Rare Cuba trips by Americans all 'work' and no beach playground

Thu Aug 1, 2013 11:42am EDT
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By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - After several frenetic days of traveling, listening to lectures, walking through historic Havana and meeting Cubans, Terry McAbee did not hesitate when asked what the trip with her fellow West Virginia school teachers was missing.

"Beach time," she said with a laugh. "They have these beautiful beaches and we can't go."

"We're not supposed to be having fun," another teacher, Steve Stanley, joked as they sat sipping drinks with 20 fellow travelers in a small Havana bar.

They are part of the growing flow of Americans to Cuba on so-called "people-to-people" trips, the only kind the United States government allows for most citizens under its 51 year-long trade embargo of the one-party state.

The trips are regulated to be more like work than fun - "meaningful" in the political parlance of the times - so no beach time on heavily scheduled sprints through Cuban society.

Despite that, people pay a lot of money to visit the Caribbean island that has been mostly off limits the past half century even though it is just 90 miles from Florida.

A four-day trip to Havana for two costs nearly $5,000, not including airfare, but the forbidden fruit aspect of Cuba is a big draw, said Edward Piegza, who led the first trip for his San Diego, California-based travel company Classic Journeys.

"It is a place and a people so close, yet off limits to us that it creates the natural desire of wanting what you can't have," Piegza said. It is, he said, a place many travelers want to see before they die.   Continued...

Tourists ride a U.S.-made 1956 Chevrolet Bel-Air convertible car on Havana's seafront boulevard "El Malecon" May 21, 2013. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan