Last month I wrote a piece about how to prepare for a trip to Cuba in preparation for my two week study abroad at the University of Havana in January. Our group had our second pre-departure meeting tonight, so here’s a bit more on the kinds of things you should consider if ever thinking about a trip to Cuba.
First we had an hour lecture from the Secretary General from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. Though the United States and Cuba do not have diplomatic relations in each others countries, they do have an Interests Section under the flag of the Swiss. This basically means that if anything should happen to a citizen of either country, or a situation should arise, it would be easier to work out a solution. Likewise, there are educational and cultural aspects behind this, and I think that a part of it has to do with at the very least, trying to keep relations from totally being cut off.
The Secretary General gave us a little history on Cuba and its relationship with the United States, and then took some questions from the students, depending on what they will be researching in Cuba. I’ve decided to research how the economy has been developing related to post-Soviet era tourism. After the Iron Curtain fell, Cuba lost a great trading partner and aid, and thus had to look for another way to bring in revenue. Around this time period investments started to be made in the tourism industry, and as restrictions ease, the tourism industry seems ready to boom. I’d like to figure out the implications should the doors between the US and Cuba freely open one day.
Most importantly, we covered little details on things to remember and be careful about when traveling to Cuba. Bring as much cash as you think you’ll need because your ATM and credit card will not work. If you’re there on a tourist visa, you are only legally allowed to spend $179 for necessities per day (food, drinks, entertainment). Of course, that’s according to the United States, but once there, the Cubans won’t mind if you spend over.
You are not allowed to buy anything as a souvenir. Literally, nothing except artwork will be allowed into the US. If it’s a piece of art from a known artist, it has to get an official seal. Street vendor art doesn’t count, unfortunately. However, you can bring back informational items, such as books, movies, CDs, and posters. Sorry, but the little magnets and cigars are not worth the potential fines and jail time.
Apparently you are required to keep records of all of you travel documents for five years after visiting Cuba, just in case. This means you should hold on to any records of receipts, notes, journals, photos, or airline tickets. If you ever want to get a security clearance, you might want to hold on to these things. Your passport does not get stamped for your benefit. Imagine getting stopped anytime you travel with your passport again and interrogated as to why you were in Cuba. Instead, you’re given a separate document to hold onto while you’re on the island.
The charter airplane only lets you bring 44 lbs worth of luggage with you, including your carry on, so pack wisely. However, you also might want to consider bringing some gifts. Evidently, Cubans are very open to talking to you in the street, and engage with you easily. Yet it’s also common in the culture to ask for a gift as a sign of friendship, and it could be awkward if you have nothing to offer. Something small should do, like a pen or a something along those lines. I’ve already thought ahead and have decided that a stack of autographed Post-Its should be well received when I explain what a famous blogger I am back home (right?).
I’m still trying to finish my last final paper so I can breath a bit, enjoy a few days at home in Boston/Sharon, and then come back to sit around in Washington for a week. It turns out I don’t have work the week of the 26th, so I’ll be able to see some sights in DC, finally. In other news, today I was accepted for not one, but two internships at the Organization of American States. One was related to hemispherical security (including international terrorism, drug trafficking, criminal organizations, etc) and the other was dealing with the ministries of labor of the member states of the OAS, worker’s rights, etc. It was a tough choice because both paths are very interesting and will be challenging yet rewarding, but in the end I chose to work in the department related to labor. The internship will start at the beginning of next semester and run until May.