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Discovering Havana & Varadero

Classic cars in Havana. Photo by Bill Sheldon.

Bill Sheldon, a marketing consulting who lives in San Diego, visited Cuba with two friends in February. Here, he shares his experiences on the island.

We made a few good decisions going in—the best was bringing only carry-on luggage, which made the airport experience so much easier.. When we arrived, going through baggage claim was taking people an hour or two. We were going to bring our inflatable paddle boards, but I knew that whatever we’d brought, we’d have to lug around.

We never felt in danger in Havana. A friend of mine who had been to Cuba warned us to be careful of men who were being aggressive, saying “I can show you this,” or “I can take you to that.” But we had no problems being harassed. Even when we were lost and trying to find our way to the hotel at one in the morning, I had a sense that we didn’t have to worry about anything. (Despite the fact that we were gringos who approached five different people for directions.)

I loved Old Havana, even though we weren’t really going for a historic tour trip. We asked a cab driver for any cool places to dance, and he recommended that we try and catch the next show at the Buena Vista Social Club. We arrived late and the show had already started, but after some convincing (and $30) they seated us at the front table. It was like going back in time, and we watched about a dozen performers. It was so unexpected and definitely a highlight of our trip.

Another highlight was speaking to the hotel pianist in Varadero, a resort town 90 miles of east of Havana where we stayed three nights at an all-inclusive. (There were a lot of tourists, and, frankly, we liked the local flavor of Havana more.) She was an amazing, classically-trained pianist, and we talked about how, despite her talents, it’s not easy to get out of the country and perform in other places. I got an understanding of her reality. It was great to see the joy in her face as she discussed the piano. The best part? We connected on Facebook, and I saw that she ended up performing in Dubai. It’s so neat that it happened for her.

See below for photos from Sheldon’s trip.

Sheldon and friends riding one of Cuba's classic cars. Photo by Bill Sheldon.

Sheldon and friends riding one of Cuba’s classic cars. Photo by Bill Sheldon.

Sheldon and his friends pose in front of one Cuba's classic cars. Photo by Bill Sheldon.

Sheldon and his friends pose in front of one Cuba’s classic cars. Photo by Bill Sheldon.

Walking in Old Havana. Photo by Bill Sheldon.

Walking in Old Havana. Photo by Bill Sheldon.