With 30 years of combined international travel experience, Joel Cabrera and Bryan Herb, Zoom Vacations’ co-founders and Tour Leaders, have traveled to the ends of the Earth gaining invaluable travel information that they happily share with others. Here are a few of their favorite things
Barry has joined Zoom Vacations in China, southern Africa, and now Cuba, so he is very familiar with what we do at Zoom and we're very familiar with Barry and his award-winning smile and zest for life.
Zoom: Why did you decide to join Zoom Vacations in Cuba?
Barry: I have had a life-long interest in diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba. I grew up during the Cold War and have always been fascinated at how a small country only ninety miles from the border could have such a significant impact on US history. As we all know, America's embargo against Cuba is the longest-lasting single foreign policy in our history! When President Obama's administration began to normalize relations with Cuba, I knew that I wanted to witness this society first-hand because of the images I had in my mind from motion pictures and limited television exposure. I had previously traveled with Zoom to China and South Africa, so I knew that the "behind the scenes" efforts by Zoom would create a first-rate experience for me as a traveler interested in learning more about the Cuban culture.
Zoom: This last trip to Cuba was one of our larger groups. How was it being with a slightly larger group?
Barry: The size of the group has never been a concern to me as a Zoom traveler. I have been on a group as small as six, and a group as large as twenty-eight. I travel for my own enrichment, regardless of group dynamics. I believe that Zoom's clientele are sophisticated, experienced travelers who want as memorable an experience as I do.
Zoom: What was your highlight of the trip?
Barry: The highlight of the trip for me was the excursion to Valle de Vinales. The mountain vistas were spectacular and the visit to the family tobacco farm was unforgettable. To see what most Americans would consider to be a primitive operation was fascinating, from the family's home, to the drying barn, to the demonstration of making cigars. I purchased as many of his hand-rolled cigars as I could to bring home!
Zoom: How did you find the educational activities?
Barry: The educational activities were outstanding. I learned about Cuban art, music, cuisine, politics, and the Cuban education system not only from our guides, but from the scheduled lectures and visits with the Cuban people we were fortunate to meet.
Zoom: What did you think of the food options?
Barry: It's Cuba, so options are limited as far as menu selections, but the venues, especially the paladares, the mountainside restaurant in Vinales, and the New Year's Eve celebration in Plaza de la Catedral, were superb! Black beans and rice are staples at every meal, the lobster ceviche at La Fontana is a treat I would recommend to anyone, and the mojitos, Cuba Libres, and daiquiris were a great way to start the evenings. Zoom added a special touch to the dinners by creating small group events complete with Cuban transportation via a convertible classic car or a coco cab!
Zoom: What were the benefits of traveling as part of a gay group to Cuba?
Barry: Certainly, a gay group provides a level of comfort and a "common denominator" that allows everyone to be themselves. I enjoy the fact, however, that Zoom is "inclusive!" I have made great friendships on Zoom trips with our "straight allies" who joined us for these once-in-a-lifetime journeys.
Zoom: Would you recommend this trip to your friends?
Barry: I would certainly recommend this trip to my friends. In fact, I already have!
Zoom: Did Cuba live up to your expectations?
Barry: Cuba exceeded my expectations because it is such a step back in time. Although it may sound cliche, it is like visiting a movie set with characters right out of central casting. In this case, however, they are not cast members, they are real people living real lives in a unique society.
Zoom: How were the Zoom concierge and guides?
Barry: Joel was the consummate professional on every level, seeing to it that everyone had the best experience possible. Graham and Nacy, our local guides, were knowledgeable, respectful, and great fun. Both of them went above and beyond any reasonable expectation to insure that we all enjoyed every moment of our time in Cuba. Graham, our American guide who is a medical student in Havana, seemed to enjoy the trip as much as the Zoom guests! Nancy, our Cuban guide, touched my heart. She is a 27 year old bright, courteous, and ambitious young woman who was born and raised in Havana and has never been to the US. I could barely hold back tears when I hugged her on our departure because I wanted to bring her home with me so that she could experience a culture and opportunities she has yet to observe and be offered.
Zoom: How was this trip similar to Zoom Africa? In other words, after being on a few Zoom trips now, what would you consider to be the hallmarks of the Zoom experience?
Barry: The trips I have made with Zoom to China, South Africa, and Cuba are carefully planned to the smallest detail. The hallmark of a Zoom trip for me is that I don't have to do the "thinking and planning!" Therefore, for me, it is the ultimate vacation!