My Cuban Suitcase!

Packing for your holiday in Cuba needs some thought! We at Encompass Tours are familiar with the situation and we’d like to pass on some packing tips!

Apart from the usual “clothing to suit the weather conditions and activities you plan to participate in” What else??????

Knowing what conditions are on the ground and that the US trade embargo means that shopping for EVERYTHING can be either limited, difficult or impossible to get in Cuba.

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Bring everything you think you will need for your stay. Any thing you can not live without and maybe some extras to give away to Cuban friends you have made during your stay!

My list might help you!!!

Toiletries

Sunscreen, Shampoo, Conditioner, Moisturizer, Insect repellent, soap antibacterial hand wipes/gel, razors, shaving cream, deodorant, eye drops, toothpaste.

Medicines

Aspirin, Paracetamol, Neurophen and any thing you take on a regular basis

Food stuffs

Travel kettle, Tea bags, instant coffee, black pepper (if you like pepper) chili sauce (if you like spice) Chocloate, Nuts.

Other essential items

Universal adapter

Phone plus charger

Camera plus charger

Chargers for any i pod, pads, tablets

Books to read on the flight

Clean English Pounds, Euros, Canadian Dollars, Australian Dollars in Cash (not travellers cheques)

DO NOT BRING

Scottish Pounds!! US Dollars!!

Damaged notes of any type

Dongles of any type or GPS will automatically detain your arrival in Havana and hours will pass waiting for the forms to be filled in and your hardware confiscated. You will be charged for it and can pick it up on your departure from the airport!!!! Best to check your baggage and not make delays for your self!!!

 

 

A stroll down Obispo.Cuba

Obispo is Havana’s Oxford Street!

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Let’s take a stroll down Obispo! Turn your back on the central park and head down towards the harbour. Obispo acts as the main tourist route connecting the Parque Central to Plaza de Armas a stone’s throw from the bay of Havana.

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On your right Bar Floridita professes to be “the cradle of Daquiri”  and “one of the seven most famous bars in the world” it attracts crowds and is one of the many places Hemmingway left his mark!  The romance of his novels and the many stories of his years spent enjoying the good life in pre revolution Cuba are legendary.

Take your time! There are many things to delight and surprise the eye, the ear and the nose!

The street has blossomed into a cacophony of bookshops, bars, money exchanges, home goods stores, pets in tiny cramped cages, tacky tourist trinkets, and numerous cafes with musicians supplying the background rhythms.

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A couple of blocks on, the figure of Sancho Panza greets you on his mule and musicians play in the shade of some ruins converted into a restaurant and bar.

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New relaxations in the laws have triggered a fast growth of small business and enterprising Cubans are making the most of their new opportunities. Tourists have become more abundant and more approachable and hustlers who have always been present now have licenses to offer their services! Tourist police patrol the designated tourist areas and Cuba is very safe for tourists.

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If the heat is getting too much you might be feeling a bit thirsty. Why not pop into “Lluvia de Oro” for a coffee or a cocktail and imagine yourself back in the cold war days, a secret agent in Graham Green’s Film “Our Man in Havana”. It’s normally hot and the bars do well! Back out onto the street, music floats into your ears from all directions.

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It’s impossible to walk down Obispo without being approached by someone to buy something, go to bar, visit a restaurant or part with some cash to feed a needy family. The choice is widening and Cubans are learning about competition!

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Museums, tourist information, ice cream sellers, pizza sellers, opticians, artists’ studios/shops, shoe shops, clothing shops, flower sellers and Hotels.

Museums, mainly small, are everywhere! Many free to enter.

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The famous Café Paris is small but great music is usually on the menu, whether you stop for a cerveza or a meal. On the walls are memorabilia and photos of the much loved “Caballero de Paris”

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From here the aroma of baking will attract you in to Pastelaria San Jose and there is sure to be something sweet for a tasty snack.

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You are now on the door step of Hotel Ambos Mundos Hemmingways favourite! The view from the roof terrace is worth a visit in the beautiful old lift!

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Continue on past Mercaderes and you enter the colonial architecture of Plaza de Armas surrounding a park with some lovely Palms and flowering Frangipani trees. This Plaza is where second hand book sellers congregate. Beyond the glint of the sea can be seen below the huge fortifications defending the harbour!

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If you would like to see it all for yourself, why not join us on tour this winter to enjoy Cuba at its best!

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A Cuban Snapshot  http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

Mi Cubita  http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

To read more of our Cuban news posts please link to Cuban News Posts

Dulces de Coco: Coconut Sweets

Coconut Sweets and deep fried pasta!

Every country has its junk food and street food and Cuba, despite all its shortages is no exception!

”Necessity is the mother of invention”  so the saying goes, and never a phrase more truly represents all aspects of life in Cuba today. Locally sourced home grown food is no luxury here, is all that’s available, and Cubans make the most of what little they have.

You need not search for pre packaged bags of potato crisps, colourful snack size bags of peanuts nor huge selections of biscuits and cookies in beautiful plastic wrappings!

