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4.0 out of 5 stars Friendly Guide, 9 Sep 2011
By 
RR Waller "ISeneca" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Lonely Planet Cuba (Paperback)
With a Lonely Planet guide, I always have the impression of walking in someone's footsteps, someone had been there before me asking the questions I want to ask, going to places I want to go to, looking for the services I want, telling me about places I did not know about, suggesting ideas I would never have considered with a helpful section on the language. What more could one ask of a guide - being one step ahead? (That's probably one step after Ernest Hemingway who had been everywhere in Cuba and Key West before slipping off to a bar!)

The first nine chapters are:
Highlights
Getting Started
Itineraries
Snapshot
History
Culture
Environment
Food and Drink
City of Havana then on for another twenty-three chapters on all the provinces.

"¡SOCIALISMO O MUERTE!"... is the slogan which met us in five foot letters at the airport, the message of which is clear. The slogan decorates many of the billboards in Havana and other Cuban cities and translates "socialism or death". For many outsiders, the reality is probably more likely "socialismo es muerte" (socialism is death). A failing experiment? There are plenty of signs of great changes (if you know where to look) but most of the people seem proud of trying it and their bloody, embattled history is fresh, immediate and personal, so discuss it with prudence, caution and respect. In most places, it is impossible to turn 360 degrees without seeing a flag, Che Gevara or President Castro, usually referred to us "Fidel".

Although difficult to do (for Europeans going to Cuba but not in Cuba), setting aside the politics to concentrate on the book, ours is now slightly tattered and worn, so useful is the information within its pages, much of which is illustrated by colour pictures. It has helpful contents and index sections and finding details is relatively simple, although in places the text is a little small. For a paperback, it is well produced - sewn sections glued together firmly by copious amounts of glue; this may seem too much detail but for a book that is going to get a lot of use and bending back, it is essential to know, particularly in the Cuban heat which could dry out the glue. After a few holidays there, ours is still in one piece.

In Cuba, we met some of the friendliest, most helpful and cheerful people who were unfailingly honest; we are not beach/bar/pool/dining room/beach/bar ... people. We get around and we meet local people. We deliberately sought out students, doctors, market people and others who were not tourist staff. (Cuba is the only place we did not hire a car as it is not advised - old cars, limited petrol outlets - but public transport is excellent and cheap. Newer cars are finding there way in and each year we saw more.) We were surprised by the lack of some basic items in shops and in subsequent years took out half suitcases of basics to give away. However, this is not the place for these comments.

The guide book is just what one would want of such a constant companion in a foreign country - unobtrusive, light, helpful, informative and there when needed.

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Lonely Planet Cuba
Lonely Planet Cuba by Brendan Sainsbury (Paperback - 1 Jan 2010)
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