The History of Airbnbs in Cuba


When President Obama’s administration opened the door to improve relationships with Cuba, Airbnb announced that it would offer accommodations to guests from around the world. Airbnb started by licensing U.S. travelers’ accommodations in April 2015, and last April 2016 the U.S. Department of Treasury granted special authorization to allow the company to advertise accommodations in Cuba to non-U.S. travelers. Today, Cuba is the fastest growing market in Airbnb history.

Since we are U.S. citizens it is difficult, if not impossible, to use our U.S. based credit and debit cards in Cuba. We knew we would have to exchange our dollars for Euros before we arrived in Cuba because U.S. dollars are not accepted and we would be charged a hefty 13% commission if we exchanged dollars for CUCs.

Overlooking Havana from our Airbnb balcony on the malacon.

Cuba is predominantly a cash society. Even though Cuba is one of the safest countries we have visited, mainly because the people are petrified of the government if any tourists are harmed, we didn’t like the idea of carrying around large wads of cash.

Therefore, Airbnb was a great option because we could pay online in full with our U.S. credit cards. We stayed in two Airbnbs, one in Havana and the other in Trinidad. Now, we’ve stayed in Airbnbs all over the world, and Cuba’s Airbnbs are a little different.

Reading some of the reviews, I noticed that some people were surprised when they rented an Airbnb in Cuba because the water was not reliable, toilet paper was scarce, the internet was advertised but not available in the house, and the owners lived in the house with the guests.

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Part I: A Day with a Cuban Family in the Barrio


“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”
― Plutarch

When Sandy took us to meet her large extended family in Marianao, Cuba, I had no idea what to expect. We had only been in Cuba for one day and I had no understanding of life in a communist country. My understanding of communism was that everyone in the Cuban society received equal benefits derived from their labor. I thought that it was a classless society where the government controlled everything and where wealth was redistributed so that all are of the same social and financial status.

NOT. SO. 

We arrived in Marianao surprising Sandy’s family because she had told them that she would visit the following Monday. The matriarch of the family, wrapped in her worn cotton dress, limped to the door and showered hugs and kisses on Sandy. Then, she showered us with hugs and kisses, too!

She is 97 years young and still going strong thanks to socialized medicine in Cuba. She lost a leg many years ago, but she received a plastic leg that enables her to walk. All medical care is free in Cuba…or so we thought. The matriarch’s daughter showed us a plastic bag filled with medicines for her and her mother. She said that she has to pay for them, and that medicine is dispensed on a sliding scale depending on the finances of the family. Since she is a teacher, she has to pay for the medicines.

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Margarita’s Ashes: A Cuban Burial Story


“Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as ravens’ claws.” ~ Jim Morrison

Havana’s Colón Cemetery is the second-largest in the world taking up 56 hectares, as well as the final resting place of over two million souls. One of these souls is Margarita, Sandy’s Cuban mother-in-law.

Most tourists visit the cemetery for the historical significance and the funerary monuments, ornate sculptures, and mausoleums. We were privileged to visit the cemetery in search of Margarita’s ashes. Yet, the search led us to an unexpected discovery of how the poor are buried in Cuba.

The varied architectural styles of the graves are a fascinating reflection of the golden age of Cuba. Now, many of the graves are in a state of disrepair because the families fled before the revolution and abandoned the graves of their loved ones.

Those who can afford to decorate the graves of their loved ones embellish the crypts with fresh flowers and small tokens of remembrances. For those who can’t afford the upkeep of the graves, the story is quite different.

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Cuba’s Four-Wheeled Zombies


Driving the dead! Cuba’s car culture fascinated me. They have the most resourceful drivers and mechanics who defy the odds and break all the rules to make sure that the American 50s classics…really never die. The four-wheeled zombies are alive and well in Cuba!

