Cuban Holidays - Jargon Buster
Cuban Travel Jargon Buster
Covering Cuban words or expressions that may be unfamiliar to the average traveller (even if they are fluent in Spanish!) this Cuban jargon buster aims to demystify the meaning behind certain commonly used local terms and phrases that are exclusive to Cubans in general or used in certain regions of Cuba only.
- Casa Particular
Privately owned accommodation that equates to a BandB but which has recently expanded to include small boutique properties that range from entire colonial houses and mansions to luxury penthouses and small flats.
Initially this term only included privately rented rooms inside a family's residential home where the living hosts were present (although sometimes living in a separate floor or in a converted part of the house that was split from the rented space).
Nowadays, these mostly consist of entire dwellings rented out as a whole to individual guests or groups. What differentiates these from hotels? A private Cuban owner runs them instead of a government entity or organisation.
A privately-owned restaurant originally housed within a residential home where the live-in family or hosts are typically the owners or residents.
With Cuba's opening of the private sector this term has now widened its meaning to accommodate newer versions of "paladares" were entire houses, flats or pent-houses are converted into full-size restaurants and operate strictly as privately-owned restaurants only where no hosts resides.
This latter and more modern version is taking over the former one (which was limited to rooms or patios inside people's homes) with a marked increase of chic, innovative and glamorous paladares popping up everywhere.
- People to people
People-to-people travel – an initiative put in place by US President Barack Obama's administration, this marked the first step into making travel to Cuba accessible to American citizens and residents before further relaxations to previously strict rules on travel to the island were put.
People to people travel consists of pre-packaged tours created with a carefully outlined itinerary that must include cultural encounters with the Cuban people be it by means of educational exchanges or any other type of interactions and activities that involves Cuban musicians, artists and entrepreneurs who reside in the island.
At present they have further extended itinerary options on people to people programmes to include new travel purposes which are now listed into 12 categories, including religious pursuits and humanitarian aid, among others.
Because of their cumbersome shape and durability of its hard exterior, just like the kernel of an almond, the term "almendron" which translates into Spanish as "big almond" is used to describe American classic cars from the 50s, which abound in Cuba and can be found in virtually every shape and form.
From amazingly well-preserved and maintained luxury vintage beauties to more run-down versions, the word "almendron" or "almendrones" groups these cars together and can be used affectionately or critically to depict something that's very old but with a vital determination to go on and never break.
Not exclusive to Cuba and typically seen in many other tropical and exotic destinations (like Thailand, India and China, to name a few) the cycle rickshaw or "bicitaxi" as it's locally called in Havana is known by many other names internationally such as pedicab, velotaxi, bikecab, trisikad or trishaw.
As its name indicates, this makeshift type of pedalling vehicle consists of a conventional bike converted into a tricycle with two added seats at the back for transporting passengers. As can be expected the power of these three-wheeled carts depends on the manpower driving them so it's not the fastest way to get around. It's also not the cheapest (although you can – and should - negotiate the fare with the driver beforehand) so it's best recommended for short sightseeing journeys.
In Cuba you'll usually find them hanging around the oldest part of town in Havana's historic centre.
With a name that stands for its shell-shaped body (the first part of its name "coco" translates as coconut), this rickshaw-kind of contraption is unique to Cuba.
This small, brightly yellow, curvaceous and quirky Cuban vehicle roams the streets on three wheels and is a local original from Havana; offering passengers a novel way to get from point A to point B in the capital.
With a 75cc two-stroke engine, it's not the fastest (nor the safest) mode of transport, but many tourist can't help but fall for its charms and try it for at least one short ride along the Malecon or to cover short distances in downtown Vedado, where you'll find most of them parked or circulating.
They ramble on noisily but cost less than the official government-owned (and air-conditioned) taxis – namely Cubataxi.
This is the way the locals call the public buses operating within cities or towns as the main form of transport taking citizens to various parts of the city.
It's also the way Cubans would call virtually any bus-like vehicle regardless of its size; but more often in the local vernacular, the term "guagua" or "la guagua" is used to refer to public city buses, mainly those operating in Havana, which have a reputation for running with no discernible schedule, breaking down frequently and generally not being a reliable (or comfortable) means of getting around.
