A brilliant way to get acquainted with such a different country.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
The whole trip was inspirational:
Adjusting to the very different surroundings of a communist country which is experiencing the early stages of capitalism and trying hard to adapt to the fast growing tourism industry.
Beautiful, lush countryside with very differing characteristics across the island. Galloping across country on very well trained horses from Trinidad to swim in a waterfall pool has to be a particular highlight for me. Also fabulous beaches which we didn't want to leave.
The contrasts of old and new in Havana as the capital's historic buildings are renovated, whilst side streets still crumble.
The opportunity to learn so much about the country and its very differing towns and cities in such a relatively short space of time - and to dance in many of them!
Finally, having had the pleasure of being in the company of such a diverse, interesting and friendly group. It's true what was said on the last day; we did all feel like a large family after the fortnight together of so many experiences and laughs (and so much rum!).
- What did you think of your group leader?
Yazel is a very organised and articulate guide with excellent English, who is also great fun to be around. He took a lot of trouble to explain the official background to the current political, social and economical situation. His historic knowledge and retention of dates puts my memory to shame. He also responded very capably and energetically to every situation we threw at him (and there were quite a few, some of which involved late nights!). Finally he worked hard to ensure that wherever possible, we had an opportunity to experience the slightly more diverse cuisines offered by the family paladares.
Fito is a superb driver who thankfully is also a trained mechanic; due to his skills we just about managed to stick to the first week's timetable because of our temperamental bus! We had no idea that Yazel and Fito hand not worked together before, as they worked together brilliantly and got on like old friends. Both pretty handy dancers, too!
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Although it did eat up some money, I was glad I took the opportunity to do as many of the extra options as I could, this included the horse riding in Trinidad (although there's also a catamaran trip which was very well enjoyed by those who did it), the shows in Havana and the trip to Vinales (although we were tired by then, it was a great opportunity to see part of the island we hadn't yet visited, and the guide for that day - Ida - was superb, plus we could sleep on the bus on the way there!).
I also found it useful knowing some spanish and having done a few salsa classes before I went, plus the Moon Guide was very useful reading before I went, particularly the background information in the last quarter.
Try to get on the group flight from Gatwick, as it will make life a lot simpler. I went separately on KLM via Schiphol and the flights were changed two weeks beforehand resulting in a less smooth start and finish to the holiday than I would've liked.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
Just a great trip which does involve living out of your suitcase due to the amount of hotels you stay in (two nights in one place feels like luxury!). Yes, not all of the hotel rooms are as fully functioning (or sometimes as clean) as we westerners are used to, but it feels like a country still getting used to earning its keep. Don't expect this to be a culinary journey, either, it is basic fare with much rice and many beans (we were delighted to get lettuce in Vinales, to put it into perspective!).
Certainly by having such a good local guide you learn so much more about the culture of Cuba and its people, which you wouldn't get on a more typical package, or by going independently. I would now feel much more confident planning an independent trip having had such a safe way of getting to know the country and its peculiarities. And I feel as though I have no choice but to go back, as Cuba now has me firmly under its spell.