"" Writer's Wanderings: Anticipating Cuba - The Enrichment Series Begins

Friday, November 09, 2018

Anticipating Cuba - The Enrichment Series Begins

Our first evening aboard the Oceania Sirena upon leaving the port of Miami and having dinner, was the beginning of our enrichment series with Sandy Cares, the Enrichment Lecturer for our cruise. You never know what you’re going to get with lecturers but Cares is a gem! From the start she was entertaining as well as informative. Energetic, charismatic and knowledgeable. It was an unbeatable combination. If I had had history teachers like her in school, I would have retained a whole lot more.

This first night was an introduction to what we would find in Cuba. She explained the money system saying that though there are two types of money, the CUC (Convertible Pesos) or cuke as we came to call it phonetically is the one to have. Some vendors and places will accept USD but not all. The exchange rate was 13-15% so if you gave them a hundred USD you got back 87-85 CUCs. Roughly the USD equals a CUC. Easy enough. [Note: upon leaving Havana we exchanged our CUCs for USD at a 5% rate.]

Contrary to what I’d seen on the internet (horrors, could the net be wrong?) you will not find ATMs and if you do they will not accept your American bank card. Credit cards as well will not be accepted because the Cuban banks will not do business with American banks (or vice versa).

Then we were introduced to the US OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) regulations. These are the regulations set up for Americans traveling to Cuba. OFAC is a part of the Department of Treasury which recognizes 12 general licenses of authorized travel to Cuba. People-to-people travel is one of the ways to visit and covers cruising. But what do they mean by people-to-people?

The definitions of people-to-people is a bit vague but according to HorizonTravelPress.com, the rule states travelers must “maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveller and individuals in Cuba.” It also states that travelers must keep a record of all their transactions while in Cuba for five years to demonstrate that they complied. Thankfully by taking only the cruise excursions we were assured that they would keep the records for us of what we’d done. If you did tours with other individuals or on your own, you were. . .on your own.

There was a whole list of hotels, stores, government offices, and tourist agencies that were restricted. Somehow this all goes back to the 1960 embargo which, while President Obama tried to ease some of the restrictions in 2014, is still in place. Basically the embargo stems back to when Castro took over American assets in Cuba without compensation.

On board our ship, several staff members had been instructed in the OFAC rules and were available in case there was a question about what you might want to do on shore on your own. We were happy to just participate in the excursions. They were an excellent introduction to Cuba.

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