My trip to Cuba all began a couple years ago when my husband joined a social club in San Francisco, "Wingtip". Soon after he was accepted into the club he heard of an annual trip to Cuba for its willing members. Sean and I looked at each other and immediately agreed "We're in!". California Building Bridges is the non-profit that organizes trips to Cuba for Americans as a Cultural People-To-People exchange. The process of receiving travel information, submitting personal documents for a travel visa, and a nominal deposit for our trip to Cuba began in February 2016. To be firmly placed in the correct context Sean even had a linen suit made through Wingtip for this unprecedented family vacation.
The next touch point I recall was a conversation with the founder of Wingtip, Ami Arad, who emphatically stated "There is absolutely no reason why you can't smoke a Cuban cigar with every meal." At this point I knew the possibilities would be endless. NOTE: As you read this article, please take note of the hyperlinks for greater insights.
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A direct flight from the United States to Cuba is not available at the time of our departure from the west coast, so off we flew to Miami for an overnight stay. October through April is high season for travel and off-season for hurricanes. We spent a few hours having dinner and walking around South Beach at the recommendation of a fellow passenger on the flight over. This place is like no other. Ten-foot long Python snakes are on display along the restaurant lined promenade, a guy riding up and down the crowded street with a Ring-Tail Lemur on his shoulder, spirited celebrations of life was at every corner and some folks unusual clothing displays (or lack there-of) I cannot mention for this publication...
The next morning we boarded American Airlines from Miami to Jose Marti Airport in Havana Cuba for a 40 minute flight. The distance from the Florida Keys to the island of Cuba is a mere 90 miles. The weather is hot and humid as our group of 13 walked from the foot of our airplane on the tarmac into the tiny airport. We were warmly greeted in Spanish by a uniformed airport official. Immigration was swift and without incident. Once you pass a brief interview, passport is stamped and have your photo taken, you are buzzed through a solid door one person at a time to retrieve your luggage at the turnstile but not before passing through a metal detector and submitting your visa and declaration paperwork to a woman seated at a folding card table.
Now the adventure begins!
We lodged at the Melia Cohiba Hotel, a Spanish hotel chain for seven days along the The Malecon Highway which follows the shore and seawall known to the locals as "The Sofa". The seawall is five miles long and took 20 years to build. The hotel is first-rate. Large impressive front lobby, friendly knowledgeable staff, currency exchange, gorgeous swimming pool, and two bars. Clean, comfortable rooms, efficient plumbing, clean towels daily, plenty of hot water, a morning buffet with a wide variety of tasty dishes including good Cuban coffee, make yourself Mimosas, and of course a Habanos cigar retail shop and smoking bar with nightly live entertainment is right across the hall.