May 28, 2016

How to CUBA

Hola Chicas!

I don't usually share how I put these trips together because (1) there's no formula, and (2) I have a flare for the dramatic. But as this epicness comes to a close, I thought I'd do y'all a solid and provide you with a how-to manual of sorts.

Obviously there are other ways to get to and 'do' Cuba both legally and illegally (i.e. Mexico or Canada, groups, cruises), but I visited Cuba both legally and on my own terms.  I didn't get herded around in large groups, or have to pretend to be doing anything.  So if you're like me, do it like this.  

1. Choose a category and have the documents to support it.  

Because of the embargo, you can't just 'go to Cuba'. 
 You will need special permission from the US government and the Cuban Government in order to do so.  Because of Obama, #ThanksObama, you may now make your own declaration as long your reason for going meets one of the 12 valid exemptions-- 
  • Educational activities in Cuba for schools, including people-to-people exchanges open to everyone
  • Professional research and professional meetings
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  • Religious activities
  • Humanitarian projects
  • Journalistic activities
  • Family visits to close relatives
  • Activities in Cuba by private foundations, or research or educational institutes
  • Any type of support for the Cuban people
  • Exportation, importation, or transmission of information technologies or materials
  • Certain authorized export transactions including agricultural and medical products, and tools, equipment and construction supplies for private use
  • Official business of the US government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
You actually have to go for the reason you cite, sign an affidavit with the travel agency and keep your records for 5 years after your trip.  We went with the journalistic category and Gia got in under the 'family visit'.  Even if you choose a people-to-people visit, you'll have to have a full agenda, like a whole itinerary of stuff to do...this is not tourism.

2. Find a travel agency. 

We went with ABC Charters, INC (with offices in and flights directly to Cuba from Tampa and Miami, Florida).  We flew out of Miami and the tickets for the chartered situation were only $475/person.  They will also help you secure your visa (if you don't want to do like me and knock on the Embassy's door) and get your schedule of tours popping.  I have nothing but good things to say about them-- very professional, fast service, and a smooth check-in process. 

3. Secure the crib.

We've been using Airbnb for our international adventures since 2011.  And y'all know how we do-- #BallOnABudget.  The aesthetic is really, really important to me, as well as the location.  I like to be in a safe neighborhood, but one that's off the beaten path-- I don't do tourists.  This spot fit the bill and while we usually get pretty lucky with amazingly hospitable hosts... this right here?  Special.

Let me tell y'all about our Havana Ocean Front Condo, and our hosts, Cesar and Maria.

Since we weren't supposed to be 'chilling on the beach', we thought it wise to bring the beach to us to enjoy the views after our days running around town with the Afro-Cuban heroes!  The owners of the condo live in Florida, are super responsive and allow you to book via Airbnb for your comfort.  But the caretakers, tho!  Cesar and Maria are family of the owners and I actually don't even have words to describe our appreciation.

First of all, the condo is dope-- 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, fully renovated.  The rocky beach we stayed flexin' on... is literally the back yard!

that pink/red building on the right is the condo! 

You can see the beach from the living room and 2 of the bedrooms!

Every morning, (for a small extra fee), Cesar and Maria would come in through the side door and make breakfast-- all fresh everything-- coffee, eggs, bread, jamon, guava, pineapples, watermelon, etc. They also hooked us up with Dayner, who would wait at the door for us to finish breakfast (with his extra clean, vintage red car).

us on our way to Santa Maria beach after breakfast on Tuesday

Gia had so much fun with Cesar and Maria that they eventually brought their granddaughter over (Lauren, 6 years old).  Although she didn't speak English and Gia didn't speak Spanish, they hit it off so hard that they both cried when we left! She said, 'I already miss my cousin, I don't want to go back to DC!  It's cold and wet there'.

4. See Baby Lores, live!

He's like Beyonce-famous over there.  Everybody, everywhere knows and loves this man and his music.  He's a Raggaeton superstar and after seeing how he tore that club up, I can see why. 

Long story short,  we were so comfortable with Maria and Cesar by the end of the trip that on Saturday night we left Gia with them and her new cousin, Lauren.  I first learned about Baby Lores on Vice News and I reached out to him via FB (y'all know how I do-- persistence and diligence).  To my surprise, he wrote back and invited us to his concert.  Not only was it going down on the weekend we were in town, but it was literally a building away from our condo!!!!! #LookAtGod

At dinner, a few hours before the concert (there's a bar and grill 2 doors down from the condo as well!), we told our waitress (in broken Spanish) that we were gonna turn up with Baby Lores that night.  When we saw how geeked she was, we invited her out!  Again, we speak very little spanish and she spoke no English but she understood, 'Baby Lores' and met us as soon as she got off of work.  We walked in (with Cesar's help--doing a bit of translating) and they sat us down in the very crowded club, right at the front table with Baby's wife!  During the show (which I understood none of but the dope ass beats) he shouted me out and we turnt up even more! #EpicShit

 Our waitress and new friend, Ory!

Baby Lores!


5. Live. 

Thanks to my team, I was able to let my hair down a bit and enjoy myself while not worrying about and all of you!  When I heard the internet situation would be hard to navigate, I still assumed I could at least get a post in here and there.  Before our departure I scheduled up my FB posts for like 10 days.  I curated some articles for the blog and sent them to family friend, CN guest blogger, freelance writer and now experience giver, Mike Orie--

He posted for me in my absence and kept everythang running smoothly.  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!

The homie, Brittany, tho.  She's been my web developer since day 1(her name is at the bottom of the site) and has become one of my best friends. When I realized (first day) that all I could do is slowly load up pics to IG and FB (and only sometimes), I messaged her and she agreed to (with no previous warning) upload the pics and text I'd send her to create the Cuba posts you've been reading.  Without her, I would've had to wait til my return to share the epicness.  So, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

Finally, big shout out to Susonnah, based in Texas, for keeping the CN fam up to date via timely emails!

Because of them, I was able to stay in the moment and enjoy the disconnect.

Here's a few extra pics from the outtakes, thanks again for coming along! If you go to Cuba (and I recommend that you do, and soon), let Cesar and Maria know that Nikki sent you!

Later Gators, 


 The plug! 

More from our visit!

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