Column: Going Back In Time During Visit To Cuba

March 13, 2017

[Opinion column written by Larry Burchall]

Visiting Cuba was like stepping back to a time when Bermuda was a major player and innovator in tourism. There were striking differences, but there were also strong similarities.

Staying at an ‘all inclusive resort’ near Holguin and getting out and about into the nearby Cuban countryside enabled my wife and I to see and sample the nearby Cuban countryside and its people. I saw that 2017 Cuba makes copious use of horse-drawn vehicles, single rider horses, motorcycles with sidecars, and one, two, and three passenger pedal cycles. As well as old American built cars.

Over three days, we used three kinds of transport. First excursion was in a new and modern coach. Second, in a local horse & buggy. Third, in a 1953 model Chevrolet. Our first excursion travel was on good roads. But with the buggy and old car, we went off the good roads onto some of Cuba’s dirt-tracks and less well-maintained roads.

From the houses and people that we saw and met. It was clear to us that there was not a great deal of wealth in the areas that we wandered into. But neither was there any display of great riches as evidenced by mansions and various grand chateaux.

Overall, we saw a common standard of dressing and decent living without the juxtaposition and intrusion of shanties and shacks as can offend the eye, nose, and conscience in other places that we have visited.

Our best lunch was at a waterside restaurant in a fishing village. With the sound of water burbling around the rocks, we enjoyed a meal of locally caught fried fish, rice-n-beans, banana chips [banana fries - if you like], and a salad, with everything presented on plates made in Cuba. Delicious food. Superb view. Friendly and attentive service.

Slideshow of photos from Mr Burchall’s visit to Cuba earlier this month:


Amongst the background given by the tri-lingual [Spanish, English, French] guide from our first outing, we had to agree that the Cuban countryside that we experienced was a safe environment populated by people who were universally friendly and welcoming. We had no feeling that there were any crime-ridden ‘no-go’ areas.

Judging by the identifiable tourists that we saw motor-cycling, pedaling, walking, and hiking, it was evident that other tourists were completely comfortable going about this countryside without fearing for their safety.

That feeling of safety permeated the whole resort. Late night, wandering back from that night’s entertainment, following paths that were lit but not brightly, we felt safe and secure even though there was no presence of overt ‘security’.

The resort had swimming pools, a beach, and local entertainment every night; with that local entertainment delivering polished performances. There were four different themed restaurants offering a la carte meals, a buffet serving three meals a day, and a snack bar, with booze on offer, that operated 24/7.

I usually breakfasted on fresh ripe paw-paw – something I hadn’t regularly had since I was a teenager – and fresh pineapple. My orange juice came from oranges grown in Cuban orchards, as did the coffee.

What did it cost us? Turns out that the two of us paid about $200[US] a day for a room with a view and with all meals, snacks, wine, drinks, coffee, etc… included. Excursions were extra.

However, and as can be expected in any lesser developed countries, there were major imperfections – as compared to developed countries with advanced economies.

The hot water supply to the whole resort went on the blink for about three days. I found myself cringing under a cold shower – something I hadn’t done since my Regiment days in 1987 and before. But the hot water problem got fixed and the good life returned. Brown-outs a couple of times, but not of any duration.

Back in Bermuda, and comparing Bermuda and Cuba, it was clear to me that Cuba has enormous tourism potential. This potential is on the verge of being further developed.

One thing sticks in my memory. Our guide on the first excursion told us that Land Destination Cuba gets about four million [4,000,000] tourists a year, with about one million [1,000,000] coming from Canada.

That number burned into my memory. It means that every year, one million Canadians choose to board an aircraft in Winnipeg, Halifax, Toronto, Quebec City, Montreal, etc, bypass Bermuda by flying as much as an extra thousand miles, and take a holiday in Cuba. In 2014, Land Destination Bermuda got just under 30,000 Air Arriving Canadian tourists.

The airport? Smaller than our LFW. Fancy? No, but despite irritating bureaucratic snaffles, still relatively efficient at moving travelers from aircraft to waiting cars and buses.

Airport traffic? The signs showed that Holguin’s airport had around 18 commercial flights per day with each flight – mostly budget airlines – probably as full as our fully subscribed AA flight. And Holguin’s airport is only one of Cuba’s several airports.

