My first visit to Cuba was almost 38 years ago. I arrived at Jose Marti International Airport, Havana, in December, 1974, after backpacking around South America and the Caribbean for over a year. I had landed a job with a Canadian tour company, and over the following winter seasons I served as a destination representative for Unitours (Canada) Limited at resorts on Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Pines), Playa Jibacoa, and Playa Varadero. In 1979 I traded babysitting Canadian tourists for a career as a guidebook writer. In June 1979 the first edition of South Pacific Handbook was published, co-authored by Bill Dalton and myself. After that, Bill returned to writing about Indonesia and I carried on with seven editions of South Pacific, nine of Moon Fiji, seven of Moon Tahiti, and three of Micronesia.
I didn`t return to Cuba until 1992 when the country`s socialist revolution appeared to be on its last legs. Fortunately for Fidel, the United States Government propped up Cuban communism with their self-defeating trade embargo which kept Cuba free of American influence and the Castros in power. The early 1990s were difficult times for Cubans and I shared the food and transportation difficulties the local population was facing. In 1996 I was back researching the first edition of Lonely Planet Cuba, published in January 1997. I also researched and wrote the second edition (July 2000), after which Lonely Planet decided they didn`t need me anymore. Many of my photos from those years are still freely accessible on Cuba Pictures.
Today Cuba is a booming travel destination with cheap holidays available to numerous resort destinations. Almost three million Canadians, Europeans, and Latin Americans visit Cuba each year. Only Americans are largely absent, although a few intrepid US blockade runners arrive via Cancun, Nassau, and other discreet gateways. The Cuban Government treats US passport holders the same as anyone else and it is Washington which is restricting the personal freedom of its own citizens. The lack of Americans is a boon to other nationalities. Hotel rooms in Cuba are at a premium, and if Americans were competing for the same beds, the situation would be dire. So enjoy Cuba now, while you can, before Obama finally gets smart and unleashes the Miami hordes.