Mahalo nui loa ("thank you very much") for the Special Hawaii Issue [April 21]. Fabulous memories of several visits to the islands in paradise were made vivid by the stories, pictures and maps of Oahu, Molokai and the cruise with stops at the Big Island, Kauai and Maui.
One bit of cautionary advice: Limit each visit to Hawaii to no longer than five days. By Day 7, island fever sets in and your vacation turns into "Paradise Lost."
Fast passport renewal
Regarding "Fast … and Safe" [On the Spot, by Catharine Hamm, April 21]. In January we had our passports renewed and expedited at our local post office in Indio. We had them back in less than two weeks. We just filled out forms and paid the fees with a very knowledgeable postal employee. This info may help someone like us who realized their passports were expiring shortly.
In praise of Cuba
Regarding "Cuba's Reality" [Letters, April 21]: Last October I went with the senior center group on a cultural exchange tour of Cuba. I loved every minute of it. Things are changing there. As of last year, Cubans can own their own home for the first time, and this year some travel restrictions were lifted. The arts are flourishing, and education is free. Our maids left us notes in English. There seem to be our kind of hotels and restaurants for tourists. Then there are the locals who are very poor but they also have free medical. Other places travel and trade there, such as China, Canada, Europe and South America. We were often mistaken for Canadians. The U.S. trades with Communist China and Vietnam, why not Cuba? But who knows, if things change a lot there, they may lose their free education and medical. It is a charming little island.
Cuba does have fine hotels and restaurants. Restored palace-hotels and historical hotels in Old Havana, run by Habaguanex, are comparable to the finest boutique lodgings anywhere. A sample of 20 of those hotels can be viewed on the http://www.habaguanexhotels.com site, with many photos of each hotel's interior and exterior, their amenities and rates (click on "more photos" on each hotel's page for views of the restored interiors).
One of those hotels, the Ambos Mundos — where American author Ernest Hemingway stayed frequently during the 1940s and '50s — has been restored to its appearance during Hemingway's time. Fine restaurants can be found in Old Havana — many of them in restored historical buildings — also operated by Habaguanex, an enterprise run by the Office of the City Historian.
Old Havana has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982 and is considered to be the largest colonial district in the Americas. My wife and I have traveled to Cuba legally each of the last three years and have found it to be one of the most interesting destinations anywhere.
Besides its fascinating history, Cuba has no drug trafficking or drug cartels, no drug addicts, no mob syndicates, there is practically no crime, a totally "eco" agriculture (all organic, no pesticides), free access to education and complete literacy, and it has about the highest per capita ratio in the world of physicians and medical personnel.
There is no commercial advertising in Cuba — a welcome relief to many American visitors. It has an amazing culture of repair, which means that nothing mechanical or electrical is discarded (no junkyards). These and other positive aspects might more than make up for the problems to be found in Cuba, if one visits with an open mind and a humane attitude.