Lagerfeld. The classic shop to purchase one is named La Casa del Abanico en la Habana Vieja (Obrapía 109, e/ Mercaderes y Oficios).
- Mosquitos – This is the Caribbean. Rains can make for a humid day, and worse yet, a fertile breeding ground for pesky mosquitos. The past few years has seen a rise in Dengue fever in Cuba, so make it a priority to pack mosquito spray for your next trip. Dengue can be areal vacation killers as well as giant health risk. Symptoms can begin 3 to 14 days after infection. If you prefer to avoid toxic deet chemicals found in over-the-counter producers (such as OFF), consider using Dr. Scholls Big Spray, which contains natural oils. We’ve road tested it, and it works. Smart for children too. If you’ve already been bitten and need to heal, try some toothpaste on the affected area. If you can get to a local farmers market, try applying one of the following: chopped onions, aloe vera, raw honey, or lime/lemons to the skin. In addition to mosquito spray, if your vacation includes a trip to the rural forests of Viñales, you may want to pack a little citronella candle to guard your room through the night.
- Asthma – If you’re the type to suffer acute asthma, Havana streets can sometimes trigger some wheeziness due to the car exhaust of some vintage vehicles. Cuba does not have the standard emission testing of United States for vehicles, so expect a few cars to spit out black smoke. There is also no smoking laws inside clubs, so expect some smoky nightclubs (Hello Gato Tuerto). It’s nothing a rescue inhaler cannot fix. The other precaution to be mindful of is which “casa particular” you are renting from. Please ask to see photos of the rooms in advance. Luckily, Airbnb provides the luxury of scooping out the home before confirming. Some rooms (very rare, though) have no windows, which can collect a musty smell. Others can have mold building in the walls (note: some hotels can also have mold build-up too). If you detect this early, ask for another room. If you are stuck for the night, take a walk outside, visit the pool or backyard for fresh air. In dire cases, the foreigner’s hospital, Cira García, is located near in the Playa district. Your flight ticket comes with automatic insurance, and the clinic will be able to provide you with a quick nebulizer to get back on your feet. The second home enemy is dust mites, which might be found in old mattresses. Many Cubans do not replace mattresses every six years as recommended by allergy experts. If you are sensitive to dust mites, bring an allergy bed cover for mattress and pillows (easy to pack). Bad sleep equals a groggy traveler. This can save your holiday slumber and keep you focused, alert, and ready to build fun memories to last a lifetime.
- Diarrhea – This curse is the most dreaded sentence for any holiday—be it Cuba or India. Nothing kills an adventurous holiday like Montezuma’s Revenge. For starters, DO NOT DRINK tap water. Even if a local friend offers you a glass, and tells that they never get it. Keep in mind that locals may have developed an antibody over the years, unlike your delicate American tummy which will violently respond to the same glass of water. The instruction is simple: Bring a bottle Pepto-Bismol. It cannot be bought in Cuba. If you don’t use it, better yet! Now you can leave a gift to a friendly local or fellow traveler. Pay it forward. Pepto now comes in little cute pink pills if you can’t carry a liquid bottle in your rollaway bag. Forgot the Pepto? Here are some home remedies: yogurt, ginger, apple cider vinegar, banana and chamomile tea. For the uber sensitive, brush your teeth with bottled water and be mindful of ice cubes served in drinks via street vendors. Most of the fancy paladars are trustworthy with ice-cubes since most of their clients are foreigners… and who wants to upset their clients? If you feel the slightest tiny case threatening your health, drink LOTS of bottled water to wish it away. In serious cases of dysentery, please visit the Cira García Clinic
- Animal Watch – During the month of May and partially June, the little nuisance of sea lice can be found roaming some beaches. The little critters stick to your clothes, so if you take a dip in the ocean, just shower afterwards or remove bathing suit. Another trick is the application of oil sunscreen, which prevents the lice from sticking to your body. Jellyfish is another bummer that comes around mostly in the summer season. The beaches are mostly safe, but if for any freak chance you get stung, it is wise to know that a good paste of meat tenderizer or papaya is good to reduce pain. Another home remedy for stings is plenty of vinegar, or applying a paste made of baking soda. Good old-fashioned ice packs do wonders too. When diving on the island, also be mindful of lion fish with their poisonous spears. In terms of other animals in your general circumference, fear not, a Cuban crocodile will not face you unless you wander in swampy areas. Also, take note, if you spot a tarantula in Cuba walking into your home (a frightening sight for any tourist), be aware that it is NOT poisonous. For the most part, the Cuban tarantulas prefer to live in trees anyways.
