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Friday, 08 July 2016

Cycling in a Land that Time Forgot: Cuba - Page 3

Written by Dale Fehringer and Patty McCrary
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That night we reviewed the U.S. government’s information on travel to Cuba.


From the Department of the Treasury’s website:

Are there any spending limits for authorized U.S. travelers while in Cuba? 

There is no specific dollar limit on authorized expenses. Authorized travelers may engage in transactions ordinarily incident to travel within Cuba, including payment of living expenses and the acquisition in Cuba of goods for personal consumption there. 


Are authorized travelers in Cuba permitted to use credit or debit cards issued by a U.S. financial institution? 

Yes. Travelers are advised to check with their financial institution before traveling to Cuba to determine whether the institution has established the necessary mechanisms for its issued credit or debit cards to be used in Cuba. 


 [Source:  U.S. Department of the Treasury (]


That seemed pretty clear.  So why couldn’t we use our credit cards?


The next morning at 8:30 we were back at Western Union, where we were told money could not be transferred from the U.S. to Americans -- only to Cubans. Yikes!  We were down to our last U.S. dollars.  We relayed Western Union’s answer to Lismar, who pointed at himself and said he was a Cuban. So we sent a text to a relative in the U.S. and asked him to loan us money and wire it to Lismar.  Our relative was suspicious, as scams like that are old tricks in the U.S., and we had to call him to prove it really was us and that he really should transfer money.  He did, but he used a slightly different name than that on Lismar’s I.D. card and Western Union refused to give him the money.


So off we went – frustrated and nearly out of money -- to continue our trip around Cuba.


If you go to Cuba …

Get authorization from the U.S. government


Take lots of cash, because U.S. payment cards aren’t accepted (as of May, 2016)


The best weather months are November through March


Most Cubans don’t speak English, so learn some Spanish or take a phrase book


Be prepared for surprises and disappointments


Colorful Trinidad

The weather was hot and humid, and it was hard to stay hydrated as we pedaled through sun baked cattle country, mist-covered hills, and small villages where locals boarded truck beds on their way to work the farms.  Life seems harsh in Cuba’s heartland.  Eventually, we arrived in Trinidad, a beautiful old city, where we spent the next two days.  Because Trinidad has a hotel shortage, we stayed in a spare bedroom with a local family.  Ana, our hostess, raises two children by herself (including an eight-year-old boy who seems to need a lot of scolding), and takes in laundry and overnight guests to help support her family.  Our room was clean, but sparse, and furnished with 1960’s furniture.  We used our day off to swim in the warm Caribbean waters and explore this very colorful city. 

Established in 1514, Trinidad has narrow cobblestone streets filled with friendly people and every imaginable type of transportation including horse-drawn wagons, 1950’s Chevys and Plymouths, bicycle taxis, and motorcycles.  We enjoyed the colorful homes – blue, yellow, green, pink – and we learned how to mix mojitos and daiquiris in a bar where Hemmingway drank.  We ate lobster and pork at an outdoor restaurant and were entertained by another of the seemingly endless salsa bands.  This one consisted of four men who wore Panama hats and played a guitar, a small 12-string guitar called a laud, a man-size double bass, and a gourd called a guiro, which is scraped by a stick to produce rhythm.  The man playing the double bass wore an enormous smile, made even more brilliant by his perfectly-white dentures.  During a break in the music, the band was introduced and the bass player (who is 87), smiled even larger as his name was called.    


Quest for Cash, continued


In our room that night we again called our relative and prevailed on him to cancel the first Western Union transaction and originate a new one with the revised name.  The next day we went with Lismar to Western Union and this time, after quite a hassle, he got the money!  Finally, we could repay loans from our fellow travelers, and that evening we bought a round of drinks to thank them for their patience with our money troubles.


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