Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bye-Bye Castro, Hello Cuba!

The top story in the news today is Fidel Castro’s resignation as President of Cuba and commander-in-chief of its armed forces, ending “nearly a half-century of iron-fisted rule that inspired revolutionaries but frustrated 10 U.S. presidents,” according to CNN. In addition to the obvious political impact, Castro’s resignation may also open up a whole new world for travel. The island lies just off the southern tip of Florida, so it will be a short hop from Miami to Havana, where High Flying Birds can immerse themselves in the culture and history of a country that has been forbidden and mysterious for over 40 years. But where to go and what to do, other than the Bay of Pigs and Guantanamo?

San Cristobal de la Habana Villa, the Old City of Havana, definitely looks like it’s not to be missed. The city was founded in 1519 and still retains many of its old Spanish vestiges, such as the port, the Plaza de Armas and Cathedral Square. This High Flying Bird is looking forward to the Isla de la Juventud, as well, which was discovered by Columbus in 1492. Characterized by luxuriant vegetation and hills, it is the land of ceramics and citrus fruits. It is also the site of the Presidio Modelo, where Fidel and his pals were once held captive. The beaches of the island are supposed to be as impressive as the jungles, so there should be lots of opportunity for adventure.

Even non-smokers might be interested in the cigar tours of the famous Habano region, which takes visitors to the native tobacco region, where the residents themselves impart the history and culture of the area, as well as demonstrate the rituals of smoking the finest cigars in Cuba.

Being an island, of course, Cuba is surrounded by 200 natural bays and 600 beaches. Most are protected by coral reefs, with the water temperature hovering between 73 and 86 degrees. As one might expect, it is a diver’s paradise. There are more than 500 varieties of fish, crustaceans, sponges, mollusks and coral species in the 15 government-protected diving zones in the country. Fishing is also available year ‘round in the lakes, rivers and reservoirs of Cuba, where bass are plentiful. And for all those who remember Santiago in Ernest Hemingway’s classic, The Old Man and the Sea, never fear, Cuba’s salt-water fishing remains top-notch.

The U.S. embargo is still in place, but if it's ever lifted, you might want to include Cuba in your next discussion of tropical-beach vacation plans, with a dash of history.

-- The Commish

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