Guaguas in the capital usually run packed to the brim with passengers tightly squeezed like a can of sardines, no one can give you an indication of when you can expect the next one to arrive at your stop (waiting times of up to an hour are not unusual), stops are not always clearly indicated and the buses lack air conditioning.
They're extremely cheap too although not a particularly recommended means of travel but up to you if you're up for the bumpy and sweaty ride – it can be quite an experience indeed!
- Tourist Card
In order to enter Cuba, regardless of your nationality, you must obtain a tourist card or tourist visa prior to arrival into the country. For UK nationals and EU citizens this is a very straightforward process that involves filling in a card with your passport and address details.
Entry requirements differ according to your nationality and the nature for your visit but for most tourist visitors all you'll need is a passport that remains valid for at least six months from the date of arrival into Cuba. Your tourist visa card will be valid for travel within 180 days after the date of issue, for stays in Cuba of up to 30 days, which can be further extended for a maximum of 30 additional days.
You can purchase a tourist card from the Cuban Consulate in London, either by collecting one in person (at 167 High Holborn, WC1V 6PA between 9:30 and 12:30 Monday to Friday) or filling in a downloadable online form, sending it through the post with an enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope and then receiving the tourist card a few days later through the post. We at Cuba Holidays make it even easier by directly providing you with Cuban tourist cards as part of our holiday packages.
They are charged at £15 and save you the hassle of online applications, travelling to the consulate in person or being subject to postal waiting times. Once you purchase a tourist card from us it will be sent together with your travel documents or you can pop into our office at any time during our opening hours (Monday to Friday 9:00 to 18:00) and buy one on the spot (you don't need to book a holiday with us to obtain one).
A legal document used in American jurisprudence as part of the steps that must be taken in order to legally travel to Cuba under the newly eased travel restrictions by the OFAC; an affidavit for is a formal declaration and sworn statement that you are visiting Cuba for one of the permitted travel purposes. Such document is administered by an authorised person by law (in this case travel agents or charter companies flying to Cuba from the U.S.) and it must be filled and signed before travel to Cuba can be arranged.
In generic terms an affidavit is simply a written verified statement made under oath and which is subject to penalty of perjury. In the U.S. it is required as evidence for court proceedings. In the case of travel to Cuba for American citizens, an affidavit is a necessary formality and proof that the subject in question is travelling for one of the specified purposes in the 12 categories listed in the affidavit, which they must sign and fill in with their personal details before handing over to the pertaining travel authorities.
A term very specific to Cuba and used to describe individual entrepreneurs, cuentapropista, which roughly translates as "self-employed" or more literally as "self-accountable" has broadened to include a wider range of private businesses that have recently popped up after the Cuban government's partial de-centralisation of the economy. As entrepreneurship flourishes in the island the term is used more extensively to cover a variety of larger private businesses like restaurants, bars and B&Bs when originally it was a term limited mostly to one-man-jobs like carpenters, builders and street food vendors.
- Agromercado or Mercado Agropecuario
With the first term being a joint version of the other two (agropecuario + mercado) the agromercados or "agros" as they are often shortened to in the local vernacular; are no more than street food markets that sell fresh vegetables and fruits mostly (as well as the occasional fresh cuts of meat too but in a much smaller proportion).
The word "agropecuario" in Spanish is used to describe the agriculture, farming and fishing sector but the Cuban "agro" markets tend to offer vegetable produce almost exclusively, although the larger ones do have some meat offerings at times but you'll be hard-pushed to find any produce from the sea. Agromercados can vary widely in size, from small open-air corner shops or improvised stalls to larger open spaces covering an entire block.
Visiting an agromercado during your holiday in Cuba gives you the opportunity to further immerse in daily Cuban life and mingle with locals. The vegetable and fruit produce here is also fresh and cheap and that's always a bonus if you fancy snacking on some sweet and juicy treat from Mother Nature.
Also commonly referred to in the diminutive (more affectionate) form as "empanadita" this popular Cuban snack consists of a deep-fried half-moon shaped pastry parcel filled with guava paste, or, in its savoury version, mincemeat (locally called "picadillo").
