Get Ready for Cuba

Cuba’s been on the mind lately. A series of conversations, events and rejections have stirred up the sleeping memories of my ’07 trip to the infamous island, and I’ve realized that I actually have something to say about it all. And that it might be of use to someone.

It started about a month ago, when I replied to a post on A Little Adrift in which Shannon mulled over whether to go to Cuba or not. I commented that she should eff the nay-sayers and high-tail it down there. We took the conversation off the blog, and I sent her a breakdown of my first-hand tips for sneaking in and out, and traveling around, the only country Americans are banned from. I’d forgotten there were still folks out there who didn’t know how to negotiate the embargo, and were intimidated by the red-tape and chorus of American voices saying it was too difficult and dangerous. It felt good to send along accounts of my positive experience, as well as some tangible tips.

Next I exchanged blog comments and emails with T-Roy from Fogg Odyssey on his post discussing the presence of government propaganda in Cuba (I argued that part of the reason it feels so overbearing is that there’s no advertising to counterbalance it—all the billboards are for the revolution, not cell phones and perfume). I read more of T-Roy’s Cuba posts, and they got me all itchy for the Caribbean country free of consumerism and crackheads.

Add into that the reassurances given to a friend who’s currently making the trip, and a lonely unpublished narrative about my New Year’s Eve in Havana (complete with moonshine rum, a broken toilet and Rick James), and recent twitterings over the end of the embargo, and the need for a series of Cuba posts was obvious.

Here’s what to expect: a post of general travel tips, especially as related to independent budget travel (often deemed “impossible” in Cuba); a post devoted to American travelers and the how-tos of Customs evasion; the aforementioned raunchy narrative; and a photo essay composed of shots by my very talented brother, who traipsed off the the forbidden island on his own trip a couple years back. Excited?

So, to dim the lights and get everyone in the mood, here’s a poem I wrote that attempts to capture the ambiance and lingering images of Havana:

Plaza Vieja


in slow motion

the stretch of grey crumbling,

edifices revealing their insides

tenderly, like virgins

with weathered skin.


Suddenly heat and crashing

waves on the sidewalk,

chrome and fins,


rumbling like stomachs.


In front of a faded hotel,

a procession of flags

limply waves

to the ghosts of gone,

brown legs of schoolgirls

disappear up darkened stairwells.


Suddenly a square,

a plaza

whose dreams creep

through the stone cracks,

catch in the branches

of tired trees,

in balcony bars

and bench slats,

swell in the ankles ankles

of the women sitting—

the past

like a pulse

growing fainter.

9 Responses to “Get Ready for Cuba”

  1. 1 opoetoo December 28, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    great poem,comments and pictures.

  2. 2 T-roy December 28, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    Lauren- Your right 100%, as in if you want to see Cuba and are American you can do it! For me though i still have mixed feelings because I won’t lie, as for Cuba itself I found it wonderful, but I really got jacked with at the airport coming in and going out, which left a bad taste in my mouth.

    I don’t want to sum up a country because of a couple bad people but it was hard for me not to because of this. Don’t know why I got singled out both times coming in and out but it pissed me off to no end. But to be fair I haven’t heard of any other travelers getting the same treatment like I did (I didn’t get a cavity search but close to do it). I just figured it would have been my follow Americans jacking with me when i got back and not the Cubans.

    I hear so much of people going and having no problems with the government just because your American but I can’t same the same.

    As in fear of getting into trouble, don’t worry about it as all you have to do is keep your mouth shut and tell the American government nothing. I just did a posts for that will be posted 04Jan09. It’s about the Pro’s and Con’s of traveling to Cuba. Check it out when it gets posted and would love your feed back on it.

    Nice poem by-the-way! :0

    • 3 laurenquinn December 28, 2009 at 9:46 pm

      Hey, an honest opinion is better than a sugar-coated one. I had no problems with either US or Cuban Customs, but it’s important to hear from people who have. (Ever check out that Matador post about detainment at Heathrow? Scandalous…

      Looking forward to checking out your posts!

      • 4 T-roy January 2, 2010 at 6:09 pm

        I read that… and thought I had it bad. I’ll shut up now about Cuba after reading that! lol It was so out there that it would have been hard to even make up. I will admit I got drilled with a lot of questions when I went to London as well. Remember thinking, whats the big deal: I’m American, staying a week, plane ticket out… whats the big deal?

  3. 5 Shannon OD December 28, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    What a lovely poem 🙂 AND, I am proud to say that your voice of support was part of what tipped me over the edge – I am heading to Cuba in late Feb and meeting a South African friend there! I still don’t have it figured out though so I really look forward to these coming posts!!

  4. 6 Abbie December 28, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    I definitely want to go to Cuba, and who knows, by the time I go we might be able to freely travel back and forth just like every other country!

  5. 7 Joel Tillman October 17, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Maybe I missed the answer to this question but did you have to do anything special to be admitted/allowed to travel to Cuba? How did you go about it?

    • 8 laurenquinn October 17, 2011 at 11:36 am

      Not sure what you mean exactly–allowed by the US or Cuban government? I did nothing to be admitted; I went illegally, through Mexico. Cuba doesn’t care about Americans traveling there; the embargo is purely on the US end. That being said, the embargo will likely end very soon, and all this will be mute…

      • 9 Joel Tillman October 19, 2011 at 5:27 am

        The leaving to Cuba through Mexico makes sense then. I had the idea in my head that you went to Cuba from Mexico.

        Did someone stamp your passport when you arrived in Cuba? I hear that can cause problems upon a passport check when coming back to America.

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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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