Saturday, February 18, 2006

Can we visit the prisons too?

Just ran into this "gem" of an article and trip that matter, via PR Web. I urge you all to read the entire post, and then drop them a line since they love to get email with your thoughts regarding the trip, or better yet, what's missing from the trip.

Grassroots Tour of Cuba Offered by Pioneer Travel Company
Big Planet Adventures is offering a 15 day small group tour of Cuba for travelers interested in an immersion experience of Cuban culture and society.
(PRWEB) February 18, 2006 -- Big Planet Adventures is a creative travel company that develops and operates small group tours in untried and special interest travel niches. This year it is offering a 15 day grassroots tour of Cuba.

Cuba, undoubtedly a unique destination, is the largest and least commercialized island in the Caribbean. It is also one of the world's last bastions of communism with a fascinating modern history. Its relative political isolation has prevented it from being overrun by tourists. Arguably the most musical country on the planet, the locals are sincerely friendly to those who do venture in.

It is contact with these locals and their culture that is the focus of the tour, called the 'Cuban Adventure'. They neglect to mention that even this contact with the locals is controlled since Cubans are not allowed to mingle with tourists. "We try and show people the 'real' Cuba" explains John Ahrens, the Australian director and founder of Big Planet Adventures. I wonder if that includes The Real Cuba"Our ethic is to provide the resources and framework for our travelers to have authentic cultural experiences of societies very much different from their own. Do they go visit the political prisoners? If you want to just go to tourist shows, do city tours, visit museums, and lie on the beach, you are best to look elsewhere. People that enjoy our tour the most, are those that are not afraid to step outside their comfort zone, interact with the Cubans and participate in their culture."

Accommodation on the 15 day tour is mostly home-stay, so travelers get the chance to stay with Cuban families, eat the food they provide, and see from the inside how the Cubans live. Really? Does that include the issuance of a ration card, power outages, and stays in homes that are in deplorable condition? An experienced tour leader accompanies the group throughout and along the way he/she organises activities that the group or individuals elect. How about if I want to see a repudiation act? Apart from some of the more regular activities available such as treks to waterfalls, horse-riding excursions, and visiting some of those famous beaches, the leader can take the group to visit local schools, tobacco factories, private art galleries, collective farms, to sacred Santeria (not unlike Voodoo) ceremonies, or to traditional street parties in parts of the country that most tourists would never venture.

Cuba can be visited all year round, however the less preferable times to visit are in the really hot months of June, July, and August, (because there might not be enought electricity in the "homes" for air conditioning) and the hurricane season of September and October. The hurricanes usually aren't a threat to life because of the excellent evacuation procedures in place in Cuba (especially for tourists), - preference to the evacuation of tourists? My God, is he admitting that Cubans are 2nd class citizens? but can complicate travel plans. The weather at other times of the year is famously ideal -- generally warm and tropical.

For more information please visit Big Planet Adventures, Cuban Adventure website --

So I visited the page in which they detail the trip, and have pictures of the "homes" together with testimonials. They also have a section for information, that talks about jineteros. So I thought, wow! they discuss the prostitution issue?? Should've known better, here is their definition of jineteros:

One of these is to illicitly offer services to travellers such as accommodation, restaurants, and excursions. These people, commonly known as ‘jineteros’ (‘jockys’ in English), are normally quite decent and friendly people, but unfortunately their persistence can become annoying.

Excuse me??? I don't doubt they are decent and friendly people, but they definitely are not going to offer you those kind of services. Jineteros y Jineteras are prostitutes, hence the reason why they are called "jockeys" because they are riding the tourists, literally.