Before visiting Cuba, I thought that only Havana’s streets would be like a 1950s Hollywood movie. However, the old classic cars are everywhere, used for everything from taxis to tourism novelties, and incorporated into daily life in every aspect of Cuba’s culture.

The four-wheeled zombies rose from the dead on February 8, 1962. With a stroke of President John F. Kennedy’s pen, the noose was dramatically tightened on an existing trade embargo that prohibited most Cubans from buying brand new cars after Castro took the reigns in 1959.

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Kava Culture


“Kava is like chamomile on steroids.”~ unknown.  

I always stress out before we leave on a trip. This month we are leaving for two and one half months. First stop Cuba, then Mexico for a month, then to the states to visit family and check on our house.

Planning for an extended trip is exhausting. It takes months of planning to book Airbnbs, transportation, and flights. Then, there is the planning for our housesitters, bills to pay ahead, etc.

Kava to the rescue! When we were in Fiji last November, I wanted to go to a Kava ceremony. Instead, our Airbnb hosts brought the Kava ceremony to us. The Fijian house keeper took us to the market to pick out the best Kava roots and coconut husk cups.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Relaxing with the New Zealand Fur Seals


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Relax.

We just returned from a month’s long vacation through New Zealand. Vacations are seldom relaxing, but the fur seals of New Zealand know how to unwind.

Tonga Island in Abel Tasman National Park is home to the second largest of three fur seal breeding colonies in New Zealand. We took a lazy boat to Tonga Island to view the fur seals in Abel Tasman National Park. Can you see them basking on the rocks? img_2804

The shore birds sunbathe on the colorful rocks.
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The Best Water Therapy Resort on Ometepe Island


“The water doesn’t know how old you are.” ― Dara Torres

I’ve started water therapy exercises for my knee. I love the feeling of freedom walking in the water. Although we live on the beach and have a plunge pool, neither are suitable for water therapy exercises. We’ve been going to Moyogalpa to swim and exercise in the Hotel Nicaraus pool. Yesterday, they told us that they were going to drain the pool and repair it. Time to look for another pool close to our house.

Hotel La Punta is our new hot spot located a short five-minute drive from our house at Punta Jesus Maria.

img_1570The hotel recently opened, but it is the slow season. Today we had our own private resort.

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The Best of Reverse Culture Shock


Traveling from Ometepe Island, Nicaragua and landing in Las Vegas, Nevada was surreal.  We knew to expect a bizarre reverse culture shock which I can only describe like the scene out of a Crocodile Dundee movie. Yet, there is something to be said about embracing the shock when returning to a place that one used to call home.

Articles have been written about the effects of reverse culture shock and ways to combat the adverse effects. But, I am of the persuasion that it is better to embrace it, than fight it and below are my reasons why….

1. The euphoria of feeling out-of-place in your own culture.

Las Vegas is not a city that anyone feels “in place” in our culture. It is the land of excess, overwhelming choices, immigrants, and a city that never sleeps.

When I asked our taxi driver at the airport where he was from he said, “Guess. I will give you a hint. It is where coffee was first produced.”
I guessed correctly on the second try, which really impressed our taxi driver. “Ethiopia!”
I think I created a warm, fast-paced relationship with our Ethiopian taxi driver after that because for the rest of the ride, he told me all about his country, the family he left, and how proud he was that he could provide for them.

Returning home gives me another opportunity to embrace and respect the diverse culture in the U.S. There was no better way to start our journey than the euphoric feeling of being out-of-place in our home country.

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Chocolate in My Veins


“What is happening to me happens to all fruits that grow ripe.
It is the honey in my veins that makes my blood thicker, and my soul quieter.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

 

I awoke to find three chocolate (Cacao) pods ripening on our Cacao tree. For five years, the tiny blossoms clung to the trunk of the tree, yet never produced fruit. Last year, our grand Pera tree, which was shading our Cacao tree, snapped and fell to the ground scattering ripe Pera fruits in all directions. When Great Trees Fall

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