Is today’s Cuba a perfect Land Destination? Not yet. Cuba operates below a standard that we Bermudians and many Americans take for granted.

But Cuba has enormous potential.

- Larry Burchall


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Comments (3)

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  1. Justin says:

    Funny how you are back peddling now that you’ve actually been to Cuba whereas about a year or two ago you were saying that Bermuda would face tremendous competition from them. I’ve actually been to Cuba myself and agree that the type of tourist that goes to Cuba is completely different to the tourist that we want to attract here. That’s why our airport needs to be better than Cuba’s, and why we need casinos and new hotels to be built.

    You also don’t touch on the currency and how a tourist peso in Cuba is worth more than an American dollar. You also fail to mention that the internet is very restricted in Cuba as well. You also don’t mention the ownership structure of hotels in Cuba whereby the Cuban gov’t must own the majority of the business. Crazy, isn’t it? Unless there is real change in Cuba, Bermuda should not be worried as long as we focus on ourselves and delivering a good product to the type of tourists we want to attract. Michael Fahy already came out and said this, but I’m glad you went and saw it for yourself.

  2. Larry Burchall says:

    Hi Justin,

    Thanks for the comment.

    You point out “…the type of tourist that goes to Cuba….” True.

    Bermuda has a glorious Tourism past. In this first quarter of this 21st century Bermuda is struggling to find a Tourism niche.

    I grew up in Bermuda’s glory days. I recall a Bermuda before the Southampton Princess and Sonesta and Grotto Bay etc… with Bermuda having a rental cycle inventory around 10,000 vehicles; which is now down under 1,900.

    Back then Fidel Castro was in a shooting war with Batista’s people.

    In that distant past, Bermuda was a gem and had as many as 491,000 Leisure Tourist Air Arrivals. In 2015, Bermuda had 140,000 Leisure Tourist Air Arrivals.

    I pointed out that 1,000,000 Canadians bypass Bermuda. That means that another 3,000,000 from other geographic areas also bypass Bermuda.

    For every ONE Air Arriving Leisure Canadian Tourist who chose Bermuda, 33 other Canadians chose Cuba.

    As well, millions of others bypass Bermuda and choose Jamaica, Barbados, Bahamas, St Lucia, Martinique,…. etc… For every one Air Arriving Leisure Tourist who chooses Bermuda, perhaps as many as 90 – 100 choose to bypass Bermuda and go to the Caribbean.

    I fear the subliminal complacency that your comment shows. Complacency was a factor in Bermuda’s Tourism decline.

    In 1960, Bermuda had Tourism potential. In 2017, Bermuda has a glorious Tourism past.

    In 2017, Cuba has Tourism potential of the kind that we had in 1960 when Fidel’s people were at war.

    That critical difference must be seen and understood. We must sharpen our minds to that.

    Complacency, whether overt or covert, has no place.

    Larry Burchall.

  3. rodney smith says:

    Cuba is here. Bermuda , we are still finding our way in the dark . Cuba is it’s people. Bermuda, we have removed our people from tourism . Larry you talk about the food and music in Cuba . We could not do the same in Bermuda , for the same ,equal or double the price .Additionally, In Cuba the New Peso is 25 to 1 of the old peso . So when you tip someone ,5 pesos , they will exchange it and get 125 old pesos and buy all the food their family needs. There are hundreds of other forms of transportation . A Cuban can go just about anywhere in their neighborhood (10-20 miles for 1 or 2 old pesos , where we as tourist pay 10 or 20 new pesos (250-500 old pesos ) . They love us for this, but when they get home, they laugh themselves to sleep. We go there for fun, they are still at war, and thus they will defeat us every time , at everything. Bermuda, We are on the verge of new things to soon grace our shores, hotels , casinos ,and new yachts , but will they include us. Like the children in Cuba, looking through the glass window of the hotel at the tourist eating breakfast, knowing that they could never afford such a meal, let alone ever go into the hotel it’s self. Will this be the new face of Bermuda ? I would agree with you Larry, There are sides of Cuba that you never got to experience .