- Light Theft – I will preface this section by saying that Cuba is one of the safest places to travel. Due to the lack of gun culture by the general population (police are able to carry guns), it is not common to hear of “stick-ups” on the corner. In general, it is safe to say that Cubans are not violent people, compared to some neighboring Caribbean countries. Having said all this, don’t be careless or cocky. Hold on tight to your iPhones. In a country with zero Apple stores, you can imagine the determination to snag an iPhone, and much more to resell it on the black market. Put your phones away while on vacation. Due to the lack of wifi on every block, this should be an exercise in living off-the-screen, so take advantage of that. You can Instagram when you get home. If you’re an American, you will most likely be carrying a fair share of cash, so be smart about where you leave it in the hotel or home. The bigger hotels have safes in each room. Most homes do not. It is always wise to befriend your housekeeper and tip her kindly to protect your goods. If all else fails and your cash is gone, remember that Western Union works in Cuba; however, it is not possible to send money to a foreigner. In this case, you will need to find a resident Cuban to pick up the money, in return for a “thank you” tip for spending the energy to go save your bootie.
- Sexy time – Take one trip to Cuba and you will notice the most beautiful people in the world. Add to the fact Cubans love to flirt and can get a little frisky with strangers. If you plan to do the horizontal mambo with a local Cuban, be safe. Wear a “Jimmy Hat” aka condom. Here’s the state of STDs in Cuba. All Cubans are offered free medical checkups. This means Cuban medicine focuses lots on preventative medicine, and watches other forms of problems very early in their onset. The other side of the coin is that prostitution seems to be a big money maker for some families with women begrudgingly sacrificing their bodies to make ends meet in a difficult economy. On the topic of HIV, Cuba put a big leash around the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s by quarantining any person diagnosed positive. That means quickly removing family members from their households and shipping them off to isolated medical camps to be treated. As crazy as that sounds, it put the cabash on AIDS in Cuba with few known cases arising since then. There are still plenty of other STDs that can still be contracted, especially with the high frequency of sex with outsiders. Trust us, you don’t want to play Russian roulette with your private parts. We repeat. Use caution and wear a rubber.
- Scams – Cubans can be wildly creative with their storylines when trying to extract money from you. My favorite is the person trying to sell you fake cigars. The story goes: “My Mother [or wife] works at the Cohiba factory, she takes some cigars for herself, which I will sell to you for a better price.” If you are trying to impress your boss back home with a box of Cuban Cohibas, it will be quite embarrassing to discover you got him a box of fakes. Avoid any tall tales from the street and go to an official seller with boxes that are properly stamped by the government. This is one item you do not want to find on the black market. The other scam happens rarely but it does. There are times when a local offers to exchange your money into CUCs at a better exchange rate. In rare instances, the foreigner can be holding fake bills. Careful with strangers who exchange your money. This only works if you are referred by a trusted family friend who has your best interest at heart. In general, we just ask you exercise basic intelligence you would use in any country. Ask how much a ride costs before getting into the taxi. A dishonest taxi driver can overcharge you after reaching your destination, putting you in an awkward position. Since Cuba is a two-tier economy, know the value of your dollars. You may agree upon $30 for your ride, but upon arriving to the destination, it is not $30 pesos as he said (equivalent of little more than $1.00 USD). Instead, the driver changes his story and its now $30 CUCs (which is approx. $33 USD). I blame more the crappy economy than the individual who is trying to feed his family. Still, nobody likes to be played for a fool. Just keep your scam-alarm on at all times.
- Bathroom Alert – Supplies are low in Cuba, and is most apparent in the bathroom stalls of the island. Enter most lavatories and you’ll find the lack of toilet paper, hand soap, or paper towels. The air drying machines are almost laughable. The initial intention is to turn them on, put your hands under them, until one feels the weak breeze, and ultimately wipes hands dry on pants instead. The best way to combat this shortage is to bring a ton of mini-Kleenex packs. Too much is never enough. You can always leave spare packs behind to friends. If you are a germ-phobe, bring a bottle of Purell to remove any additional bacteria. The general rule is that Havana has gotten better at supplying toilet paper (depending on which type of establishments you frequent), but if you travel to the outskirts of Cuba (i.e. Vinales, Cienfuegos, or deeper out there), be prepared to visit the “no-toilet-paper” zone. God is in the details. Bring Kleenex and your friends will love you.
- Tech Stuff – Snapped a lot of brilliant vacation photos? Accomplished some inspirational writing on your trip? Remember that this summer may experience a few blackouts in Cuba, thus making your computer vulnerable to crashes. We suggest to NOT leave your computer plugged into a wall during your day missions, nor at night while you sleep. Another tip is to bring a surge protector on your trip. If you don’t want to carry cumbersome hard drives, then we suggest you bring lots of SD camera cards which sort of act like a backup hard drive for your photos after you fill up a few, and keep them safe in a tiny plastic container. Also, if you can, bring a bunch of USB sticks. You may befriend a musician or filmmaker who wants to offer you music or a film. In Cuba, locals do not use WeTransfer or YouSendIt.comwebsites for large data transfers. Conversely speaking, you may want to offer music back as a gift to someone. Overall, USB sticks are golden in Cuba and the main form of spreading digital files, so feel free to leave some as gifts as well.