The sweet empanadas are the most common and they are often sold on the street by wandering vendors or from locals who sell them (alongside a variety of other snacks and beverages) straight from their house's windows or in makeshift stands (also called "puestecitos") set up at the entrance of their homes.
- El Paquete
Roughly translating into English as "the package", when taken out of any other context, this term in the local vernacular refers to Cubans' subscription to a weekly entertainment package of illegally downloaded media in the form of the latest U.S. films, TV series, shows and music.
These are passed from household to household via a carrier who obtains it from a series of distributors. The latter are the ones who receive and copy the content into hard disk drives and memory sticks which are then passed along in exchange of a weekly or monthly subscription fee. This form of piracy is thriving and possible in Cuba as no Copyright laws are enforced here...yet.
Often accompanied by the article "la", when Cubans speak about "la bodega" they are referring to their local government-owned food store selling subsidised food items at low prices in Cuban pesos (not the convertible ones). Set up at the onset of the Cuban Revolution these often run-down and shabby-looking stores are only available to Cubans who can purchase goods after presenting a rationing booklet (a.k.a. "la libreta").
Over the years the variety and quantity of food items sold here has decreased drastically so that most Cubans only come here to get their monthly rations of rice, beans, sugar, salt, eggs and chicken as well as their daily quota of bread plus whatever root vegetables are in season (potatoes mostly). Some industrial products like matches, cigarettes, cigars and cooking fuels are also sold on bodegas when available.
Bodegas are famous for the long lines that form outside them when some of the scarcest and most coveted food items arrive. Once the pride of the revolution these food stores have been deteriorating for years and could soon be history.
- La Libreta
Roughly translating as "the notebook" or "the booklet" this is the local term used for the Cuban ration book. Its full name is "libreta de abastecimiento" which translates as "supplies booklet" and one of this is assigned to each household enabling its members to have access to the subsidised food sold at state-run food stores known as "bodegas".
The quantity of food Cubans can buy with these small booklets is dependent on the number of persons living on said household and registered at the same address. Availability of certain products sold through la libreta is dependent on the age and gender of a family member (i.e. children under seven are entitled to one litre of milk per day while women aged between 10 and 55 can get a monthly supply of sanitary pads).
For quite some time there have been talks and rumours about the government putting an end to the rationing booklet. We'll have to wait and see if it soon becomes history or not.
Juice made from raw sugar cane, otherwise known in the English-speaking world as sugarcane juice, this popular drink in Cuba consists of a light and watery substance that is no more and no less than the juice extracted directly from pressed sugar canes.
Highly esteemed for its naturally sweet taste and cooling properties this is one of the island's cheapest and most popular non-alcoholic beverages, typically sold on roadisde stalls, pop-up street stalls, at small agro markets or bodegas.
Roughly translating as "little pies" these type of (usually sweet) Cuban pastries can come in all shapes and sizes, although circular discs or triangles are the most popular. They are most commonly made with flaky puff pastry (although alternate ingredients exist as do different versions) with a typically sweet filling (savoury versions do exist but they are harder to come by) with guava paste being the most popular.
- Ropa Vieja
Having earned its name due to its resemblance to strips of old rags, "ropa vieja" is a popular dish in Cuban cuisine consisting of thinly cut (or rather shredded) strips of meat, typically stewed beef with vegetables.
Literally translating as "old clothes", ropa vieja is one of the most famous delicacies in traditional Cuban cuisine, most often featuring in the menus of old school paladares and private restaurants specialising in traditional local fare.
In Cuba this word is typically used to refer to a sweet treat obtained from boiling sugarcane juices. It's no more than the hard residue left at the bottom of the pan after the boiling of sugarcane, hence its name could be literally translated as "scraping" or "scratch", as it's the sticky hard bits you would be scraping off the bottom of the pan.
This popular treat is typically found in the form of irregularly shaped cubes or mini towers, which accounts for the fact that the iconic, star-shaped tower in Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion is often dubbed "raspadura" for its smooth yet ragged and staggered design. In its edible form, "raspadura" might be sickeningly sweet for some, but most Cuban kids love it.
