Published: March 13th 2007March 13th 2007
Holy Smokes! Trying to re-cap a month in Cuba is like trying to describe a painting to someone over the phone, difficult at best but I´ll try. Couple of words must first be put out there that I thought about aften when thinking in Cuba, they are.... Incredible, amazing, wonderful, spectacular, frustrating, annoying, overwhelming, complicated, lower middle class, equal, unfair and expensive. These are just some words that provide a sense of the diversity of expereinces happening in Cuba and the richness of this country. While it was by no means an easy trip, although days at the beach with Mojitos did ease my pain, Cuba was an incredible experience that I would highly recommend to anyone even slightly considering a trip here. That said, here is some of our story over the last month.
After meeting with Ruben in Lima and seeing Movies and drinking coffee from Starbucks we arrived in Havana to what seemed to be a different world. Seeing the aquamarine blue waters from the plane was exciting and we were eager to get exploring this country. Driving into the city of Havana from the airport, you immediately notice the socialist , anti-capitalist nature of the
country. Billboards sporting encouraging pro-cuban slogans line the boulevards, hand in hand with billboards denouncing American imperialism and Bush. The streets are vacant of any commercial advertizing and there are no Golden Arches to be seen anywhere.
Having not made reservations beforehand, we picked an area in Havana Vieja to be dropped off in, thinking that there would be abundant rooms available. We were wrong and a little naive I guess, but after a few attempts of finding rooms by following people who knew of a room, but were just helping themselves and friends by showing us terribly overpriced rooms, we finally stumbled upon a nice room in an old colonial house run by a nice retired pyschiatrist (after seeing rooms being rented by electrical and chemical engineers mind you).
The amount of restoration taking place in old havana is staggering thanks to an influx of foreign aid by Venezuela and the arrival of venezuelan oil, which has been a god send after years of struggling since the fall of the Soviet Union. The resiliance of Cuba to withstand the downfall of its main supplier of goods and its main destination fo exports is incredible and provides a
Lots of billboards
The morals of the revolution are as high as the stars!
glimpse of the strength of Fidel´s revolution in Cuba. It is hard to imagine the beauty of old havana once it is restored since all the buildings, without exception are colonial and none have been redeveloped in the past 50 years to make way for modern high rise complexes.
Upon arriving in Cuba you are confronted with the dual economy of the Convertible Cuban Peso (CUC) and the Moneda National (MN). The CUC used to be pegged and interchangeable with the US dollar but has now been adjusted to 12% higher than the US dollar, which has become unavailable for use in the economy. The MN is what Cubans are paid monthly by the governemnt for wages and can be used to buy veggies and fruit, street food (including cheap pizza and drinks and little else while the CUC is used in all the restaurants in Havana and most in any other tourist site, to buy anything that might be or is imported like toys, clothes, shoes and even meats, cheeses and milk. To give you a sense of the values, 1 CUC = 24 MN, while a typical salary is about 350 MN, between 15 - 20 CUC
per month. MOre information is that a beer at a shop costs 1CUC and a mojito costs 3CUC. Using these prices as a guide, you can start to understand that while there are many goods available to tourists, most Cubans earn far too little a month to buy the ultra-luxury items, that is unless you have access to CUC. Access to this currrency is mostly in tips or overcharging for goods, selling drugs, cigars, music and sex and by stealing from the governemnt by not declaring all your CUC income, such as when you have guests in your house and when you don´t. The picture is complicated and took us some time to figure out, over many strong mojitos and cuban cigars, I know there is some irony here but that´s life.
Nights in Havana are filled with beer, rum and music and we were no exception to this rule. It seemed that every corner bar or plaza restaurant had wonderful music filling the warm carribean air, an intoxifying mix to say the least. The music is something along the lines of Buenas Vista Social club and is wonderful played live.
Spent our first three nights in Havana,
planning where to go next and book hotels where they needed to be booked. Laurence and I quickly decided to make Cuba a vacation in every sense of the word and spend the money on some fun accomadations. We decided to splurge and head to the resort town of Veradero for 4 nights in an all-inclusive taking in booze, food, sun and sand. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
There are more photos below