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Personal computing and Cuba

By Charles Miller

Personal computing devices such as smart phones and tablets have become ubiquitous in the last decade, and at the same time they have become indispensable to many of their owners. With the ability to access Wi-Fi or cellular data networks from almost anywhere today, these handheld devices provide instant on-demand access to resources such as email, maps, news, weather reports, stock quotes, and a seemingly unlimited list of other information.

It has taken less than a decade for many people to forget what it was like when we did not have easy access to all these data. Modern portable computing devices are designed to be tethered to the internet, and one thing some owners fail to realize is that without this connectivity these tablets and smart phones are largely brain-dead.

My brother and I recently spent a week in Cuba taking in its crumbling glory, and in preparing for the trip I realized there were going to be some challenges using modern technology in a country that is largely frozen in the 1950s and where there is practically no access to the internet. I found myself preparing for the trip as I used to do in the 70s and 80s whenever I traveled to Europe or the Far East. Back then I had to prepare my employees to carry on while I was completely out of contact for a few weeks, and I had to be sure I took with me everything I might need while away from home.

I decided that carrying a laptop computer on vacation was something I did not need to do if I could turn my favorite toy into a tool, so I took my Apple iPad 3 off the shelf and went to work. The iPad provides easy access to email, maps, and browsing the internet . . . except that none of that stuff works when the tablet is not tethered to a live internet connection.

Email is something I knew I could do without for a week; in fact I was looking forward to this, and information about things to see could be looked up on the web and printed out before leaving home. I had a few concerns though about what to do if I arrived in Havana to find that the reservations at our casa particular (bed an breakfast) were not honored. How could I find another place to stay without the ability to search for one on the web? And even if I had a street address, where would I buy a map in Cuba?

The Apple App Store is where I found the answers to these concerns. There are quite a few offline map apps available for the iPad, and after trying out several I settled on Galileo. Before you leave home you must download the maps for the areas you plan to visit where you will have no access to the internet.

My next task was to discover there are many web sites advertising accommodations in Havana, including the availability of a downloadable KML or GMX file. This file can be installed into the Galileo App on the iPad and immediately populates the map with names, addresses, and GPS coordinates for more than 200 casas particulars. With this information saved in my iPad my worries about not being able to find a place to sleep were over.

Lastly, the Apple App Store offers dozens of travel-related apps for those planning to visit Cuba. The cost-free apps were all a waste of time and almost all the paid ones I bought were a waste of money; however; there were a couple of jewels. Anyone interested in a more lengthy review is invited to email me.

Once I was on the ground in Cuba the iPad performed as expected and its built-in GPS positioning system guaranteed we were never lost. I have actually been using this feature of my iPad this way for years, but this was the first time I had gone back in time to the 1950s to use it when there was no internet connection available. So long as you prepare in advance, this feature works offline.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044-415-101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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