What you will find out on the streets are snacks made at home by hand, displayed on trays and advertised by voice! Some of the voices are amazing in their volume and your sweet dreams might be interrupted as you wake in the early morning in old Havana to the sound of “Tamales fresco” (fresh Tamales) “Coco! Coco!” (coconut)

Out on the streets, in the popular plazas and especially on the Malecon (the walled sea front where lover go to stroll at night and fishermen spend their days casting out to sea) these are the haunts for the street sellers. Frequently you’ll find old ladies and gents in straw hats carrying a bundle of cone shaped paper packages and ambling along in the sunshine. These old folks will be calling “mani mani” (peanuts) or “chicharrita” (which is a general term for junk food)   Some cones they are clutching are the size of an icecream, others thinner still, and here size matters! The thin ones are mani and the fat ones chcharrita!

If you are lucky the peanuts will still be warm from the roasting, they are small, salty and very tasty!  The chicahrrita is a totally Cuban invention, its deep fried pasta and comes crunchy, crisp and salty in the style of a pasta tube, like penne or macaroni.

For a few pesos MN (moneda nacional) any child or adult can crunch their way through these simple snacks that fill a gap between lunch and dinner!

Younger stronger bodies are needed to carry the trays of “Dulces de Coco” (coconut sweets ) that glisten in the sunshine attracting children like bees to a honeycomb! These street hawkers need strong biceps and walk the streets selling their wears which quickly disappear.

Coconut is the main ingredient and grows abundantly on the island, then you need a generous helping of sugar for which Cuba is famous. The resulting globes of sweet coco gleam like jewels on their trays. Irresistible!!

We can recommend you try a dulce de coco and a cup of Cubas delicious coffee, the perfect partnership!

Why not book your tour today to Cuba today and taste for yourself!

A Cuban Snapshot is our 7 day tour
http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/

Mi Cubita is our 14 day tour
http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/

Home Cooking!

Local, Nutritious & Delicious….Home cooking in Cuba!

The fashion these days, here in Britain, is for cooking and eating with an emphasis on “seasonal produce” and even better “locally sourced”! We are asked to appreciate the extra time and effort that obtaining these ingredients necessitates, and we seem to be more than willing to dig into our pockets and pay extra for this privilege!! It’s a big selling point! We will however, quite likely, accompany our meal with a good French or Italian wine and a Costa Rican coffee with a “fare trade” label, the pepper used to season will be imported and the Olive oil in the salad dressing will not be from a British olive grove! Well…these inconsistencies we allow, and we feel we have had a more healthy and nutritious meal that has contributed to our local economy.

How marvellous then to arrive in Cuban and find that the cuisine is 100% seasonal and 98% local produce!  Oh the advantages of island life with a US trade embargo!! You can be certain that your food has come straight from the land and that pig you hear squealing over the wall is going to reappear on your plate as a succulent and delicious meal!

Obviously, living in a country where the season dictates your flavours means that dishes change with the available ingredients and menus likewise.  Your holidays are for experiencing new flavours and we at encompass tours, aim to offer you the chance to eat the best and typical dishes of Cuba. The lovely ladies of the “casa particulars” take a great pride in being able to offer you their best and favourite dishes, and never has it been more true that “necessity is the mother of invention”.  Recipes are passed down the family and any Cuban will tell you his Mamas cooking is the best!! Neighbours help out with ingredients and cooking utensils and food is the major preoccupation of most Cubans.

As a tourist you will be able to eat foods forbidden to local people!!!! Lobster and Beef are for the tourists and the government owns all the cows and keep a check on them!! Occasionally an unfortunate beast might get “hit by a train” and as food is in short supply, there will be no time wasted in dividing up the carcass among the local community.  Fish can be hard to source, which will surely come as a surprise as most cities are a stone’s throw from the ocean. This is because no Cuban fishing fleet exists for fear of someone running away to Miami!  People do however fish from the shore and go out in tiny “rowing boat” type vessels to catch some fish and earn a little extra money. Cubans get their food on the ration card that has existed since the liberation forces ousted Batista in the revolution of 1959. That covers their basic commodities per head of population, but 4 eggs a week do not go far, and last year the Casto regime announced that the rations were to be cut. Getting enough food can be a daily chore for a lot of inner city families.

These days Farmers markets are growing in popularity and your host families will be able to buy the extras ingredients needed to feed tourists. Tasty plantain, sweet potatoes, yucca, cassava, pumpkin, beans, an assortment of “greens”, coconut, garlic, sweet peppers and various herbs will make memorable dishes.  Fruits such as oranges, lemons, bananas, pineapple, fruita bomba (papaya to us, but you can’t say that in Cuba!), melon, guava and lemons make delicious juices for your breakfasts.

By far the best cuisine in Cuba is to be found in the home and not in the restaurants whose menus are repetitive and boring and service…how can I describe it….erratic?. You might find the only dish available from the 20 or so listed on the menu, are the two containing ham, cheese and chicken! If you are a vegetarian or vegan eating in “casa” is really your only way to survive.  Cubans like meat and don’t understand vegetarianism; many don’t eat vegetable at all as they can’t afford them!

A typical dish called “Ropa Vieja” is a stew of shredded meat onion and some sweet peppers with seasoning, and translates as “old clothes”. Rice is eaten daily and the most popular dishes are known as “Moros y Christianos” which could be interpreted as “blacks and whites” as it’s made with black beans, while “Congri” is made with red beans.

Eating in Cuba can be a challenge, but the results are worth waiting for! Join us on tour and taste the flavours of Cuba!
“A Cuban Sanpshot” 7 days tour
http://encompasstours.com/tours/a-cuban-snapshot-7-days/
“Mi Cubita” 14 day tour
http://encompasstours.com/tours/mi-cubita-cuba14-days/