Jul 9 2013
Words and Interview by Jess Hemenway/Photos by Will Foster
Let’s be honest-we were all pretty envious when we saw Jay-z and Beyonce’s romantic getaway to Cuba and even more so when we learned a few weeks ago that one of our very own team members would be heading that way as well. Will Foster, who just so happens to be our in-house photographer, traveled the island and against all misconceptions made it back to tell us about it.
First off, tell us the way! How did you get to travel to Cuba?
It wasn’t as hard as you’d think! We went using a cultural education visa with a group of about 20 people. The flight was only 50 minutes from Miami. Because of the visa, we had to complete around 5 hours of people-to-people activities everyday. This included visiting a tobacco farm, museums and the US embassy. Not a lot of time to hang out on the beach but we left with a great understanding of the country.
Word on the street is Cubans hate Americans-what is your take?
Considering the situation, they hold a high respect for the United States. Many of the people we met have plans of moving to the US or already have family here. Obviously the embargo creates tension but everyone was very welcoming… like really welcoming… there was a welcome (rum) drink everywhere we went.
Where did you stay?
For most of the trip, we stayed at the Hotel Nacional in Havana. The hotel has been around forever and has a crazy history. Downstairs, they have a wall of celebrities (Leo Dicaprio, Frank Sinatra, Kate Moss, Papa Hemingway, J-Lo, ect.) who have stayed there along with their room number. I guess the idea is that you can request their rooms which is kind of creepy in retrospect. It isn’t the best hotel I’ve stayed at, but the cool factor made up for it.
Every night, there is a cannon ceremony at the Fortaleza de San Carolos de la Cabaña. The cannon fires over the bay at exactly 9PM–it’s so precise that people actually set their clocks to it, so don’t be late! Back in the good ole days, this marked the time to close the city gates for the night. If cannons aren’t your thing, the fort has an amazing view of Havana.
As for food, I highly recommend going to the family-run restaurants which are called Paladars- a little pricey but nothing outrageous. Most of them are found in residential areas and are frequented by tourists. Locals usually eat here for special occasions like weddings or birthdays. Not only is the food delicious but you’re supporting a family owned business. For the most part, we had rice, beans and either pork or chicken for every meal–being half-Cuban myself, I couldn’t complain!
We’ve heard getting around can be quite hectic. What is the best means of transportation in your opinion?
The old school Chevys are my top pick. We found a line of them waiting outside our hotel. The driver (sporting a zebra cowboy hat) took us for a ride down the Malecón and into Old Havana- Score a convertible if you can.
What advice would you give to someone traveling to Cuba?
I’d go into the trip without any preconceived notions and take it for what it is. It’s like traveling back in time- the old cars and architecture are a sight to see. Be sure to research hotels and places to eat beforehand- internet is hard to come by once you’re there.
You can find Will’s photography work at his website, DubFoster.