Back by popular demand… New friends continually ask “What do I pack for Cuba?” in that how-can-I-help tone? So I decided to write another Top 10 List, Part 2. Before you read any further, take a peek at my first blog post “My Top 10 Packing Tips for Cuba” to get started on care package ideas. For only $5 to $50, you can make a strong impact in someone’s life. It might not be life-saving, but you’d be making their day a whole lot more pleasant. That might be just good enough for today.
1- Tequila bottle
Cubans are drinkers, however if you’re not a rum drinker, you’re kinda screwed. Most open bars at official events are rum, beer, and water. If you’re a sole Tequila drinker, you may find yourself skipping libations. If you’re attending an event in a private home, a solid bottle of good tequila is an excellent gift and contribution to the party. Plus you could enjoy a glass yourself. You see? The gift that keeps on giving. An amendment to this gift is a good bottle of Scotch (MacCallan 18) or other Whiskeys not easily found in Cuba. The important thing to know is that Rum and cigars is in high supply in Cuba, but if you are a connoisseur of other liquors or other cigarette brands, bringing them to Cuba is a wonderful high-end gift, and builds relationships.
For some bizarre reason, umbrellas are a pain to find. One can go months without seeing one, and then inexplicably walk into shop and see a few in stock. The rare times you spot one, it is an incredibly overpriced 3rd world level umbrella that breaks like a twig. This is the reason I encourage travelers to add this to their gift list. I personally like a discreet small strong one that fits in a small bag, but don’t forget the large sturdy ones that can protect 2 sweethearts simultaneously during a downpour (cue Rihanna: you can stand under my umbrella, ella, ella, eh, eh, eh)
3- Digital Content Care Package
In my last Top 10 post, I mentioned how USB drives were very useful in Cuba due sparse internet. I am extending this idea to suggest that you add cool files onto the stick. A care package of content is an even better idea. New albums. New podcasts. New movies. Fill up a USB and pass it onto a Cuban of all ages. If you want to hook up a local DJ, just go to any cool bar and give them a USB full of new (and classic) mp3’s. Or if you want to hook up a driver, jump in any vintage vehicle, and notice their car stereo. Most drivers in Cuba listen to their music off USB sticks. If this is the case, pass the USB for instant gratification and enjoy music together within a few seconds as you ride through Havana. I repeat, the gift that keeps on giving.
4- Bath Towel
I learned this one from a close Cuban friend who kept asking me for a nice bath towel every time I returned from the States. He didn’t want electronics, he didn’t want clothes, he didn’t need money. He just wanted a damn plush bath towel from the United States, and not the sorry-excuse-for-a-towel that Cuban stores offer which is akin to sandpaper. I also learned this the hard way myself when trying to purchase a last second towel on my way to the beach, and discovered that the few options available were offensive to my wallet, and grossly thin tourist towel that absorbed zero water. If you can make it happen, bring a dope white lush towel from Bed Bath & Beyond.
5- Pack of Pens
I know I know. This list is supposed to be about bringing medicine and profound things, but a pen? After many months stuck in Cuba, I’ve discovered that pens are not found everywhere. I’m not saying there are no pens in Cuba, it’s just there are no Office Depots to buy bulk, so when somebody steals your pen, you want to kill them, because there’s not an easy find around the corner. One of the best gifts I brought myself was two rounds of 10 packs (GOOD PENS I might add) to Cuba. It made me less hoardery about lending a pen, and I am never without a good writing utensil. It’s the small things that makes life easier. Highlighters, stickees, calendar agendas, paperclips, and journals with good paper are additional smart gifts for organized people.
I mean PROFESSIONAL chocolate. Cuba has many things — ocean, salsa, rum — But Lordy, it has crap chocolate in all the shops. It’s only been recently that I’ve begun taking note of Paladars with good chocolate desserts thank you to my fixation on the perfect bite (hello chocolate molten cake at La Guarida). You’ve saved an addict in need. In terms of chocolate gifts, think dark chocolates. If you don’t have time to purchase gourmet chocolates in advance of your trip, scout your US airport for a simple king size bag of M&M’s on your way into Cuba. You’ll make someones day. Trust me.
7- Kitchen Goods
Ziplock bags, Saran wrap, Mini-food processor, Scotchbrite pads, Magic Bullet blender, or anything that would make a womans life (or mans) easier in the kitchen. Want to really make a foodie happy? Bring a solid bottle of Olive Oil or Balsamic vinegar. Like a good one. Maybe a block of Parmesan cheese. You’ll relish tasting fresh Cuban bread dipped into the exquisite olive oil late one night with your new Cuban friend who will thank you for the luxury bite.
I don’t mean junkfood, I mean healthy scrumptious snacks. Cuba lacks any practical deli-culture to grab a quick snack in between meals. Think Granola Bars, Trail Mix, Gourmet Chips, Dried fruits, or any of that healthy stuff we take for granted at the previous US airport we just flew in from. This stash may save you when getting “hangry” on your own vacation, although you’ll want to make sure to bring an industrial size box in order to leave behind for a fellow Cubano who is more in need of these snacks.
9- Beauty Products
What is life without a Ricky’s around the corner? Well, if you move to Cuba, then you’ll have to make due. Tweezers, Eyelashes, Moisturizer, Foundation, Nail polish remover, nail colors and accessories. A good tricked-out nail set is an extra bit of fancy gift. Next time you walk past a row of flat irons, professional conditioner, baby blowdryers, facial masks, or anything that dolls up a woman, please do a good deed and buy some extra stuff for your next Cuba trip. It will be highly relished, and you will be doing women justice all over the island.
Pillow game is WEAK in Cuba. You can extend that need into the realm of bedware. Allergy Free bed covers is something not available in Cuba, which is a health-risk for folks who are sensitive to dust mites and mold. This can be a tremendous gift to someone’s well being. The Same for allergy-free zip-up pillow or mattress covers. Remember that lots of the mattresses in Cuba are not replaced every 5 years as recommended. Some people have the same bedware from, dare I say, their whole lives. On your next visit to Target, drop a good pillow, or bedsheet, or allergy cover into your cart before headed to Cuba.