A journey not just through Cuba itself, but through its past and present.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
- Meeting Cuban people in their homes, and seeing how they live, chatting with them. Meeting and talking to people who can tell you first-hand experiences of living through the Cuban Revolution. Standing in the bedroom of Fidel Castro's mountain hideaway during the Revolution. The cocktails... oh, the cocktails.
- What did you think of your group leader?
Our UK guide, Christine: endlessly patient, friendly, very organised, enthusiastic, quick-witted, went out of her way to make sure we gained a real insight into Cuba. A thoroughly decent, extremely sociable and helpful person.
Our main Cuban guide, Leo: constantly cheerful, patient, went beyond the call of duty for us. A real privilege to have had the benefit of his extensive knowledge of Cuban history and society. Great fun.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Go on this trip! That's my main piece of advice!
Is it for you? We reckoned that, although it's graded a B, it's more like B/C. There's no technical difficulty on any of the walks, but several walks involved prolonged, steep ascents and descents on often slidy trails. The ascent of Pico Turquino (the highest peak in Cuba) wasn't tough technically, but was spread out over two days. Cumulative tiredness begins to show as the trip goes on, but if you're reasonably fit you'll be fine. Our group split naturally into faster and slower groups as we generally had the much-appreciated luxury of two guides on most of the walks, which meant everyone's needs were catered to.
Bring plenty of chocolate, nuts etc - enough to share with the guides if you can.
Bring light breathable waterproof overtrousers (make sure they zip at least to your knee!) and jacket, as when it rains, it rains.
Bring anti-bacterial hand gel.
It's worth investing in technical underwear, which dries quickly after you wash it.
The food was a lot more varied than I'd thought it would be based on what I'd read and been told. We always had plenty to eat - even in the mountains, where the cooks did a fantastic job of cooking with very basic kit. The more remote the area, the less choice there was for vegetarians in the group. They were probably a bit bored with having the same thing quite often, but no one went hungry.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
If you want to go to Cuba, go on this Exodus trip. I can't stress enough how well organised it was, and how amazing it felt to get out there and get Cuba on your boots and under your fingernails! I'd never visited a Socialist/Communist country before, and I went to Cuba with very few preconceptions or expectations. I was floored by some of what I learnt and came to understand. You can never understand a place in two weeks, of course, but I feel like we really did get beneath the surface. From the start, our guides told us there were three viewpoints about Cuba: the official Cuban government view, the view you generally see in the international press, and the viewpoint of the average Cuban. And our guides were true to their promise to explain all three viewpoints. I really feel they went out of their way to show us Cuba - the good and the bad.
As a tourist destination, Cuba is fantastic. A physically beautiful country with welcoming people and low crime rates. You might hear about the odd mugging, but it seems like an improbably small number, considering how long it would take the average Cuban to earn what most tourists have in their pocket. This trip takes you across almost the whole length and breadth of the island so you get to see its diversity - from the flat plantations to the mountains and coasts... sugar plantations, tobacco, coffee, grapefruits growing at the side of the trails.
The geography of Cuba is one aspect of this trip... and thanks to some expert guides at various locations you'll learn a lot about the flora and fauna of the island.
Then there's the journey through Cuba's history, which still feels very much alive. You'll get a real sense of the eras that have shaped it, as it passed from one colonial power to another, and onwards to the Revolution. You'll see for yourself where some of the key incidents of the Revolution happened.
But this isn't just a journey through Cuba physically or even historically; by the end of it I felt that I'd been on an emotional and intellectual journey too, challenging previously held views and injecting something of the essence of Cuba under my own skin.