- Dar muela
A uniquely Cuban term that may be used in other Hispanic Caribbean countries like Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, "dar muela" could be translated in a varieties of ways such as "waffling on", "sweet-talking", "schmoozing" or simply having an overly long chat. In many cases this long chat has a clear purpose of convincing someone of something, arguing your case for or against something or excusing yourself with a long-winded excuse.
The term's literal translation is "give molar" as in a molar tooth, and the phrase is also used to describe long conversations with no particular train of thought or discussing topics that are frivolous or repetitive. "Estar dando muela" or "to be giving tooth" can be used in a variety of ways, from chatting up a lady to preaching, lecturing or trying to explain something in depth.
Travel Jargon Buster
Sometimes the world of travel has certain industry-related words that are heavily used but may sound alien or confuse some holidaymakers. Here we aim to crack those codes and put them into plain and simple terms that everyone can relate to, whether they're frequent travellers or occasional holidaymakers.
Not to be confused with the term Full-Board, which is very similar but tends to include only meals (often at a specific restaurant) and not use of other typical hotel facilities or activities like water sports or internet access, the all-inclusive concept covers all your meals, drinks and snacks (often with 24-hour service) as well as added extras including use of game rooms, kids clubs, fitness facilities, land and water sports, daytime and nighttime entertainment and sometimes even special tours or organised activities.
What's included in the all-inclusive programme will vary according to each hotel or resort's policy but it usually goes beyond the meals, drinks and snacks.
- Bed and Breakfast
The most common of meal plans available at most hotels and resorts, this type of room rate includes your stay in a room plus breakfast at a designated restaurant or bar within the hotel.
- Standard Room
Although not always the case, this term is normally used to describe the hotel's entry level room category, which in most cases is also the cheapest type of accommodation available. It can have a wide variety of names, as each resort or hotel typically names it distinctively but where you see the terms "standard" or "lead-in" to refer to accommodation it usually refers to the most basic room category.
- Boutique Hotel
A term used to describe small, often privately-owned and run as well as uniquely styled hotels, the term "boutique" in the hospitality industry is normally used to describe hotels with fewer than 150 rooms but more than 10 (with properties that offer fewer than 10 rooms usually filed under the categories of Bed and Breakfast or Inn).
A boutique hotel property typically features unique design, quirky touches or highly individualised features that you don't find in most standard types of accommodation. They are supposed to be memorable, iconic or eccentric in some way and are also characterised by personalised service and devoted staff that act as part of a family or close community.
Often they are also home to popular restaurants that are successful on their own right, independent from the hotel, as boutique properties tend to place a strong focus on creating amazing restaurants and bars with a strong identity. The end result is extraordinary hotels with a unique essence, offering bespoke, one-of-a-kind experiences to discerning guests.
- Package or Package Holiday
In the travel industry a holiday package refers to a compound of holiday elements put together and sold as a single unit. Holiday packages tend to include hotel stay and flights but can also feature a host of additional extras (such as return transfers and destination assistance via onsite representatives) depending on the tour operator that sells them and the deals they have secured with airlines or particular hotels.
The advantage of booking a package instead of paying for flights and hotel rooms separately is the discounts that tour operators are often able to pass on to the traveller plus the added value of extra services like transport thrown in. There's also the advantage and ease of buying everything together at once and the added protection that some tour operators offer.
- Resort or Holiday Resort
This terms varies somewhat in its usage but in the tourism industry it's typically used to define large hotel properties that comprise vast grounds with a number of facilities as part of it.
Whereas a standard hotel and its dining or recreational facilities are usually confined to a single building, a resort usually expands into adjacent grounds with rooms scattered across various buildings, blocks or bungalows and comprises open spaces that give way to gardens, pools, restaurants, sports courts and recreational areas.
Resorts are typically located on beaches and in parts of the world known for having a warm, tropical climate. They often (but not always) operate under an all-inclusive basis giving guests complimentary access to a variety of their onsite facilities and activities; including free meals at a variety of restaurants, usage of land sports facilities, non-motorised water sports, etc.
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