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July 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 31, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Cuba, by Land and by Liveaboard

two disparate diving worlds

from the July, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Dear Fellow Diver,

This month, two of our intrepid undercover writers report on their trips to Cuba, one for resort diving at Maria La Gorda, the other aboard the Jardines Aggressor. Their diving, their accommodations, their food, and the prices they paid couldn't have been more varied and their destinations far apart. Since Cuba is only beginning to open up for American travelers, we'll pay close attention and report again early next year.

- Ben Davison

Maria La Gorda

When I opened an email offering a combined REEFNeal Watson trip to Havana in early June with 3.5 days of diving in Maria La Gorda, Cuba, I jumped on it, since I have always wanted to see this long-forbidden country. Research taught me not to expect much in the way of infrastructure, food, or organization; however, the long waits, low quality hotels and food, and a profoundly disorganized dive operation set me back on my heels.

Accommodation at Villa Maria la GordaMy buddy and I were required to arrive four hours in advance of our Eastern Airlines flight (yes, that one, a charter airline who bought the logo and name), then wait in the shabby old F terminal in Miami. Bring patience, and maybe extra pillows. But, bring more than 44 pounds of luggage, including carry-ons, and you're slapped with a $2/pound surcharge. My buddy and I, never light packers, paid $296 extra, mostly for two bags of scuba gear. Too much later, I did the arithmetic and realized we had been overcharged by more than twice.

The Havana hotel, Quinta Avenida Hotel Habana, is rated five stars in Cuban terms and maybe worth 2.5 in world terms. One night, the air conditioning did not work; the large, spare rooms have tile floors and minimal bedding. Breakfast was excellent, however, a buffet that never ended. Expect improvements: soon the hotel will be managed and renovated by Marriott/Starwood.

On day two, we boarded a Chinese-built motor coach for the 5.5-hour ride to the southwest hamlet of Maria La Gorda, where the Villa Maria La Gorda houses a dive operation. The roads were rough, the countryside lush and green, and the route wound through the famed tobacco-growing region, Pinar Del Rio. The trip was not helped by the last lashings of Tropical Storm Colin, which dampened our first couple of days.

Cuba MapOnce at the hotel, we dragged our bags down dirty paths and up three flights of stairs to our mildew-smelling small room in one of the "new" buildings. The walls were spotted with dead insects, two lighting fixtures hung by wires, and the TV and fridge did not work. Housekeepers had folded towels in fanciful shapes, but the bedside rugs were dirty. Since almost all flooring is tile (including around the dive shop), it was slick when wet. My buddy and both I endured some nasty falls, and, as I type this, my right elbow is still swollen and sore.

But what of the diving? The resort was overwhelmed by divers, many from Mexico, who came for a photography contest. The shop had promised a boat just for our group, but instead we were crammed in with another 20 divers, so most trips had 36-40 divers. Our guide, whose name was Abbot (very un-Cuban!), was excellent, but he could do nothing about the crowding....

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